Read­ing into the re­sis­tance

Po­lit­i­cal re­flec­tions from both sides of the aisle

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP

You saw them. You prob­a­bly read a few. Maybe you even wrote one.

Seething po­lit­i­cal takes. Over­wrought open let­ters. Emo­tional man­i­festos. They be­gan in­vad­ing our in­boxes and Face­book feeds in the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, and con­tin­ued for days and weeks. They frothed from key­boards across the coun­try, count­less ren­di­tions of what be­came an in­stantly rec­og­niz­able genre: the How I Felt on Elec­tion Night es­say.

The first one I re­call was by New Yorker ed­i­tor David Rem­nick, who pro­claimed “re­vul­sion and pro­found anx­i­ety” at Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory. But it was Aaron Sorkin, Amer­ica’s lead­ing pur­veyor of po­lit­i­cal self-right­eous­ness, who typ­i­fied the form in an open let­ter to his teenage daugh­ter and for­mer wife in which he pledged to “f---ing fight” Trump and re­as­sured Amer­i­cans that “our dark­est days have al­ways — al­ways — been fol­lowed by our finest hours.”

The im­pulse to write and share such early thoughts, to grap­ple with a shock­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing event, is un­der­stand­able. Less un­der­stand­able is the im­pulse to bind col­lec­tions of such es­says into an­tholo­gies that, months later, pur­port to show a path for­ward for Trump’s oppo-

nents. Yes, in­di­vid­ual es­says and open let­ters can in­spire on oc­ca­sion. Put dozens of them to­gether, how­ever, and their time­li­ness erodes, their echoes an­noy, and their in­ad­e­quacy as self-styled re­sis­tance man­u­als grows clear.

I don’t know how else to put this, but I no longer care how you felt on elec­tion night. Not any­more.

Two re­cent col­lec­tions, “Rad­i­cal Hope” and “How Do I Ex­plain This to My Kids?,” fea­tur­ing dozens of es­says by artists, nov­el­ists, jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists, re­veal the lim­its of the ap­proach. A third, “Rules for Re­sis­tance,” with con­trib­u­tors who have bat­tled or chron­i­cled au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism world­wide, dis­plays emo­tion sobered by ex­pe­ri­ence, pro­vid­ing a more res­o­nant and prac­ti­cal read six months into the Trump pres­i­dency.

‘Over­whelmed by grief.” “Bro­ken­hearted.” “Hope­less.” “Some­thing in­side me died on Elec­tion Night.” “I woke up that morn­ing and ev­ery­thing felt f---ed.”

That’s how sev­eral con­trib­u­tors de­scribe their im­me­di­ate feel­ings about Trump’s tri­umph. But the most com­mon re­sponse is even more vis­ceral: fear.

“I am not ashamed to ad­mit I am more afraid than ever,” writes nov­el­ist Mered­ith Russo. For nov­el­ist Mira Ja­cob, the mo­ment evoked the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001: “At four [a.m.], I bolted awake with a surge of fear I have not felt for fif­teen years.” And writer Ni­cole Chung re­calls how, that evening, she and her hus­band “would re­main up for hours, al­ter­nately swear­ing and reach­ing for each other’s hands in bleary and in­creas­ing panic.”

Stan­ford Univer­sity scholar Jeff Chang em­pha­sizes how Trump cap­i­tal­izes on such emo­tions — “fear is the lu­bri­cant of dem­a­goguery,” he says — but in their in­tro­duc­tions to “Rad­i­cal Hope,” Pulitzer win­ner Junot Diaz and ed­i­tor Carolina De Rober­tis stress that fear can pro­pel more con­struc­tive re­ac­tions. “We need to con­nect coura­geously with the re­jec­tion, the fear, the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that Trump’s vic­tory has in­flicted on us,” Diaz writes. Once the shock set­tles, “faith and en­ergy will re­turn,” he as­sures.

“We can ei­ther si­lence our­selves and live in fear, or we can stand even taller and speak,” De Rober­tis ex­plains. “Dis­sent is ver­bal re­sis­tance.”

As fear passes, some hope does em­anate from the pages of “Rad­i­cal Hope.” Writer Par­naz Foroutan ad­dresses women who are im­mi­grants, ex­iles and refugees in Amer­ica, urg­ing them to “pay no heed to the dark­ness, the open mouth of greed, the hate­ful speech, the walls and the guns . . . . Amer­ica is yours.”

