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Four Views: 100 Days Of Trump Resistance

Above Photo: Protesters march past the Trump International Hotel in Washington, 15 April, 2017. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Three months in, the future is totally unpredictable. But a dramatic fightback is under way. Four activists tell us how they are adapting to the new normal

Naomi Wolf, author, political journalist and cofounder of DailyClout: ‘Trump didn’t do this. You did this. Your own inaction brought us exactly here’

Under George Bush Jr, the left had been very receptive to the book’s message about how democracies are undermined by the classic tactics of would-be authoritarians.

But once Obama was elected – “one of ours” – I had to spend the next eight years yelling like a haunted Cassandra, to a room the left had abandoned. I had yelled myself hoarse for eight years under Obama about what it would mean for us to sit still while Obama sent drones in to take out US citizens in extrajudicial killings; what it would mean for us to sit still while he passed the 2012 National Defence Authorisation Act that let any president hold citizens for ever without charge or trial; what it would mean for us to sit still while he allowed NSA surveillance, allowed Guantánamo to stay open, and allowed hyped terrorism stories to hijack the constitution and turn the US into what finally even Robert F Kennedy Jr was calling a national security surveillance state.

Naomi Wolf, photographed last week at Stony Brook University, NY: ‘I was mad at my own leftwing tribe.’ Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Observer
Naomi Wolf, photographed last week at Stony Brook University, NY: ‘I was mad at my own leftwing tribe.’ Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Observer

For eight years, under Obama, my audiences were libertarian cowboys and red-state truckers; members of the military and police forces, who were appalled by what they were witnessing; and even conservatives, worried about our legacy of freedom. My usual audience, the shoppers at Whole Foods and drivers of hybrid cars, the educated left, my people, sat smugly at home while the very pillars of American democracy were being systematically chipped away. They were watching Downton Abbey and tending their heirloom tomato patches on weekends in the Hudson Valley, because everything was OK; yeah, he may OK drone strikes, but they can’t be that bad, since he was one of “ours” – a handsome, eloquent African American, a former community organiser – in the Oval Office. Seduced by the image of a charming black man on Air Force One who talked about “change” – a white woman in a pantsuit (though highly paid by Goldman Sachs) talking about “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” – the left slumbered while US democracy was undone brick by brick by brick.

So my feeling, the first inaugural month of 2017, as the left sat shiva, was: now you are worried? Now you want action? Now that the separation of powers is a joke and the constitution has collapsed around your ears, you point a finger at Trump and say, “Sudden Catastrophe?”

He didn’t do this. You did this.

Your own inaction and willingness to be seduced by two-bit identity politics labels, without actually doing the hard work of being patriots and defending the actual constitution – brought us exactly, exactly here.

I had sought for eight years to explain to my own people, to no avail, this: it is not that important who sits in the White House if the structures of democracy are strong. If the structures of democracy are strong – you can have a madman or madwoman for four years or even eight, and then he or she is gone, and the nation’s freedoms live.

But if you take an eight-year nap snoozing through a systematic dismantling of the structures of democracy – freedoms of speech; independence of the press; separation of powers; fourth amendment rights to privacy; and allow the suspension of due process under the guise of “fighting the war on terror” – hell yeah, some day you will wake up and there will be a crazy man or a strongman in the White House and then nothing you do or say will make a difference any more.

So yeah, Month One: I had nightly glasses of red wine to dull my rage at my own feeble delusional kind, and avoided the collective liberal “mourning conversation”.

