There is no denying that the past four years have been politically polarizing for the American people. Long-simmering tensions have risen to a fever pitch, and cracks have stretched to chasms as families, friendships, and society at large fissures into factions over issues of immigration, healthcare, climate change, and civil rights. While America has always wobbled along the line between melting pot and powder keg, for many of us, Election Night 2016 and the time since has made these divisions uncomfortably visible for the first time, disrupting our perception of the supposed “land of the free” and her citizens.
Enter Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era, a volume that probes the consequences of this cultural shift for women in America. Gathering essays from a diverse group of women dealing with issues such as chronic illness, immigration, parenting, and LGBTQ+ rights under the new administration, the collection challenges privilege and preconceived notions, revealing paths to transforming fear and anger into support and activism.
Not content with simply featuring this tour de force as a Lit Hit on our website, we reached out to Regal House Publishing to put editors Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores in touch with reviewer Danielle Ballantyne for an in-depth interview.
The floor is yours, Danielle!
Many of the women in your collection—and, I believe, many people in general—have a flashbulb memory from Election Night 2016 or the following day. I, for one, recall hearing two women consoling one another in the stairwell outside my office, their slow steps clacking to a halt on the tile before being replaced with muffled sobs. You both touch on this somewhat in your entries in the collection, but what do you feel is the one memory or image that remains most potent in your mind from that time?
Alissa: I recall haphazardly watching the election results on TV, convinced Hillary would win, so not paying too much attention. As the election map turned increasingly red, my sister called me from the East Coast (I’m in California) to tell me it was looking like Hillary couldn’t possibly win. I didn’t believe her. I told her repeatedly that we needed to wait to see. I went to sleep convinced that Hillary would pull through.
When I woke up the next day, and heard the final results, I was astounded. When Hillary conceded, I wanted to yell at her not to do so so soon. I believed there’d been some mistake. I remained in denial for several days. I supported Jill Stein’s call for a recount. I continued to hold out naive faith that thirty-seven GOP electors of the Electoral College would vote no for Trump and preclude him from becoming president. I thought that everyone must see what I did: that he was a dangerously malignant narcissist and that there was a strong possibility that Russia had swayed our election. When it became clear that this would not be the case, after a prolonged period of denial and bargaining, I finally sunk into grief.
Many of my clients wanted to process the election results. I made no pretense of hiding my grief, when it was clear that the client shared my politics (as most do in Northern CA), believing as I did that it was therapeutic to validate their reality.
Amy: The most potent images for me are photos of graffiti sent to me by my son on election night. On the bathroom walls in his college’s library, a vandal drew a swastika and wrote “White is Right.” That wasn’t all. Other messages written in Sharpie demeaned LGBTQ people and black and “brown-skinned” people with invectives I’d rather not repeat. It was as if, with Trump’s election, the dogs of hell had been unleashed. I felt naive by my shock, which arose from my assumption that most Americans had overcome this type of hatefulness. In truth, it was only in hibernation, like some eight-year cicada. Donald Trump was the pheromone that signaled it was safe to come out again.
The uptick in hate crimes has, over the course of the Trump presidency, become all too personal for me. My son was friends and went to school with Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, who was stabbed to death on a Portland MAX train for defending two women wearing hijabs. The Chabad of Poway, where a mass shooting took place last year, was just a few blocks from the house where my kids grew up. And last October I was witness to a vicious hate crime against three Muslim women in broad daylight here in San Diego. In fact, I followed and led police to the perpetrator. He’s now awaiting trial.
Whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, or partners, it seems no one has come out of this polarizing election without at least one relationship in their life permanently altered. Amy, you touch on unfriending people on social media, while Lisa L. Kirchner’s “Would My Heart Survive Donald Trump?” takes a more measured, don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover approach. If you’re comfortable sharing, in what ways has this election impacted your relationships? How significant do you believe political differences are in relationships?
Alissa: Living as I do in the progressive bubble of Sonoma County, most of my friends share my politics, and I am grateful to have people to commiserate with. However, some relationships have been altered. I recall when my stepdaughter, who bounces back and forth between supporting Trump and opposing him, reacted to an early anti-Trump Facebook post of mine by telling me she could no longer have a relationship with me. Although she eventually came around, it was an indication to me of how polarizing things had become. I had one client who spoke often and at length about his support for Trump. It was somewhat challenging for me to work to understand his views. I had to work extra hard to take myself out of the room—to be the sounding board he needed. Finally, when my husband informed me that he wanted to divorce, one reason he gave was that he wasn’t as interested in politics as I was. He wasn’t interested in supporting my activism. I felt I could not respect someone—a Latino man, no less—who didn’t feel obligated to be part of the resistance.
