Rebecca Traister Talks Rage and the Internet in the Age of Trump

Published October 18, 2018

Regardless of your outlook on the age of push notifications announcing endless political fuckery in the United States and beyond, it is upon us. Fortunately, amid the talking heads and paid columnists working out of open-floor plan bunkers, there are a handful of sage, and sane, writers doing the important work of putting language to a radical moment. Rebecca Traister is one such writer, performing the roles of polemicist, therapist, documentarian, and, when she’s not writing a book or her column for New York magazine, mother. Her intimate profiles on the female vanguard of Democratic politics (Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand) have served as compass points in her broader work as a cartographer for women (and men) looking to navigate their way through the #MeToo era. In her third book, Good and Mad, she weaves together tales of pure feminine rage from the past two centuries of American history into a single clear message: anger is political fuel. As such, Traister argues, it should be celebrated—not scorned or stereotyped—as the substance powering a revolutionary moment. Considering that this rage found its spark in group chats, spreadsheets, hashtags and timelines, we asked the New York-based author how she maintains her very online existence in a time of (mostly) dystopian timelines.

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How do you navigate the onset of another day’s worth of news?

I wish I had some useful self-care tips, but you just have to open your computer with your hands over your eyes and squint at it a few minutes. Then, you look at your phone and see if 100 people have texted you. If there aren’t, like, 100 notifications on your phone, things might not be on fire yet. I don’t really have a method beyond that. I do look at Twitter first because it tells me what the level of screaming is—it helps me determine the tone of the day. I feel profoundly lucky that my job permits me a framework that can help me understand it. I can kind of fit these horrible daily utterances into a puzzle in my head. But there are certainly moments where it’s like, “There’s nothing I can do to make sense of this. I’m just not going to sleep for a week.”  

How do you balance toxic reading material with mental health?

On one hand, I think it is our responsibility to let a lot of it in. Having learned a lot, read a lot, and now written quite a bit about other periods in our country where people have been engaged in incredibly difficult fights that have taken years to wage, this is what it is to be engaged. We’ve been irresponsibly not as engaged, up until recently. The injustice, violence, and pain that’s being done right now was being done long before Trump came to office. In many ways, there is a moral obligation to not look away from this. On the other hand, oh sweet god, let us stay sane. This summer when I profiled Elizabeth Warren, she and I were talking idly about how I had taken a weekend away with my family in Maine. It was such a relief. Not looking at the news was just like breathing oxygen. Then she told me, and I wrote this in my story, about how her version of that is going to Target with her daughter for, like, six hours. And look, we do need to do that. I’m not pretending that in order to be morally responsible, civically engaged people that we need to never take any breaks. I’m a proponent of taking breaks and of the idea that when you step away, you’re in steady conversation and cooperation with other people who are being vigilant. This is part of what we have to work toward if we want to try to work together successfully to make this world better than it is.

At your most manic moment, how many tabs would we find open on your browser?

Oh, dude. I don’t… I mean, so somebody recently told me the problem is that I just open them to the point that the computer dies. Like, 40 or so tabs and then it dies. And then I have to start over again. The great victory is if I can close enough so that I can begin to see the word on the tab itself.

Is there anything in particular that you refuse to read before going to sleep?

You take me for a person who’s much smarter about how to go to sleep than I actually am. What do I refuse to read? There’s a whole genre of political writing and reporting right now that there’s not enough space in my brain for and that’s the palace intrigue stuff around the Trump administration. It’s not about any individual reporters or the validity or the importance of the work that they do. It’s just something that I don’t always have room for. I have to confess that I don’t avidly read the Russia investigation stuff. It bends my brain. I don’t understand what’s happening.

Do you follow Trump on Twitter?

No, I don’t follow him, but if everybody’s like, “Oh my god, he’s tweeting,” sometimes I will go over to his feed. I don’t have any hard and fast rules in my life, in general, except that I don’t smoke anymore.