In Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, we learn that the secret to joy is resistance (I don’t feel I’m giving anything away in saying that). After the election, I try to resist. Trump won and that’s painful to say and it’s hard to believe that about half the country hates me and showed their disgust of my existence by voting for a person who is an affront to everything that I am and to much of what I believe in. He’ll be our president, but I’ll resist his lopsided policies, his appointments of racists and misogynists and zealots and climate change deniers.
On social media, I often type that “this is not normal; resist.” I type it in comments about articles on Trump. I type it in my status update. It is my mantra: “This is not normal; resist.” When I have time, though, I question that safe statement because, really, it’s safe for now. What does it mean to resist when I continue in my work as a writing professor? What does it mean to be normal to work on the same novel manuscript I began before November 8th? How am I resisting?
I keep thinking about the musical Cabaret. I think about the movie version with Liza Minnelli and her impossibly huge eyes and elfin persona. In a present-day version of this movie, would it be Breitbart or Palin who sings “Willkommen?” Am I Cliff Bradshaw, teaching English, or am I the oblivious Sally Bowles, continuing to sing and dance while the Nazi party grows stronger? And there it is: the Nazi comparison. In the past, I’ve told my freshmen comp students that no matter how horrible they think of American politicians, they are not Hitler. But here I am making parallels and I can’t tell if they’re reluctant parallels or if I’m ignoring how this all lines up.
When I have time alone, I sit and work over what happens next. I am not a politician and I don’t want to be. Still, like any American and many Democrats, I think strategy for the future. How do we resist?
If resistance is joy, the GOP is in ecstasy. For the last eight years, they’ve done nothing but resist. Think of how many times the Affordable Care Act has been challenged. Think of all the blocked appointments, including that of Merrick Garland for the recently-deceased Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. Think of the repeated attempts at firearms regulations being shot down by the GOP. Yes, the GOP should be all tickled pink in their resistance. So maybe the Democrats should borrow some strategies from their friends on the right; but I fear they won’t. I fear that Democrats will continue on as they are expected to. As I continue to teach and work on my fiction and poems, the Democrats will continue acting as if we weren’t bulldozed by a neo-fascist and his far-right army. They will continue to argue on the Senate or House Floor as if their words would actually sway anyone who is not them, they will continue to confirm appointees, they will continue to believe that this is the America that elected them.
I fear they won’t resist because, as Michelle Obama has suggested in her elegant speech, they will go high. Mrs. Obama was not the first person to preach the high road and I’m happy that she said it, but it doesn’t seem to be working. We’re so fucking high now, we might as well be smoking. But we lost the election. Donald Trump won. The far-right feels emboldened and will try to act unchecked.
When I considered this bit of advice—to go high—I marvel at how similar it is to saying, “Don’t wear your jeans so low.” I hear going high as, “Well, don’t have nappy hair.” I hear going high as, “Use correct English.” I hear, “Call them ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’” I hear, “Don’t cuss.” This is respectability politics. I know it doesn’t work. As elegant and gorgeous our present First Lady is, people still call her an ape. She has a body that is enviable, but people say she looks like a man.
To some people, we (and here, I mean black people) can be articulate, well-dressed, and well-educated, but we are still other. We don’t belong in certain circles. We definitely don’t belong in the White House. And no matter how fairly the game is played, we can’t win. That’s race, I know. Not all of the Democratic Party is black (or of color, for that matter), but I want to extend that erroneous argument of respectability politics to the entire party, notably to people of color and women of all backgrounds, to LGBTQ people, and working-class people of all backgrounds (because not all working-class people are white in the Midwest, goddamnit). I want to tell the Democratic Party to fuck respectability and get your respect. Don’t confirm shit. If Trump lets in some eggs from that disgusting basketful of deplorables, don’t give them the time of day. If anybody on the other side of the aisle says boo, act a motherfucking fool. Resist!
And for me? Far away from all that matters, too freaked out to pick up a phone to cancel a reservation let alone call my representatives? Too bothered by chanting crowds to attend rallies and protests? How do I resist?
Maybe this essay is a start. Maybe continuing to instill in my students a sense of worth and purpose along with the ability to teach themselves is resistance. And, dude, my writing isn’t irrelevant, so maybe I’ll keep working on my fiction and my poems. I think I am more Cliff Bradshaw than Sally Bowles. Maybe this is how I resist.