Amy: On the one hand, I lost all patience for the admittedly few Trump defenders in my life. The only person I (barely) tolerated was the new beau of my eighty-year-old aunt in Iowa. She’s had a really rough life, and I’m just so happy she has someone to love and who loves her, so I chose not to engage with him when I was there on a recent visit. For a while, I engaged everyone I encountered who supported Trump—including a waitress at Seasons 52. I don’t recommend it. I heard an interview with the author Steve Almond who said something to the effect of, “There are some whose minds will never be changed, and, rather than argue with them until you’re blue in the face, you just need to wait until they die off.” I think that’s a coarse way of saying certain battles just aren’t worth the energy and the upset.
Paradoxically, I find myself more tolerant of moderate Republicans than ever before. Donald Trump has done them a favor by making them appear more sane and reasonable—people like David Jolly, Bill Kristol, Nicolle Wallace, Michael Steele, etc. I had a thought just today that someone should try to form a new party of moderates, you know, those who’ve been put off or driven away by the far extremes of their respective parties. Call it the Bridge Party—people who want and know how to bridge the partisan divide and get shit done. Ideologically, I support Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming election, but a part of me thinks someone like Klobuchar is what the country is yearning for.
As far as close friends or family relationships, I’ve been disappointed in a few people who privately oppose Trump, but don’t stick their necks out and say so, or do nothing to resist the administration and its policies. One of my best friends is a pediatric hematology-oncology nurse and I give her a pass. My stepdaughter is a single mom raising two young children and I give her a pass too. Not everyone can write a book, but a lot of people in my inner circle could be doing more and it’s sometimes disappointing to see their lack of effort. That said, I could never be a pediatric hem-onc nurse, so I think we all do what we can where we’re best able to make a difference. It helps me to look at it in terms of comparative advantage. We all have some things we’re better at than others. I happen to be a good advocate, activist, and communicator.
Apart from your own, which essay in the collection did you feel the strongest sense of kinship toward? What about that essay stood out to you?
Alissa: I feel particular kinship to the essays that speak about the rise of anti Semitism in America: Lea Grover’s “How I’m Teaching My Jewish Daughters About Donald Trump,” in which she writes about lockdown drills at her daughters’ Hebrew school; Dawn Marlan’s “Hauntings,” in which she speaks of her personal connection to the Squirrel Hill community in Philadelphia, in light of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting; and Dina Elenbogen’s essay, “The Fire in the Distance,” in which she is aware of the rising threat level under Trump.
Because I was raised by a Jewish community only twenty-some-odd years removed from the Holocaust, when Trump was elected, all my sensitivity buttons to anti-Semitism were triggered. I remember elementary school conversations in which we were posed the question, “What would you do if what happened in Nazi Germany happened here?” At the time, I thought the question absurd. Like most Jewish people of my generation, we thought that Nazism could never happen here. We have been proven wrong, and it is terrifying. Never before have I felt so vulnerable and unsafe as a Jew in America.
Amy: This is such a tough question because I truly feel a kinship toward all the essays and toward all the contributors as well even though I’ve only met a few of them in person. But if I had to pick one, it’s Dawn Marlan’s “Hauntings” because her childhood reminds me so much of my own—tomboys, raised by single moms, who didn’t quite ‘fit in,’ and who had complicated journeys of taking ownership of our bodies and sexuality.
There are several scenes in the collection that also resonate: In Katherine Morgan’s essay “America, The Beautiful” I can feel myself in the classroom with her as she stands for the Pledge of Allegiance. As I read on, I’m not only in the classroom, I’m in her shoes as she takes an inventory of her feelings about her country. It’s quite a remarkable feat Katherine pulls off.
Alissa and I both dedicated the book to our mothers. Marianne Leone, Heidi Hutner, and Jennifer Silva Redmond, among others, pay tribute to their mothers, as well. Those essays struck a chord.
Finally, in terms of the writing craft, the to-and-fro nature of Ann Klotz’s essay, “The Cat and the Cardiologist,” inspired me to structure my own essay similarly.