Month Two: February was the month of OMG! Or else, WTF! I was part of it too, as Pres Trump’s new-to-us-all methods of exploding Twitter bombs, engaging in scary political theatre, committing daily acts of apparent, um, economic treason, and doing it all at a bewilderingly fast pace, demanded a learning curve from us all. It was a sense of chaos, destabilisation. OMG! He issued a travel ban. OMG! People are held en masse at Newark – New York City taxi drivers are boycotting the airport because of the ban! OMG, Uber is profiting on picking up those rides! OMG, now we have to boycott Uber! WTF! He is rounding up immigrants! OMG – he is separating families at the border! WTF – did Kellyanne Conway just promote Ivanka Trump’s clothing line? Isn’t that illegal? WTF! Are Chinese influence-mongers really lining up at Mar-a-Lago to ingratiate themselves with the president’s son-in-law? WTF – stripping the EPA of any budget to keep the air and water clean? OMG – did he just say he doesn’t believe in global warming? There was a stream of statelier edits from Congress, as the nation’s “WTF?” reaction evolved into: can he really do that? Ben Cardin, the Democratic senator for Maryland, proposed a Senate resolution that Pres Trump obey the emoluments clause of the constitution, which forbids bribery (Trump had refused to put his holdings in a blind trust). States began to pass laws, such as those protection sanctuary cities, to fight back against measures that Trump was taking federally. My day-to-day life was spent at our tech company, DailyClout, training a group of young people to write about legislation, Congress and statehouses, and putting out news stories, blogs and opinion pieces following these developments. DailyClout is incubated in a cool space in Manhattan called Civic Hall, which is funded by Microsoft, Google and Omidyar Networks, where we are surrounded by others – mostly idealistic millennials – who are also building exciting new tools for new kinds of civic engagement.

Month Three: in March, we all began to see a massive grassroots “resistance”. I personally don’t like that term, because you use that term to fight a completed fascist takeover; it gives democracy’s opponents too much power; right now we have a battered democracy on life support that needs defending from those who wish to pull the plug.

March was the month that dozens of new entities devoted to mobilising citizen action emerged from the collective shock. There were so many forms of new organising and funding: online candidate training seminars to Knight Foundation grants for new tools to get public and municipal records to people. Existing “civic tech” sites such as PopVox and Countable were joined in March by a slew of new tools and sites put together by this powerful wave of activism. Our collective missions got boosted with jet fuel by the huge burst in ordinary citizens wanting and needing to take action. New platforms ranged from 5 Calls – which came out of the experience of volunteers in the Clinton campaign and which sends you political action steps to take in five phone calls – to DailyAction, a similar service, which emerged out of Creative Majority, a Pac that supports Democratic candidates, and USAFacts, set up by Steve Ballmer, formerly of Microsoft, which compiles and crunches federal, state and local data from government sources. My own life mission didn’t reorient, since I had cofounded DailyClout’s platform in 2010. But use of our civic engagement tools skyrocketed. Our first product, called BillCam, lets you search a database of live state and federal bills, then pop a live bill into your blog or news articles; it lets you interact with the bills in real time and share them socially. We also created RSS feeds to stream live state and federal legislation right into the websites of local, regional and national news sites, and the websites of elected officials. In March we boosted our blog stream and videos covering new state and federal legislation, and started to report on what people could do locally to push forward their issues. Our sites on social media grew by triple and quadruple digits.

Protesters against Trump’s travel ban order outside JFK Airport, 30 January. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images
Protesters against Trump’s travel ban order outside JFK Airport, 30 January. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images

I presented these tools in March to news outlets and candidates and campaigns around the country – from Maine to Ohio to Oregon. I felt as if I was rediscovering my own nation, as the people in it were rediscovering belatedly how precious and fragile democracy was, and how much it depends on an informed citizenship. We were invited to demo it in a senate office; we visited Congress too, for our first exclusive interview, with Representative French Hill of Arkansas; I had never before been inside the Senate office building, or the Congress’s Longworth House Office Building. It was uplifting and moving to me. I also saw that elected officials worried about democracy, and wanting to empower real citizens, existed on both sides of the aisle.

We got our widget embedding live bills into news outlets totalling 160 million readers. In Q1 of 2017, 113,000 people searched BillCam to look at bills that would affect them – that they could now affect in turn. There are still shocking days – missiles to Syriagunboats to North Korea – but we stay focused.

