When the commander in chief debases the discourse with Twitter storms, and most of the media debases itself by imagining that the narrative of our times can be spelled out in 140 (or even 280) characters, it is easy to imagine that actual thinking has ceased. Then you read an essay or, better yet, pick up a book by Rebecca Solnit, and everything starts to make sense. Yes, these are maddening times, but there are explanations for how America went awry, and bold, smart strategies for how to rediscover the better angels of our nature.
Solnit anticipated 2017 with a canon that has long reflected on resistance—not merely to authoritarian leaders, but to the cruel systems of politics and commerce that weigh so heavily against people of color, the working class, and women. Her recent books Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions inspired headlines like “Meet Rebecca Solnit, the woman who predicted #MeToo” (in Britain’s Telegraph), just as her essays on resisting Trump (and the resurgence of interest in her 2004 book Hope in the Dark) led The New York Times to dub Solnit “the Voice of the Resistance.”
As the first year of Trump’s presidency evolved, it turned out that millions of Americans shared her rebellious sensibility. I asked Solnit if she had anticipated the level of resistance. “I did not,” she replied. “I remember how opposing the post-9/11 Bush administration felt lonely, dangerous, and out of step with the majority, and I dreaded another wave of blind, fearful obedience in the wake of the cataclysmic election in which anyone who resisted might stick out as a target. I mean, I was going to stick it out if that’s how it was going to be, but I was worried. On the eighth day after the election, I decided it was time to act on the evidence that the election had been illegitimate for many reasons and that Trump was quite likely colluding with a foreign power to win. At that point, there was a lot of stunned silence and psychic prostration. But wonderful people quickly began organizing around trying to convince the Electoral College to reject Trump, and resistance mushroomed, until by the day after the inauguration, the day of the Women’s Marches all over the country, it was everywhere.”
Looking ahead to Trump’s second year in office, “the Voice of the Resistance” proposes… more resistance. “I think we need more dramatic action, and I’m hoping people are ready to flood the streets if and when the time comes, but also to recognize how, incrementally, everything most decent about the federal government is being dismantled,” Solnit said. “I know that I don’t know what will happen next, and that means not only what the administration does but how civil society pushes back. We’ve never had more uncertainty about what happens next. And the possibility that, this time around, we are the big backlash is there.”