Several women in the collection express an increase in stress, anxiety, even PTSD following the election. You discuss this as well, Alissa, in your entry relating to your experience with clients as a psychotherapist. The Kavanaugh hearings, in particular, seemed to reignite trauma for many, but it was also something of a national slow-motion car crash: impossible to look away from. How have each of you balanced your activism and staying informed with self-care and knowing your limits?
Alissa: When the election results began to sink in, I felt a fire was lit under me that compelled me to become a more committed activist than I’d ever been before. I couldn’t bear the feeling of powerlessness I felt knowing that this dangerous man was in such a powerful position nationally and internationally. I felt that I needed to do something. Many things. I became involved in the Duty to Warn movement of mental health professionals, founded by Dr. John Gartner, warning of the dangers Trump poses to the public mental health, even pushing myself beyond my innate introversion to become one of the group’s leaders. I began to blog, for the first time, about how politics was influencing people’s psychological well-being: writing which eventually led me to this collaboration with Amy. I joined my synagogue’s Social Action/Social Justice committee. I made calls with Indivisible and Swing Left. I devoured the news daily, obsessively, reading it during my lunch breaks instead of socializing with my colleagues.
Of course, I knew intellectually, and from wanting to practice what I preach to my clients, that I needed breaks as well. So I practiced yoga and meditation with more regularity. I stepped up my workout routine.
But it was only when my husband told me, out of the blue, that he wanted to divorce that I was forced to confront the fact that I needed to take better care of myself. Had I missed certain signs in my marriage because I was so Trump-obsessed? My personal trauma forced me to focus less on the national trauma, to step up my own self-care routine, and to seek more support from my own therapist and from friends.
Amy: Shortly after the election, I turned off news notifications on my iPhone so that I could be in control of when and how often I took my news. My husband is the first to notice when I’m burned out because I’ll get disproportionately upset about insignificant matters. That’s usually when I dial back on my editing, news consumption, and switch from reading feminist or social justice books to a quiet novel with a strong sense of place—maybe something by Wendell Berry or something set on a Scottish moorland with emerald green hills that stretch on and on forever under a beautiful blue sky. That kind of thing. I’d also turn to poetry that speaks to our humanity. A few of my favorites include Ellen Bass’s “If You Knew,” and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” which has a verse that slays me:
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
I try to be kind to myself when I feel the burnout, and remind myself of Audre Lorde’s powerful message, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In other words, I rest to fight another day.
While the subject of Fury is the lived experiences of women, men also feature in the essays—some more supportive forces than others. Though obviously not the focus of the book, do you believe men can benefit from picking it up as well? What do you think they would gain from the reading?
Alissa: Men can certainly benefit from reading this book. I have shared it with two male friends in particular, who are helping me to promote it. Men have their own traumatizing “lived experiences” under Trump. One former male client—a victim of sexual abuse—felt as traumatized by the Kavanaugh hearings as my women clients did. And men are also witnessing the negative impact our Predator-in-Chief and his administration’s anti-choice, anti-women policies are having on their wives, sisters, daughters, and female relatives and friends. Reading Fury will increase their capacity for empathy for all of the women in their lives.
Amy: Nothing would make me happier than to see men reading Fury. Not just because I think they need to hear the message we’re trying to spread, but because I think they would be helped by it. I have two sons in their twenties and sometimes they come to me with “woman problems.” I do my best to explain what the woman might be thinking and how her perspective might not be wrong so much as it’s different. Women are complex creatures, not to mention contradictory at times. It was Alissa’s idea to put “lived experiences” in the subtitle, and at one point the publisher wanted to remove the word ‘lived’ to shorten the title, and Alissa fought hard to keep it. I’m so glad she did. I hope that a man picking up this book can, if only for a brief time, feel what it’s like to live in a woman’s body, world, thoughts.
Unfortunately, I have low expectations that many men will read it. I predict one of my sons will read it and one won’t (hopefully when they read this they’ll both read it because they don’t know which one I predict will). My husband has had the opportunity to read the ARC and hasn’t, yet. My stepson doesn’t read books. Neither of my brothers will read it because women are objects, not humans, in their eyes. I doubt my dad will read it. In fact, my dad, who is a voracious reader, once told me he doesn’t read books by women. I know of three or four male friends who will read it cover to cover, but they’re already in the choir. So it’s frustrating because it’s men who need to read Fury the most because it addresses a lot of their blind spots. It’s like the guys who pose next to their cars wearing dark wrap-around shades for their dating app profile pictures. I can’t tell you how many women have said to me they immediately eliminate those types of guys from consideration without reading a single word in their profile. For me, it was always the guy who couldn’t write in complete sentences. We all have filters. But my point is that while it may sting to have your blind spots revealed, it can be enlightening and helpful to know what others think of you, or at least know if you have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.