An amazing thing happened in March. The distinguished technologist George Polisner –who quit his senior-level role at Oracle in a public letter, covered widely in the US press, in which he demurred from Oracle’s CEO’s intention of “working with President Trump” – had started “ Civ.Works, a social platform, privacy protected so citizens can organise without fear of a corporate-buyout Big Brother. Polisner and DailyClout joined forces in March. We’re working to combine Civ.Works’ power of organising with the power of DailyClout’s streaming digital updates via RSS feeds, blogs and video, about local and federal legislation. No wonder I feel excited about the future.

Am I happy about the present? I feel incredibly energised, hopeful and certain that if enough citizens, in our democracy and worldwide, wake up (as they are) and are able to get hold of real tools to use democracy – and those best-case tools are now digital and link to social and digital media – we can indeed be in the midst of what another president called “a new birth of freedom”. Where I live, every day, on the frontlines of this digital revolution, there is every reason to feel in spired. That doesn’t mean I am “happy” about where the nation is – I am extremely scared, just as I am scared about the future of Europe in a parallel assault on its democracies.

But the biggest threat in the US or the UK isn’t one political party or candidate. It is people’s ignorance about their own democracies and their till-now lack of real-life tools to protect them. DailyClout UK and DailyClout EU are next on our list of planned launches: the UK legislative database is totally unsearchable, and the UK Parliament’s own website ends in dead links when you try to find actual legislation. The EU website tells you with difficulty what bills have passed but doesn’t show you what is coming up, when you might possibly take action – it offers a feed of pointless press releases instead. This lack of legislative transparency and usability had a lot to do, I believe, with the Brexit vote.

Months Four, Five and Six will see more and more of these tools – from dozens of T-shirt-clad bespectacled tech revolutionaries, coming online. Geeks are the new patriots, and code is the new “shot heard round the world”.

Naomi Wolf recently finished a PhD at the University of Oxford and is CEO of

May Boeve, environmental campaigner and director of ‘We will take power back. And when that happens, we need a very bold agenda’

May Boeve photographed in Dumbo Brooklyn: ‘We’re up against: the full political might of the fossil-fuel industry.’ Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Observer
May Boeve photographed in Dumbo Brooklyn: ‘We’re up against: the full political might of the fossil-fuel industry.’ Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Observer

As soon as we sang the first chorus of the hymn, the tears started. “Here I go again,” I thought, “crying in church.” This was three weeks ago. And the week before, and the week before that, all the way back to last November’s election.

Sudden emotional outbursts are how I’m able to understand what Donald Trump’s presidency means to me. I wasn’t disconnected to these emotions before, but it’s the unexpected and potent nature that has changed.

I’m in no immediate danger from the Trump presidency. I’m not fearing deportation, the loss of my healthcare, a racially motivated arrest. I haven’t been personally attacked online or in the real world. So when I get scared and start crying, I wonder what it would feel like to be in that more vulnerable position, and I’m more distressed by the damage being done.

My lens on Trump stems from work in the climate movement. My vantage point is as executive director of, a global effort to build a social movement that can confront the power of the fossil-fuel industry and accelerate our transition to 100% renewable energy.

Trump stands in direct opposition to those goals. As president, he has wholeheartedly taken the side of the oil, coal, and gas industry and is already seeing to it that their agenda is enacted. Previous US presidents and candidates also did business with this industry, but at the same time they decried the threat of climate destabilisation, worked actively to secure international diplomatic alliances leading to an agreement, and achieved some progress from the executive branch.

Before Trump’s election, the climate movement had made some serious progress. Thanks to the good work of movements around the world, the social licence of this industry is on the decline. Investors are pulling their dollars, banks are cancelling loans, and public support for fossil-fuel companies is low.

Ditto for the politicians who back them up. Take congressman Lamar Smith of Texas: 45% of his constituents, not unacquainted with his ties to the oil industry, were less inclined to vote for Smith when as chair of the house science committee he failed to investigate ExxonMobil’s alleged climate cover-up. ( is under subpoena from Smith’s office for our efforts to get the truth out about Exxon.) From the political arena to our energy markets, it felt like the tide was finally beginning to turn in our direction.

