George Orwell’s 1984 is flying off the shelves of bookstores across the country, as Americans explore the unsettling prospect that they are experiencing what Orwell only anticipated. It’s increasingly clear that Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” presidency is going to be an experiment in “reality control,” as the commander in chief and his sycophants make every attempt “to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.”
But Trump’s lies can’t obscure the power and potential of the resistance that is taking shape across the country. Something profound is happening: Millions began protesting Trump in the women’s marches the day after his inauguration—and they haven’t stopped, rolling on to the airports where immigrants and asylum-seekers were detained by Trump’s travel ban, and to town halls in red and blue districts alike. This organic grassroots movement has badly rattled the president and his lieutenants, who are responding with fake news and bullying tactics. In a particularly Orwellian twist, Trump recently tweeted about “big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road” near his Mar-a-Lago resort, when in fact many were protesters waving signs that read: Resist!
Trump’s administration is so awash in scandal and obvious incompetence that less than one month into his presidency, 46 percent of Americans now favor his impeachment. And Trump’s critics, energized and empowered by a movement moment that is eclipsing the emergence of the Tea Party eight years ago, are turning the desperation of his apologists to their advantage. Case in point: After Elizabeth Warren was shut down on the Senate floor as she read a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King rebuking then-Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell grumbled, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Within minutes, the King letter had gone viral; within hours, Nevertheless, She Persisted had become a slogan on T-shirts and posters; and within days, Katy Perry was wearing a Persist armband at the Grammy Awards.
When Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the hyper-partisan chairman of the House Oversight Committee, claimed that the 1,000 Utahans who packed his town hall in Cottonwood Heights were part of “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate”— echoing the unfounded claims that other red-state Republicans have made about defenders of the Affordable Care Act and opponents of Trump’s Muslim ban—protesters brilliantly trolled him by sending him invoices for their “paid protest hours.” And after Chaffetz claimed critics had disrupted the Pledge of Allegiance, the local paper posted video of a dignified recitation of the pledge that concluded with the crowd (some of whom were active with Utah chapters of the grassroots group Indivisible) placing special emphasis on the words “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
It is frustrating when the president and Republican leaders lie. It is unsettling when those lies are intended to achieve “reality control.” But Americans have shown that they can see through the lies, and they’re refusing to be controlled. They are choosing, as the members of A Tribe Called Quest urged at the close of their unprecedented Grammys performance, to “Resist! Resist! Resist!” And this resistance shows signs of developing into a political force that could be every bit as definitional in 2018 as the Tea Party was in 2010. Trump and his minions understand the threat they face; that’s why they’re so determined to shut it up and close it down. So when they push, the right response is to push back—just as Warren did when she issued the following response to McConnell and company on Twitter: “Consider this MY warning: We won’t be silent. We will speak out. And we WILL persist.”