But fear also morphs into anger and judg­ment, in­clud­ing to­ward Trump vot­ers. “F--- be­ing nice and po­lite,” writes Egyp­tian fem­i­nist Mona El­ta­hawy. “These are not nice or po­lite times. Be an­gry. Be loud. And be free!” Poet Mo­hja Kahf breaks down Trump’s sup­port, con­clud­ing wryly that “hey, re­ally only about one-fourth of the coun­try hates us and/or hates Black peo­ple, LGBTQ folk, Lat­inx peo­ples, In­dige­nous peo­ples, and im­mi­grants. And we al­ready knew that, right?”

Even some of the con­trib­u­tors seek­ing to reach out to Trump’s base — at least in a think­piecey, the­o­ret­i­cal sense — find ways to de­mean. “De­spite months of look­ing, I never man­aged to meet a lib­eral New Yorker who thought of Trump sup­port­ers as any­thing other than an un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated bloc of sub­hu­man troglodytes,” writes Prince­ton Univer­sity lec­turer Boris Fish­man, a state­ment that might say less about New York City than about this par­tic­u­lar writer’s ac­quain­tances. He urges “fel­low lib­er­als” to talk to peo­ple who are “noth­ing like us — po­lit­i­cally,” though he is quick to add a qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“Not the big­ots,” he ex­plains.

It’s pre­cisely those dis­tinc­tions that the writ­ers of “Rules for Re­sis­tance” warn against, no mat­ter how strong the com­pul­sion to con­de­scend or jus­ti­fi­able the ea­ger­ness to blame.

Dis­miss­ing Trump vot­ers as racists is an “id­i­otic sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of ex­tremely com­plex hu­man be­ings,” writes Satyen K. Bor­doloi, a Mum­bai film­maker. “We in In­dia have been do­ing the same thing for two and a half years, and the re­sults have been dev­as­tat­ing. Our so­ci­ety has frac­tured much more be­cause of these blan­ket ac­cu­sa­tions. Those who voted for [Prime Min­is­ter] Naren­dra Modi have gone into their defensive shells af­ter such ac­cu­sa­tions and be­came more pro­tec­tive of their leader as their very sense of self be­came at­tached to him.”

In Venezuela, the op­po­si­tion to the late Hugo Chávez made sim­i­lar mis­takes. “We wouldn’t stop pon­tif­i­cat­ing about how stupid Chav­ismo was, not only to international friends but also to Chavez’s elec­toral base,” jour­nal­ist An­drés Miguel Rondón ex­plains. “‘Re­ally, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts,’ we’d say.” As a re­sult, “whole gen­er­a­tions were split in two [and] a sense of shared cul­ture was wiped out.”

Rondón’s ap­peal to Amer­i­can read­ers is sim­ple: “This does not have to be your fate . . . . Rec­og­nize that you’re the en­emy Trump re­quires. Show con­cern, not con­tempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power.”

Of course, the United States is not In­dia and cer­tainly not Venezuela. But the writ­ers in “Rules for Re­sis­tance” are wary of ex­ces­sive faith in U.S. demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. “It is pre­cisely such over­con­fi­dence in the United States’ long and il­lus­tri­ous tra­di­tion of lib­erty that could lull the Amer­i­can public into a false sense of se­cu­rity and fa­cil­i­tate the rapid de­struc­tion of that very tra­di­tion,” writes Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist N. Turkuler Isik­sel. Don’t ob­sess over par­tic­u­lar leg­isla­tive agenda items the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­motes, she says; fo­cus in­stead on the demo­cratic norms it un­der­mines. “What we there­fore have to pre­pare to re­sist is not pol­icy change; it is regime change.”

The es­says in “Rules for Re­sis­tance” were orig­i­nally pub­lished in news­pa­pers and jour­nals in late 2016 or early 2017 (a ver­sion of Rondón’s ar­ti­cle ap­peared in The Wash­ing­ton Post), but their warn­ings and pre­dic­tions re­main apro­pos. Chaotic lead­er­ship, for in­stance, does not mean it’s pow­er­less. “Pop­ulists gov­ern by swap­ping is­sues, as op­posed to re­solv­ing them,” writes Hun­gar­ian au­thor Mik­lós Haraszti. “Pur­pose­ful ran­dom­ness, con­stant am­bush, re­lent­less slalom­ing, and red her­rings dropped all around are the new nor­mal.” Also, op­pos­ing lead­ers based on their odi­ous per­sonal traits may feel sat­is­fy­ing but can be self-de­feat­ing. “An op­po­si­tion fo­cused on per­son­al­ity would crown Trump as the peo­ple’s leader of the fight against the Wash­ing­ton caste,” writes busi­ness pro­fes­sor Luigi Zin­gales, who draws per­sua­sive par­al­lels be­tween Trump and Italy’s Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni.