But then along came Donald Trump to declare climate change a hoax (the only head of state in the world to do so), promising to revive the coal industry (declining in the US, thanks to terrific organising), and appointing known climate-change deniers to head the very offices responsible for regulating the problem.

When Trump won, a new kind of despair settled over climate activists. We’re pretty accustomed to despair already – climate grief circles have started up in Australia, home to devastating heatwaves, fires, drought, and a basically decimated Great Barrier Reef – but this felt like something new.

One week after the election, I was at a gathering with movement leaders across the faith, labour, LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements. We were each asked to write down one hard truth about the election that we hadn’t yet said out loud. One person wrote: “The small window of time we had to dramatically reduce emissions may have just closed.”

At the very time when we need to be taking great leaps forward, Trump and his allies are dragging us backwards with an ideology that puts corporate power above all else – and you’d be hard pressed to find a set of corporations more desperate to hold on to power than the likes of Exxon, Chevron and numerous coal and gas companies with less brand recognition.

At least now there’s no mystery about what we’re up against: the full political might of the fossil-fuel industry. Two examples register highly on that score. The first is the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. The second is the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

A successful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline slated to drill beneath the Missouri River and through sacred Sioux grounds has been reversed by Trump Photograph: DDP USA/Rex/Shutterstock
A successful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline slated to drill beneath the Missouri River and through sacred Sioux grounds has been reversed by Trump Photograph: DDP USA/Rex/Shutterstock

The Tillerson appointment stands out because even the most cynical and pessimistic among us didn’t predict that a person at the pinnacle of “big oil” would be in charge of diplomacy in the Trump regime. As my colleague Bill McKibben has said, you might as well ask Ronald McDonald to head up the Department of Agriculture. And Exxon isn’t just any oil company: it has hidden what it knew about climate change, as early as the late 1970s, in order to continue making money on a product it knew was wrecking the planet. It funded climate-denying thinktanks and retained the same firms that helped tobacco companies claim that nicotine isn’t addictive. It should be bad enough to have the entire cabinet made up of the 1%, but the state post provides Tillerson and Exxon with far too much temptation to officially use the US foreign policy apparatus to keep extracting more oil.

The night I saw that Trump suggested Tillerson for the post, I burst into tears and crawled into bed. It was a feeling close to panic, in recognition of what might happen and how powerless I felt. Thank goodness I’m part of a big team, some of whom love battle and were quick to start writing and producing statements denouncing his appointment. Reports came out last week that of all the cabinet members, Tillerson is doing the best job keeping a close relationship to the president. Because this man is used to operating in secrecy, we’ll have to stay vigilant to understand the moves he’ll be making.

Then there is the remarkable story about the Dakota Access pipeline and the historic resistance at Standing Rock. At no other time has there been this much widespread opposition to a pipeline, for the many reasons pipelines merit our opposition. This represented an alliance of tribes whose rights, livelihoods and lives have been systematically desecrated by the US government and corporations. The camp at Standing Rock itself was a symbol of everything Trumpism cannot be: spiritually grounded, connected to history and land, fundamentally respectful of the rights of nature and peoples, infused with art and music and heart. It moved people to act in solidarity all over the world. Many moved money out of the banks invested in the project.

And the resistance worked. The forces at Standing Rock peacefully made sure that the Obama administration put a stop to the construction and allowed further review of the pipeline’s viability.

So it was with cruelty – the same cruelty seen in the enactment of the Muslim travel ban and the gamble with the healthcare of 24 million people – that Trump signed an executive order to begin construction immediately. At the end of March, oil began to flow through the pipeline. This is why I’m still crying in church. The minute I start to feel numb, I believe I’ll lose some hope and resolve.

And there is another animating goal. Progressives share so much, but so often our human nature and lopsided structures get in the way. Can we use this moment to be honest with each other in a new and different way, and clear up longstanding disagreements and inequalities that enable us to be aligned behind a common vision? Because I believe we will take power back. And when that happens, we need to enact a very bold agenda that catapults political possibilities far, far away from where Trump has dragged them.

