The afterlife of the #Resistance

With Trump gone, will the counterforce he galvanized melt away or find new purpose?

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What does the #Resistance resist now?

For four forever years, President Trump has given a great many Americans a focus. For their minds, for their news consumption, for their rage. Hate him or hate him, Trump was, if many are to be honest with themselves, purpose-giving. He lent the normally dull onward grinding of democracy, the markups and floor votes and rule changes, a cosmic, thundering sense of meaning.

When he goes, and he will go, there will be deserved relief. But there will also be a void. To live in the Trump era was to be amped up all the time, on high alert, on constant war footing, in fight-or-flight mode, ready to roll. When he leaves the scene, politics will hardly fade away. Nor can we afford for it to. But for many it will go back to being more like homework than an addictive horror movie: something you have to dedicate yourself to because it’s important, as opposed to something from which you cannot pry your eyes away. 

Many proud citizens of the #Resistance, after marching and meme-ing and quote-tweeting and door-knocking all these years, are likely to step back from political engagement. After all, these years were exhausting. And with the incoming Biden administration, it is possible to feel that, whatever your differences with the president-elect or his team, overall or on particular policy issues, they are rational, competent actors who dwell in the world of reality and will not attempt to buy Greenland. 

This understandable desire to recede from the political play-by-play, and give space and faith to the new administration, has been evident as President-elect Biden has unveiled the first of his nominees. In some quarters, there is jubilation, especially among those for whom the Obama years were the gold standard in politics and who are happy to see elements of the orchestra being reassembled. There have also been valid questions raised about the philosophy and record and entanglements of some nominees. But there is another genre of reaction still, and this is the one that concerns me. It’s the sentiment of not wanting to hear criticism of the incoming administration, not because the critiques aren’t valid, but because nothing is as bad as Trump and everyone is tired and who really cares.

When David Dayen tweeted a story in The American Prospect, which he edits, on Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, and his work on behalf of corporate clients while out of government, the editor’s replies exploded with this sentiment of wanting to be left alone by history for a little while. “For God’s sakes, he’s not Mike Pompeo — isn’t that enough??”, wrote Alex Beam. “Dude, we’re still dealing with a president who used the OFFICE to enrich himself. Let’s try to chill for like 5 minutes,” wrote @HakunaMatt_tata. “Somewhere, there’s a barefoot mountaintop shepherd whose only garment is a hair shirt. That’s who MUST be our next Secretary of State,” wrote Daniel Timm. Timm’s bio is commendably simple: “#Resist.”

I get it. Wanting to abandon always-on #resistance and hand the keys to Biden and chill is the political equivalent of coming home after a grueling week at work, slipping on an adult onesie, firing up Netflix, and eating ice cream from the box.

But here’s the deal, as Biden would say: America cannot afford the “resistance” to melt away once Trump finally leaves the scene. Because there is much in American life that continues to demand resisting, including the conditions that made Trump possible. And because Biden will not be a consequential president if he’s coddled by the soft bigotry of deep exhalations.

The gaping inequities in this country still very much demand #resistance. The economic precarity that we have come to accept as normal for tens of millions of people demands #resistance. The lack of robust health insurance for everyone demands #resistance. The oxygen-sucking monopolies of our age demand #resistance.

The predations and overextensions of empire demand #resistance. The conduct of forever wars demands #resistance. Unaccountable drone strikes demand #resistance. 

Police violence toward Black people demands #resistance. Weaponized white resentment of changing demographics, and weaponized male resentment of increasing gender equity, demands #resistance.

The behavior of the fossil fuel companies fueling climate change demands #resistance. 

The erosion of our democratic institutions demands #resistance. Money in politics demands #resistance. The assault on voting demands #resistance. The stacking of our courts demands #resistance. A Senate whose antiquated rules mean it can no longer really do the people’s business demands #resistance.

But in the times that loom, these worthy endeavors will lack for the galvanizing and clarifying antagonist that was Trump. To #resist Trump was one thing. To #resist what made him possible requires the resistance of diffuse systems, of blobs, of hyphenated complexes. It is one thing to challenge and protest people who are manifestly cruel and sadistic and indifferent to human life. The armies of the #resistance will now have to train their focus and scrutiny on people who seem decent and humane — but who are, nonetheless, entwined with the broken and corrupting systems that have defined this era, and who need to be pressured and held accountable if they are to change things.

Trump was not a departure from history but the culmination of an age — of greed, of plutocracy, of racism left to metastasize through every institution, of negligence, of democratic decay, of the dubious pretensions of those responsible for our biggest problems to be their solvers. If Trump did us any favor at all, it was in pushing a ridiculous age closer to the cliff edge. It’s time to give it a last shove and start again.

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Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis/Getty