Barely a week out from the election, president-elect Donald Trump has assigned an anti-Semitic white nationalist to the role of chief strategist. Steve Bannon, the former leader of Breitbart News, will be “equal partners” with former RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who was named Trump’s chief of staff. A man who ran a website with stories like “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture” and “The Confederate Flag Claims a Glorious Heritage” will be an official member of the president’s inner circle. This news is making many people very angry. Good. For as long as Trump is in office, it is important to be angry and stay angry. Anger will be an indispensable tool in the coming four years.
For women, anger has always been controversial: In pop culture, in the office, in romantic relationships, the angry woman is loathed for her hostility. She gets told she sounds like an ex-wife, like a mean mom, and she gets tuned out, as if her listeners were children covering their ears and refusing to go to bed early. She is the “angry black woman”; she is the queer woman demanding her rights; she is the bitch who cuts off a man who interrupts her in a meeting. Anger in women is considered unattractive and unfeminine. More than once in my life, I have been told that I am difficult because I never know when to give it a rest, when to back down, when to concede and move on. The so-called “difficult woman” is disliked for reasons that seem too obvious to even address, so let’s just say that no one likes to be nagged to take out the trash — but no one likes to live surrounded by filth either.
Right now many people are very angry: at each other, at non-voters, at the system that binds our democracy, even at themselves and people like them. I am angry at white women who voted for Trump. I am angry at the publications who indulged him. I am angry at the people I know who couldn’t muster enough anger themselves to vote. Plenty has been said about the anger of Trump’s supporters. But shouldn’t the rest of us have been angry enough about the racism, misogyny, and bigotry that Trump shoved into the light to do something about it before now, to channel our anger? Were we all so convinced that feel-good voting could topple longstanding hatred? We’ve squandered our chance to be angry too many times — we cannot afford to fuck it up again.
“Don’t boo, vote,” Obama encouraged voters; likewise, this fresh anger needs to be productively invested. Think of your anger as protection from the often talked of “normalization” of Trump’s presidency: If you continue to be angry with Trump’s contempt for immigrants, disrespect of women, and epithets against minorities, you won’t allow yourself — or anyone around you — to normalize any of this or convince you that it is anything but what it is. That is a productive but small push toward progress, and it doesn’t take much to accomplish. If people feel alienated or uncomfortable because of your anger, good. White people in particular have been too comfortable. We haven’t been nearly angry enough.
Anger without action is self-indulgence. One conventional definition of insanity is repeatedly banging your head against a wall, and each time expecting a different result. Stay angry for the next four years, but remember that many more people have been angry for a hell of a lot longer than that. Listen to them. Talk out your anger. Women in particular, refuse to shrink from your anger when you will no doubt be encouraged to. Turn your anger about racism, sexism, and xenophobia into engagement in local politics, into regular donations to groups combating these forces, into fighting everyday bigotry, into becoming a Planned Parenthood escort, into teaching in a swing state. Stay angry about injustice and don’t let Trump’s bigotry — the kind that has already resulted in over 200 incidents of reported hateful harassment since Tuesday — become any more normal than it already is.
In her piece on Hillary Clinton’s loss, Rebecca Traister wrote, “Tears, for women, only sometimes express sadness and vulnerability. Just as often, they signal rage.” In the past week, women around me have cried often and without warning. On the night of the election, as a friend and I were leaving our last watch party for the night, surer than ever of the result, one woman pointed out how much the room felt like a wake and the people in it solemn mourners. The past week has felt in its own way like an entire country experiencing the textbook stages of grief: Some people just happen to be further along in the process than others.
Last week is over, the sad tears are behind us, and the result, which we initially denied, remains. Anger follows denial in the stages of grief — but instead of moving on to bargaining, depression, or acceptance, let’s stay here, in our anger, for a while.