Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election was a traumatic event for many women, especially the white ones with college educations, lucrative professional careers, and an unhealthy obsession with politics that fills a gaping void in their lives by reinforcing their feelings of moral supremacy over their fellow Americans.
Women like Jennifer Rubin, the prolific social media user and Washington Post opinion columnist who once accused former president Barack Obama of having more sympathy for "the Muslim World" than for his fellow Americans, but has since reinvented herself as "one of the most reliable defenders of the Biden administration," according to Politico.
Rubin has written a book for people like her—the highly educated, politically obsessed members of the Extremely Online Élite who were compelled to do something in the wake of Trump's election. In Rubin's case, that meant "[pouring] my energy into my Washington Post opinion pieces and TV appearances to alert my fellow Americans." For others it meant retweeting a viral hashtag, or pretending to laugh at Sarah Cooper's "comedy" routine, or getting really annoyed whenever they saw a "MAGA" bumper sticker on the highway. Everyone contributed in their own way.
Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump is intended as a declaration of victory, albeit one precipitated by humiliating defeat. It reads, at times, like an episode of "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley," in which the manically deranged host/author seeks to assure the guest/reader it was all worth it. Trump is no longer president, which is the outcome they (and millions of others) wanted. Beyond that? What did the #Resistance actually accomplish? The down-ballot results from the 2020 election suggest: Not much.
Rubin attempts to provide an alternative answer. She strains to portray the #Resistance movement as a world historic uprising, injecting drama and emotional gravitas into events that most casual observers would regard as trivial. For example, the author recounts how EMILY's List CEO Stephanie Schriock "issued two directives to her staff that morning [after the 2016 election]: Clean up the office and get breakfast, a hot breakfast, for everyone. … That would begin the process of working their way through what still seemed like an awful dream."
Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress, one of the most influential political organizations in the country, also struggled to find the courage to persist. "As shaken as she was, she knew others were depending on her," Rubin writes, breathlessly. "She had a think tank, donors, and the entire progressive movement to worry about. If she crumbled, she could not very well expect all of them to carry on."
The Women's March following Trump's inauguration "proved as powerful as the women's movement of the 1970s and as consequential as the 1960s civil rights movement." What? You don't agree? A more accurate description can be found several pages later, when Rubin marvels at the "impressive onetime expression of angst" fueled by the marchers' desire to "find something bigger than oneself to latch on to" in this dispiriting age of faithless zealots.
It's not the only instance where Rubin inadvertently tells on herself and undermines her own argument. Trump turned the Republican Party into a demented cult of personality, she huffs in between psychotic exaltations of Democratic politicians. "There would be no greater delight for those in the Resistance than watching [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi taunt and outfox Trump," the author squees. "Her iconic poses—strutting from the White House with sunglasses affixed or looming over Trump in a Cabinet room confrontation—never failed to lift my spirits."
The author outs her target audience (other Jennifer Rubin types) by citing the time Pelosi "wore the orange coat" without any additional context, as though the average well-adjusted individual who doesn't spend all day on Twitter would instantly know what the hell she's talking about. The Pelosi hagiography goes on for several paragraphs. "She provided solace for distressed voters with virtuoso performances, clucking over her committee chairmen like a mother hen, joking with the press, and reminding us that Trump, not us, was the crazy one," Rubin coos. "She reminded us that power is not inconsistent with elegance and fashion."
This pales in comparison to the fangirling over Kamala Harris that will further cement Rubin's status as the Biden administration's favorite journalist. "Of all the candidates, male or female, she displayed the most charisma, natural talent," Rubin declares, against all evidence. She "displayed flashes of brilliance" and exuded "a force of personality not unlike Bill Clinton." Like Hillary Clinton, she was a victim of systemic misogyny, such as the unfair criticism Harris received for a perceived "fuzziness" on health care. By "fuzziness," Rubin is presumably referring to the candidate's multiple flip-flops on Medicare for All, and her remarkable inability to articulate a coherent position.
Perhaps the most memorable passage from Resistance, which is dedicated to "democracy's defenders," is the author's brutal takedown of the national media's bizarre obsession with the unqualified male candidates running in the Democratic primary, such as former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg:
Buttigieg's achievements—seven languages! classical pianist!—were impressive, but perhaps more to college-educated journalists than average voters. He was smart and well-travelled like them; he was able to hold forth on virtually any topic like them. He was tech savvy like them. He was the polite honor student every parent adored, the overachieving and highly credentialed millennial who most closely tracked the profile of the people covering him.
It's an insightful analysis that might have prompted Rubin to wonder why her own preferred candidates—Harris and Elizabeth Warren—didn't fare any better than the obnoxious wunderkind, despite being adored by white professionals like herself. Apart from sexism, obviously.
Despite her strong conviction that sexism is to blame for the failure of female politicians on the national stage, Rubin betrays a limited understanding of the concept—at least the version touted by her political allies. After criticizing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) for lacking "authenticity," the author asserts that it's "sexist" to describe Warren as "unlikable," and proceeds to dismiss the critics who accused her of sexism for suggesting Warren had come across as "angry" and "mean" during a debate. To be fair, consistency isn't exactly Rubin's strong suit.
She is similarly confused about whether the success of Republican women is something worth celebrating. She notes approvingly that GOP women "triumphed" in the 2020 elections, while praising groups like Republican Women for Progress, formally known as Republican Women for Hillary. Yet the Republican Party remains a "hotbed of White grievance and misogynistic resentment," and the success of certain women, such as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, is actually very dangerous for women.
Resistance is therefore a must read for college-educated liberals who have stopped paying attention to politics after Joe Biden was inaugurated, but would like to relive the glory days of being irrationally traumatized by Trump's tweets and watching C-SPAN coverage of the impeachment hearings on the toilet, as well as the rush of getting their first "Black Lives Matter" yard sign in the mail. It wasn't all performative anxiety, it actually mattered. Because you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like Jennifer Rubin will always have your back.
Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump
by Jennifer Rubin
William Morrow, 416 pp., $27.99