With the Trump era coming at us like a brass band whose personnel consists entirely of Star Trek villains, what’s a disaffected American to do? Well, let’s start by locating what George H.W. Bush, in another context, once called “points of light.” From pop culture to Capitol Hill, it’s not like there won’t be plenty of dissenting voices reminding you that you don’t have to live in Trumpistan 24/7—unless you want to, of course. (In that case, our new Entertainer-in-Chief will be the only point of orange light you need, with Fox News taking care of the rest.)
Here’s our batch of guesses as to the people most likely to help the U.S.A.’s malcontents get through 2017—or Year One of I Can’t Believe This Shit Is Happening. (Like the responsible people we are, we thought long and hard about this Basket of Irreconciliables, and any number of worthies—Zephyr Teachout, Neil deGrasse Tyson—might be better qualified for the No. 5 spot below. But since we believe in multiculturalism, we did feel obliged to include one token straight white guy.)
10. PUSSY RIOT
True, it’s getting hard to tell whether Russia’s fabled avant-punk, feminist art collective is a they or just a she, as in 27-year-old Nadya Tolokno, who was always the center of attention anyway. (Sorry, Maria Alyokhina; you probably knew that.) But she/they are smart enough to know that tuneless screaming over an amateurish fuzz guitar only takes you so far as political statements go, so she/they have, in their own way, gone pop: professional backup musicians, English-language lyrics, slick videos. All the same, she/they haven’t exactly softened ideologically: released just under two weeks before Election Day, the scabrously NSFW “Make America Great Again” was the most brutal anti-Trump satire of 2016. These days, Tolokno divides her time between Russia (where she and Aloykhina spent two years in prison for their political sins) and the U.S.A., whose incoming regime may well want to lock her up too if she keeps at this—or at least figure out a pretext to bar her re-entry. Nobody is better positioned to remind us of what a poisoned chalice the Trump-Putin bromance is, and if Tolokno doesn’t seem totally averse to combining genuine political urgency with star-making chic, go figure. That’s why she’s someone Tom Paine and Andy Warhol would both love.
9. KEITH ELLISON
We won’t know until February whether Ellison wins his bid to chair the Democratic National Committee, in which case he’s promised to quit Congress to tackle that job full-time. Right now, things look rocky for him: he’s been called out for defending anti-Semitic Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan 20-odd years ago, and party heavyweights from Obama down are reportedly backing less provocative Labor Secretary Tom Perez for the DNC chairmanship instead. Either way, Ellison, one of only two Muslims in the House of Representatives, isn’t likely to be an inconsequential figure in our new political landscape, especially if Trump’s campaign threats against his co-religionists end up on the White House menu for real. Putting him in charge of the DNC would send an unmistakable signal Democrats aren’t backing off from diversity or Sanders-style progressive policies in the war for America, and he’d sure be an improvement on Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Plenty of Democrats own kitchen appliances that would be an improvement on Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
8. CHARLES M. BLOW
“Count me among the resistance,” the New York Times op-ed columnist announced in his first column after Trump’s shellshock victory. That isn’t the sort of language you normally bump into in the NYT. “Opposition,” sure, but “resistance”? (You mean, like French guys whose mustaches smell of gruyere garroting SS guards and stuff? Cool.) The same goes for Blow bluntly naming Trump “Madman of The Year” in one of his December jeremiads—and odds are he’s just getting warmed up. As old-fogeyish as the Times is by nature, it sometimes happens that one of the paper’s columnists gets turned into must reading by a president whose morality appalls them: Maureen Dowd during Bill Clinton’s Monica-plagued second term, for instance, or Paul Krugman throughout Bush 43’s tenure. That’s the role Blow, who wasn’t a conventional NYT hire to begin with (he’s African American and openly bisexual) looks set to play. He has always been an interesting writer. Now he’s too pissed off to be polite.
7. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS
Aka guerilla journalism’s answer to Lin-Manuel Miranda (and whaddya know? They’ve both won Pulitzer Prizes). Probably the most out-front undocumented immigrant in America, Vargas cooked up MTV’s smart, discomfiting documentary White People, in which he dares vanilla-hued millennials (and their POC friends) to think of whiteness as peculiar, not the American norm that defines everybody else as “other.” Those reviewers who thought White People was glib may not have realized how well Vargas knows his audience. He started out as a reporter for the very trad Washington Post, copping his Pulitzer as part of a team covering the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. On camera, he’s a natural provocateur; his fluctuating eyebrows look like emojis that haven’t been invented yet. And the most paradoxically optimistic translation of “E pluribus unum” in the Trump era could be this line in White People: “Let’s all get uncomfortable together.”