Be­ware, too, of sim­ply wait­ing for dis­il­lu­sioned Trump sup­port­ers to turn against him. “There will come a time, and it won’t be long, when the fol­low­ers of Or­ange Cae­sar will re­al­ize that they have been lied to,” writes nov­el­ist and “Rad­i­cal Hope” con­trib­u­tor Luis Al­berto Ur­rea. But that doesn’t mean they’ll re­ject Trump just be­cause he fails to de­liver on the bor­der wall or man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs — as long as he gives them some­one else to blame.

“The dan­ger . . . is that his ef­forts to ful­fill these prom­ises will prove good enough,” writes scholar Bernard Avishai. For him, the Trump era is not merely a “four-year, re­versible anom­aly” but the be­gin­ning of a long strug­gle.

And that strug­gle, ac­cord­ing to “How Do I Ex­plain This to My Kids?,” is generational. “We must shield our chil­dren from the ef­fects of Trump’s poli­cies as best we can and pro­tect them from the worst as­pects of his char­ac­ter,” clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Ava Siegler writes in the vol­ume’s in­tro­duc­tion. “But we must also try to ex­plain to them how some­one like this could have been elected to the high­est of­fice in the land . . . . And we must in­clude them in our re­sis­tance.”

An over­rid­ing de­bate in this col­lec­tion is over how forth­right to be with chil­dren about the pres­i­dent’s pro­cliv­i­ties and prej­u­dices. “We’ve tried through­out this cam­paign to be hon­est with our kids about our hopes and dreams,” writes Slate’s Dan Kois, “but tonight, on elec­tion night, I re­al­ized I never re­ally found a way to be hon­est with them about our fears.” For UCLA his­to­rian Robin D.G. Kel­ley, hon­esty is less about the pres­i­dent than the na­tion. “How do we teach our chil­dren our his­tory — in the United States and the world?” he asks. “They are taught to cher­ish equal­ity, to dis­dain in­equal­ity, but never how in­equal­ity is pro­duced.”

One par­ent even sug­gests that he might stop teach­ing hon­esty as a value. “As much as it pains me to ad­mit,” writes film­maker John Ziegler, “it is now clear that in or­der to best pre­pare my chil­dren for life in this new ‘post­truth’ era of Amer­ica, they need to be ed­u­cated that a well-ex­e­cuted lie will beat an un­pop­u­lar truth ev­ery sin­gle time.”

What so many of the How I Felt on Elec­tion Night pieces share is not just emo­tion but cer­tainty. Cer­tainty about what Trump means, who sup­ports him, the dan­gers he poses — and how to re­spond.

And that is why there’s one es­say in “Rad­i­cal Hope” I’ll re­mem­ber most. In a let­ter to her child, nov­el­ist Katie Ki­ta­mura ab­hors the tor­rent of voices and views that Trump’s elec­tion has un­leashed, and warns of the “ter­ri­fy­ing ra­pid­ity” with which words — whether they aim to as­sault or re­sist — can un­make the world. “We need to de­fend another way of think­ing and be­ing, one that al­lows for hes­i­ta­tion, for nu­ance and mu­ta­bil­ity,” she writes. “I have a dis­trust of cer­ti­tude, even when I agree with the es­sen­tial po­si­tion be­ing ad­vo­cated. I don’t think the ur­gency of our sit­u­a­tion means that we can­not af­ford un­cer­tainty. I need to be­lieve in the value of the doubt I now feel . . . . I need to be­lieve in it, not least be­cause it pro­motes think­ing be­fore act­ing.”

She wants her child to know a world where lan­guage is not im­pov­er­ished, not made to serve easy ab­so­lutes. “I worry that you will grow up in a time of ide­o­log­i­cal haste, a time of wild con­vic­tion and coars­ened thought,” she writes. It is a fate that should also elicit re­vul­sion and pro­found anx­i­ety. It is a fate we should re­sist.

Car­los Lozada is the nonfiction book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Car­los Lozada

RULES FOR RE­SIS­TANCE Ad­vice From Around the Globe for the Age of Trump By David Cole and Me­lanie Wachtell Stin­nett (eds.). The New Press. 203 pp. $15.95

HOW DO I EX­PLAIN THIS TO MY KIDS? Par­ent­ing in the Age of Trump By Sarah Swong and Diane Wachtell (eds.). The New Press. 192 pp. $15.95

RAD­I­CAL HOPE Let­ters of Love and Dis­sent in Dan­ger­ous Times By Carolina De Rober­tis (ed.). Vin­tage Books. 272 pp. $15.95

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