The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A women’s history of the Trump presidency

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tears up her copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in the House chamber on Feb. 4, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Remember when Elizabeth Warren absolutely demolished Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage? When Nancy Pelosi tore up a copy of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in front of the whole Congress? When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a speech slamming Rep. Ted Yoho for calling her an unprintable slur on the steps of the Capitol?

Jennifer Rubin’s “Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy From Donald Trump” lines up those events one after another, reminding readers of all the women-centered moments they might have forgotten from the Trump years.

The book aims to be a sort of women’s history of the Trump presidency. It moves chronologically through the major national political developments of the era — from Hillary Clinton’s loss through Pelosi and congressional Democrats’ fight to save Obamacare, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the midterms, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the 2020 election, and a raft of other moments in between, telling the stories of the women at the heart of so many major events.

And to tell those stories, Rubin interviewed an array of powerful women — Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia (newly elected in 2018), former Center for American Progress president (and current Biden adviser) Neera Tanden and Kamala Harris, to name a few — about their roles in opposing Trump and his policies.

It’s a very Washington-centric book in that way, and also, er, centrist-centric — there’s a lot more about center-left Dems like Spanberger and Tanden than there is about the Squad.

The overarching thesis is simple: As Rubin writes in her author’s note, she wanted to convey how women were “the foot soldiers, the organizers, the candidates, and the volunteers pulling their country back from the clutches of a racist, antidemocratic president and his enablers.”

She adds that she feels this book is deeply necessary: “We were undergoing a radical transformation of American politics driven by, for, and about women — but one would not know it from the day-to-day reporting in the media.”

That’s a wild statement, given the many, many reporters covering the #MeToo movement and female candidates in the 2018 midterms and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and the Democratic women who ran for president and the Women’s March(es) and Trump’s regular sexist remarks . . . and so on.

And I get that that may sound biased, coming from a member of the mainstream media who spent the Trump years covering gender in politics. But it also gets at a basic point about this book: Readers will see much that is familiar in here. Some of the quotes are new, from Rubin’s copious interviews, but the stories are not. They were all well-reported at the time. A reader who paid reasonably close attention to the news during the Trump presidency might find little to recommend “Resistance.”

Rubin, being a columnist, does intersperse some opinion and analysis into her storytelling. She does not hide that she’s a fan of Amy Klobuchar and a major Harris stan. And to put it mildly, some readers will chafe at Rubin’s weaker takes. One that comes to mind is her dismay that reporters and pundits, as she puts it, “jumped to the conclusion, one never seriously questioned, that Clinton’s gender was at the very least part of the reason for the 2016 upset.” Another is when she downplays the allegations of Klobuchar’s abusive workplace behavior by setting up the dubious choice that there was either sexism at work or that the men in the race were “angelic bosses.”

“Resistance” is, however, chiefly a chronicle, which means its chief virtue is how it ticks through, one after another, the many times women flexed their political power during the Trump presidency. It’s easy to imagine a reader being reminded of all the stories she might have forgotten and punching the air (nearly knocking over her “Nasty Woman” coffee mug in the process). Seeing all these instances strung together could, for a reader in the #resistance, be a downright joyful experience.

And yet, in reading about women saving democracy from Trump (as Rubin puts it in her subtitle), that “nasty woman” might start to wonder: Wait. Why did women have to save democracy? What created the conditions that allowed President Trump to happen? And why was it women who did the saving? By virtue of being a chronicle, “Resistance” continually raises the question of why resistance was necessary, a question that Rubin never probes deeply.

“Resistance” also, incongruously, includes women who quite pointedly did not resist. Rubin writes — with apparent approval — about how Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) successfully recruited Republican women to run for Congress, helping GOP women have a record year in 2020. But Stefanik is a Trump loyalist, which makes it baffling that just a few pages later, Rubin slams the 126 members of Congress (a group that included Stefanik) who signed on to a Supreme Court brief seeking to overturn election results in some states that Joe Biden won.

This leaves an array of questions dangling: What does Rubin make of the women who aligned themselves with Trump? After all, Stefanik and many, many other women are part of that “enablers” group that Rubin mentions in her author’s note. So, is women’s representation always good, in and of itself? What does it mean to her that the record-breaking GOP freshman class of 2021 included Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.), both far-right lawmakers who thrive on controversy and who objected to certifying the 2020 election results?

Our “nasty woman” reader might find “Resistance” enjoyable despite these flaws. But then, she might have other things on her mind: working a low-wage job, finding child care, keeping Junior from catching the coronavirus at school, persuading conspiracy-addled friends and relatives to get vaccinated, calling her representatives about reproductive rights — and maybe climate change while she’s at it, given that her home is leaking again after another freak storm.

This may illuminate one thing it means for all of these nasty, persistent women to have gotten involved in politics. Perhaps they did save democracy from Trump. But now, many have dusted themselves off and gotten right back to organizing. For these women, there might be more to save than democracy, and more villains than Trump.


How Women Saved Democracy From Donald Trump

By Jennifer Rubin

William Morrow. 400 pp. $27.99