A widely ranging history of intellectual and moral resistance within American politics.
Biggers (The Trials of a Scold: The Incredible True Story of Writer Anne Royall, 2017, etc.) connects this tradition to the authoritarian tendencies of the Trump presidency, arguing, “the language of Trump’s America First narrative…reflected [Thomas] Paine’s warning of ‘brutish’ leadership.” This brief survey is structured in five essayistic chapters, each focused on a different era and aspect of resistance. He considers figures both widely known, such as Paine, or his own mentor the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, and more obscure—e.g., the anti–World War I protester and activist Marie Equi. Biggers calls out beloved figures who fell on the wrong side of resistance movements, like George Washington, who obsessively pursued runaway house slaves. Slavery provides a fuller fulcrum for the author’s discussion; he examines both Frederick Douglass and those who argued against nonviolent resistance to this historical wrong. In “Enemy of the People,” Biggers contrasts Trump’s brazen attacks on the press with the conflict between free speech and John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts, which Thomas Jefferson noted “had been designed specifically to suppress oppositional media.” In “To Undo Mistakes,” the author looks at early American immigration policy debates, as well as the more recent internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, tying them to the resistance sparked by Trump’s pursuit of a religion-based travel ban. Unlike previous immigration bans, “a coordinated effort by religious congregations to resist Trump’s deportation forces emerged across the country.” In the final essay, “Cities of Resistance,” Biggers links early interest in environmental preservation (embodied by Thoreau’s writings, among others) with attempts to counter the Trump administration's dismantling of key federal oversight. The author writes clearly and with a firm grasp of historical comparison, intimately focused on compelling figures; still, his work could use fuller focus on the actual resistance movements Trump has inspired.
An engaging jeremiad proposing that “the resistance is now in the hands
of a new generation.”