This work is already under way: it’s the work of conversations between unions and environmentalists; large, well-funded organisations and smaller grassroots ones; centrist and more radical activists; and those who believe change comes from disrupting unjust laws and those whose work is to pass just ones.

It’s the work of the People’s Climate March, which will take place on Saturday, 29 April in Washington DC and throughout the rest of the country. Its message aspires to the future we’re trying to build, and it’s being organised by a diverse cross-section of the entire movement.

That tearful day in church ended on a high note. Afterwards, some friends and I went to New York’s MoMA PS1 museum to see the Rev Osagyefo Uhuru Sekouperform. Rev Sekou is a Pentecostal minister, an author and a gospel and blues musician, who has been active in the Movement for Black Lives. Yes, I went to church twice that day, and no, that isn’t the norm for me! And when he sang “What a time to be alive, the revolution has come”, I didn’t feel like crying – I felt like getting back to work.

Alicia Garza, co-founder, Black Lives Matter: ‘We are in for a long fight – and not all of us will make it’

 Alicia Garza: ‘The resistance is real.’ Photograph: Kristin Little
Alicia Garza: ‘The resistance is real.’ Photograph: Kristin Little

20 January 2017 marked a turning point for the entire world. Since the election results were announced on 8 November 2016 I’d been feeling mostly numb, unable to process what the impact would be for me, my family and the people I care about. I felt the need to be quiet, to be somewhere quiet. To have space to think.

Every step I took felt like walking on eggshells. The first few weeks after the election everyone around me seemed to be unsure, fearful and riddled with anxiety. I was too. Quick to lash out, slow to listen. I had nothing to start from except what I’d heard during the campaign.

And yet, at the same time, I did know what was coming. Perhaps somewhere my cells were reorganising to protect my heart from what was inevitable. More suffering, more uncertainty. More people dying for trying to live. During the campaign, the surrogates for our current president unabashedly attacked Black Lives Matter activists as “terrorists” and “cop killers”. In the aftermath of the election, there were many different responses. Some decided to continue their work as before and felt that not much had changed. Others decided to demonstrate their resistance by doing a direct action at the inauguration. Others shared information about the key players in the incoming administration, attempting to support others in the network to understand more clearly the new political agenda. All of us remain committed to the work of black liberation.

During the holidays, my family and I talked over dinner about personal security. I described to them a new set of protocols we would need to begin using in order to ensure our safety, insofar as that was even possible. My parents described their fear of what was to come. A lawsuit filed by a rabid conservative former district attorney hung over our heads as someone charged us and other activists with “starting a race war”. Indeed, the election of Donald Trump was like a nuclear plume slowly rising over the United States.

What I’ve learned in the first 100 days of this administration is that you can never stop dreaming about freedom. I’ve spent the past few months being relatively quiet. Listening. Brushing up on my reading about the right wing in the United States and the movement it has been diligently building for the past 30 years. I’ve taken to a practice of listening more and also listening less. Listening more to what’s not being said, watching as the various factions on the right joust for power and influence. I’ve taken stock of the damage, as the right wing now controls the presidency, the supreme court, Congress and the majority of state legislatures. Listening less to voices that refuse to deal with our political reality as it actually is, as opposed to how they want it to be.

The low points over the past few months have been many. Executive order after executive order that sought to punish the communities that make America great – Muslims, undocumented immigrants, black people, women, queer communities, transgender people. A “law and order” agenda that seeks to criminalise anyone who disagrees with the administration’s aims. An attorney general who refuses to protect each person equally. A secretary of education who seeks to privatise public education. A secretary of housing and urban development who seeks to slash an already paper-thin budget for housing set aside for those living in poverty. A chief strategist with white supremacist leanings who is responsible not just for advising the president, but who, to all intents and purposes, is the one pushing the many decisions that this so-called president espouses on television. And of course, the recent bombings of Syria and Afghanistan. Certainly, we are in for a long fight and not all of us will make it.