6. LADY GAGA
No, we haven’t gone crazy. It’s not like you’re obliged to keep tabs on whatever she gets up to during all of next year. In fact, unless you’re a fan, you can safely ignore her for 364 days of it. The exception is Sunday, February 5, or Super Bowl LI. The SB is the only big public event that still puts the “United” back in United States, and this one’ll air two weeks after Trump’s inaugural. Want to guess who’s headlining the halftime show? Rrright—a platform-savvy Pied Piperess who’s got brains coming out of her wherever and whose two big causes are LGBTQ rights and her campaign against bullying. After Beyonce’s sensationally agit-proppy performance of “Formation” last year—Black Panther berets, Malcolm X tribute and so on—do you really think Gaga won’t try to top her? If Trump doesn’t stay up into the wee hours of January 6 tweeting about how “overrated” and “sad” she is, we miss our bet.
5. DEREK BROWN
Let’s not forget one excellent solution to coping with life under Trump: self-medication. From New Yorkers to Hoosiers, most of us are out of luck on this one. But Washingtonians in a mood to drown their sorrows can count on Brown to keep that impulse looking classy. He likes to call himself a simple bartender, but he’s a lot more than that. The coolest peddler of 100-proof oblivion in living Beltway memory, he’s the owner of multiple DC saloons with fun names like Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency. The second one pays homage to JFK’s best joke about Washington. At least from happy hour to closing time, this man could be the most powerful unelected official in our nation’s capital between now and 2021.
4. KAMALA HARRIS AND TAMMY DUCKWORTH
Is this the 2020 Democratic ticket? Don’t be silly. For one thing, it’s anyone’s guess whether the Democratic Party will still be legal in 2020. But of the four women newly elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, these two—one from Illinois, the other from California—most literally represent the future America Trump voters decry and the rest of us root for. An Iraq War vet who lost both legs in combat as a helicopter pilot, Duckworth is half Thai, but, as her Republican opponent learned after race-baiting her during a debate, her American roots on her father’s side go so deep that she’s a card-carrying member of the Daughters of The American Revolution.
A progressive-minded San Francisco D.A. who went on to be California’s Attorney General under Jerry Brown, Harris is the child of a Jamaican-American father and a mother born in India. In themselves, those origins don’t (or shouldn’t) make either woman remarkable. Judging them instead by “the content of their character,” as Martin Luther King used to say, leaves both looking fairly formidable. But it has to gall Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, one of the GOP’s more fragrantly flagrant whites-only head cases, that Duckworth and Harris’s two “Nay” votes will count every bit as much as his “Yes” whenever Trump tries to criminalize diversity.
3. REZA ASLAN
Odds are you don’t know this Iranian-American religion expert’s books, although 2013’s Zealot: The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth is pretty darn kick-ass if you’re into reading about rebels with a cause. Chances are way better you’ve come across Aslan smoothly refuting clueless Islamophobes on Fox News and elsewhere. He always stays calm, incisive, civilized (gee, remember “civilized”?) and sometimes even wry when the shouting heads come at him. The only public figure who’s better at keeping his cool amid pandemonium is Obama. The idea that xenophobic white Americans might be better off actually knowing something about Muslims before demonizing them —in which case, of course, Muslims might seem less demonizable—will probably never get much traction in Trumplandia, but at least Aslan will be in there pitching. The great joke is that he also knows a whole lot more about Christianity than most Christians, which ought to fluster them a little bit, if they’ve got any shame.
2. SAMANTHA BEE
One post-election episode of Full Frontal opened with Bee literally getting sprayed in the face by a “nonstop shit geyser” of turd-flavored news starring our President-elect. She’s also serious (and droll) enough about whatever it takes to contend with the Trumpocalypse to have partnered with right-wing plushie turned heretic Glenn Beck on Full Frontal’s pre-Christmas special. So it’s no wonder that Bee is even less interested than she used to be in getting laughs for the sake of laughs. Like her fellow Daily Show alum John Oliver, she’s all about using caustic wit to channel liberal outrage, elucidate inconvenient truths in Trump’s post-factual America and keep despair at bay. No other woman on TV—comedian or otherwise—puts her own intelligence so bracingly front and center; the demure Canadian lass Bee used to twinklingly make herself out to be on The Daily Show is becoming a distant memory. Face it, you’d be exasperated too if you’d taken out U.S. citizenship just in time to watch everything wonderful about this country go up in smoke.
1. CHANCE THE RAPPER
With unreconciled Bernie-or-buster Killer Mike topping the list, other hip-hop artists will probably be a whole lot more forthrightly confrontational than this one about life under Trump… not to mention death. Even so, don’t call Chance unaware. His dad is a Chicago politico who probably still hopes the kid will go into the family business someday, and the Windy City’s gun violence is something both father and son have campaigned against. It’s not like he needs to go full-time militant on us to be vital. He just needs to keep making music as vibrant, unexpected and mysteriously attuned to ancient truths and fresh values as Coloring Book, because few people share his gift for sounding chipper, sly, unguarded and philosophical at the same time. As venerable rock critic Robert Christgau observed way back in 1969, music’s ultimate political purpose in tough times is “to keep us human under fire.” Funnily enough, Christgau—who’s still at it, and no softy—gave Coloring Book an A.