Amy, you mention going on a social media “diet;” other entries in the collection reference the highs and lows of Facebook, Twitter, even Match.com in the post-Trump era. How do you both feel about the impact of social media leading up to and in the time since the election? What benefits do you believe a detox could bring our readers?
Alissa: I feel that, overall, Facebook has functioned as a support group for me, as so many of my friends—across the country and the world—share my politics. We have commiserated with and supported each other through our posts. I’ve also been educated and informed by reading certain (well-sourced) articles they’ve posted and various perspectives—especially those of friends abroad. Being part of the Duty to Warn and Duty to Protect groups has kept me informed and connected me with a wider community of activism. The Indivisible and Swing Left FB groups have notified me of local actions I have been able to take.
That said, along with so many others, I am concerned about the spread of fake news stories through social media and how that spread has confused and misinformed voters, possibly even manipulating election results.
I stay off of Twitter, because I think that platform in particular—encouraged by our President—has led to increased interpersonal insensitivity as well as outright cyberbullying.
“Everything in moderation”—so, too, it is important to discern when social media has become more of a negative than positive influence, and to take breaks as needed.
Amy: The thing I asked myself was do I want social media to control me or do I want to control it. Leading up to the election, I felt like my highs and lows were often tied to what was in my newsfeed. Same with the Mueller investigation—during the height of it, I’d regularly check my Twitter feed for news in the middle of the night. I have this funny barometer though. If my right arm or thumb begins to hurt, I know I’ve spent too much time on my phone/social media and I go on a diet—kinda like when my pants are too tight, I cut out desserts. Still, my average hours on my phone kept inching upward, so finally I took the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone entirely. It’s made a huge difference in my life in that I’m now much more present for others. I’ve also noticed I can hear myself think and I have more original—or maybe less derivative—thoughts than I did before I cut back. It wasn’t easy for the first week or two, but I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks they want to be more in control of their time and thoughts.
With the 2020 election on the horizon, what is one piece of advice or food for thought you would want everyone to take with them into the voting booth?
Alissa: Going into the 2020 election cycle, I want people to think about the fact that this is the most important election of our lifetimes. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that if we do not turn the country around from the direction it’s going, irreparable damage will be done to our planet, to our democracy, and to our international relationships. I want people to vote as if their very lives depend on it: as they may very well.
For those not currently impacted by some of this administration’s cruel and heartless policies—at the border, towards minorities and the LGBTQ community, etc.—I want people to reflect both on John Donne’s famous quote: “Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am a part of mankind,” as well as Pastor Martin Niemoller famous poem:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
Amy: I’d tell others this: whether you’ve personally suffered under this administration doesn’t matter. Read Fury and you’ll begin to understand how others have. Millions of Americans have suffered in more ways than even I could have imagined when I began this project—from discrimination and bullying, from the fear of being deported or the fear of being shot while in a house of worship or at school. Personally, I’m terrified my children, who both have pre-existing conditions, will lose their healthcare, which is trivial compared to living without potable water or working in a field that is sprayed with brain-damaging pesticides. I understand you may like your tax break or you may be pro-life. You may fear the change that accompanies equal rights for others whose lived experiences or lifestyles may not make sense to you. Even so, if you are the least bit uncomfortable with your fellow humans suffering, then you have no choice but to vote for someone other than Trump.
Finally, at the end of the day, the candidate with the most votes wins, so my other best advice is to make sure to vote. Good intentions mean nothing in an election. I understand if you don’t want to write a book or march, or state your political beliefs on social media, but at the very least 1) register to vote, and, even if you think you’re registered, double check at VOTE.org; 2) VOTE; and 3) help get out the vote by driving people to the polls, babysitting, reminding your friends and family to vote, etc.
Several of the Fury book signing events will include voter registration drives, so come out and see us and register while you’re at it. Voting Trump out of office is easily the most charitable thing you can do with your time in 2020.