I comfort my parents who are concerned about the state of their healthcare. They’re both in their 60s and have recently retired. And so, while the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it is what they have and it is what they depend on. And it is what they deserve, what every human being on this Earth deserves – to be cared for.

And yet I am hopeful. The disorganisation of our political landscape offers abundant opportunities for new strategies and a transformation in the way we care for one another. I welcome the opportunity to be closer to my neighbours, to fight for myself, my family and my loved ones with every fibre of my being. Inside of the quiet, the cynicism dissipates. We have no choice other than to fight back, to take back what was always flawed but still holds the promise of what could be.

I remember that the resistance is real and it lives. The day before the president is inaugurated, I join more than a million women in the streets of Washington, DC;for many, this was their first time on a demonstration. When the president followed orders from his chief strategist to institute a travel ban on Muslims, airports were shut down by those fighting for democracy and those caught in the crosshairs of such a ridiculous endeavour were given legal support and reunited with their families. I work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a prominent voice and political vehicle for the millions of domestic workers in the United States who are still excluded from most federal labour protections – and so when the president initially nominated a man for secretary of labour who was known for his opposition to workers’ rights, we participated in the resistance to stop him from being confirmed. Representatives returned to their home districts and were forced to face their constituents in ways that they haven’t had to in decades.

And so, while there are many challenges to overcome, it is good to know that we are not alone in attempting to find the solutions necessary to save our lives and the lives of millions who are vulnerable not just in the United States, but around the world. Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. I’m happy to know which side I’m on.

Linda Tirado, writer on poverty: ‘My instinct is to set off around the country asking impertinent questions’

 Linda Tirado photographed in Washington, DC: ‘At least I have fertile land and a defensible perimeter.’ Photograph: Scott Suchman for the Observer
Linda Tirado photographed in Washington, DC: ‘At least I have fertile land and a defensible perimeter.’ Photograph: Scott Suchman for the Observer

I live in the heart of Trump country, in Meigs County, Ohio, a rural county struggling with poverty and addiction. My neighbours are precisely the people the right wing have been preying on and propagandising while the left abandoned them for decades. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see Clinton had lost. I’d just published a column in the Guardian about why so many people would be voting for Trump. But I wept on election night and then got well and truly drunk, because I didn’t want to think about what was coming next.

My household is bracing for disaster. I wrote a book, Hand to Mouth, about what a precarious life feels like, but this is the first time I’ve felt precarity coming in my bones and also had enough income to assuage my fears of: not enough food, not enough warmth, not enough anything on hand to deal with an emergency. I have a garden, as anyone in the country does, but we got serious about it after the election. This is the first year I’ve thought that food prices will spike enough to make it worth focusing on the garden as a food source, not just a hobby. Increased immigration raids will likely leave food rotting in the fields and shipping costs will probably go up as they do during periods of uncertainty; imported food will be more expensive.

And the more the country talked about Russia, the more sense it made to expand the plans we had for a few tomatoes and beans to include asparagus and maybe some root vegetables because they’ll keep just fine. The logic: oil and power costs tend to spike when Russia’s doing a thing and we’re bombing the Middle East. Then we thought: maybe berry bushes. A few fruit trees. And a herb patch. And maybe we should borrow a tiller at this point or buy one? Just now, I’m mapping out two weeks of my schedule around harvest time so I can be home to do the food preservation. We’re not about freeze-dried food storage yet; right now people are still only joking about nukes.

Besides, this part of the country’s turning into a rainforest. A decade ago this part of Ohio didn’t reach such high temperatures. Now summers are lush and humid, while winters are becoming harsher. So it’s not such a bad idea, if you happen to have the land and the time to get the work done, to be working on sustainability. Partially that’s environmentalism, but it’s an economic consideration too. It’s a thing we talk about over dinner at home or with friends. We also talk about power. Electricity is expensive, so is heating oil, and gas ain’t free either. Power will only get more expensive as regulations are rolled back and the market is left to its own devices. Water is already a scarce commodity. Might as well put in some solar panels if you can afford it.

I spent the weeks between the election and the inauguration mostly glued to Twitter. I tried to help people reason through what had just happened. I impatiently explained the philosophical and historical definition of fascism versus the hyperbolic version. I demanded we all grow up and focus on the important stuff: not what had happened, but what was coming. My audience grew and split into groups – people who liked my satirical round-ups of the incoming administration’s peccadilloes, people who liked that I discussed the reasons we were vulnerable to a demagogue, people who just wanted someone to explain what the hell had happened.

I started taking more note of political conversation I heard around me, too, here in rural Ohio, where they went for Trump hard. Consensus seemed to be building that voting Trump hadn’t worked but as it was a last-ditch attempt anyway, it was worth waiting to see. Nobody quite agreed on what he was supposed to have done or, rather, there were a lot of things. Mostly, he was supposed to have disrupted everything – but not exactly like this. He needed to get off that stupid Twitter, anyway, everyone agreed on that. I keep wondering what these people didn’t learn from the Tea Party.

Once the inauguration was over, I largely quit trying to explain anything to anyone online; emotion was riding too high and we were back to breaking news instead of analysis and I was planning a garden, so I started joking that no matter what happened, at least I had fertile land and a defensible perimeter. When the kids weren’t listening, we talked about what guns to buy.

Horse stables in Canton, rural Ohio: ‘the heart of Trump country’. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Observer
Horse stables in Canton, rural Ohio: ‘the heart of Trump country’. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Observer

Between the realisation that we were moving into a time of instability and trying to keep up with the daily domestic outrages, I couldn’t muster the energy to care about who had what ties with Russia. As far as I could tell, nobody knew anything concrete and it was all an expenditure of nervous tension, something tangible to turn like a Rubik’s Cube. I watched friends I respect come to personal attacks over whether Bernie or Hillary would have been better, instead of concentrating on the task at hand, which was: we damn well did have Trump.

If we could find someone to blame, we could avoid blaming ourselves: I watched it all spin around me and decided it wasn’t for me. I was going to concentrate on writing a book instead, paying closer attention to the world around me. I hoped that maybe by writing it I could answer my own questions: how did we get to this point where we seem incapable of governing? Where is this division and can we heal it? Most important, how is everyone experiencing all this unrest? I have always had a difficult time drawing a line between journalism and activism. I just go places and watch things and I write about them. I am a curious sort and my readers tend to be interested in the same things I am. Which I suppose is why, when faced with a country I hardly recognise, my instinct is to set off around the nation asking people impertinent questions and share what they tell me with everyone else.

Three months in, my neighbours who discuss politics in public and voted for Trump seem to be split between unreasonable partisan shills and people who voted for disruption because it was that or more of the same. It seems many people really were hoping that someone with no experience might – just maybe – do it differently. Only he’s turning out to be worse than anyone we’ve ever had so far and now discussion is turning to whether we even have a functioning government any more.

It’s a fight between what I know my country should be and what I see it turning into, which is the plaintive cry of all American millennials. I am 34 years old and I have watched my country poisoned by fear and hate, watched generations before me sell out my future and that of my children, watched us destroy the whole world’s economy and within months get back to business as usual and record highs in the markets. I do not have youthful hope for America, not now, and certainly not in Trump’s twisted version of freedom and progress where we hate and fear anyone who isn’t exactly like us and we have no charity for a fellow citizen. I was no fan of Hillary Clinton either, but at least she was only likely to enrich herself and her friends within reasonable limits. I can understand wanting power for power’s sake even if I wish leadership looked less like plutocracy. But I cannot, will not fathom the intentional hollowing of everything I have been taught to cherish.

I got a tattoo recently, for the first time since mid-2015. I get tattooed when I am wrestling with something very difficult, because I prefer to keep reminders than to learn lessons twice. In this case, I realised that I was worried I’d forgotten how to survive.

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