What the Trump Era Demands of Each of Us

Inside my journey from quiet bureaucrat to vocal Trump critic.

Last week, to my surprise, I received a “Fearlessly Using Your Voice” award by the non-profit She Rocks the World. The group’s mission is “to inspire all teenage girls to fearlessly use their own voice to live bigger lives.”

For the first 45 years of my life, I don’t think anyone would have referred to me as fearless. I was a quiet and shy girl who became paralyzed when called on in school, who would not speak up in casual conversations with more than five people, and who despised public speaking—so much so that I avoided moot court opportunities in law school. Whether at large meetings with my colleagues, or at boisterous family dinners with my in-laws, I listened rather than spoke. Eventually, I became a lawyer, but not a litigator, and worked for 18 years as a career public servant in the quiet internal management operations of the Departments of Justice and Treasury.

It wasn’t until I left the federal government in 2016 to work to elect the first woman president that I became active politically and began to find my voice. In 2017, I started to use my dormant Twitter account to challenge the current administration’s practices and policies—and to teach people about how the federal government really works at a time when malevolent forces were spreading misinformation about it.

Each Tweet exposed me to the world. I had never put myself out there, in that way, before. For someone who had never spoken to the press, or even shared her views publicly, each Tweet generated a tiny wave of fear inside me. What if I get it wrong? What if trolls harass me? What if I embarrass myself? What if I want to return to the government one day? Will this disqualify me? Nevertheless, I Tweeted.

But sharing my perspective turned out to be the right decision. Suddenly, I was getting positive attention—which I had not anticipated. Reporters sought my input. MSNBC invited me on three of their top evening shows to discuss my areas of expertise. Politico asked me to write a piece based on a Twitter thread about the Department of Justice.

Simply put, Twitter allowed me a small-d democratic platform to share my views, establish my credibility, and become a trusted contributor to the national discussion. It became clear that people wanted to hear what I had to say; and, in some cases, they wanted others to hear what I had to say.

Then, in September, the Washington Monthly approached me about contributing to the publication. I was intrigued by the notion of sharing my ideas in a longer, more thoughtful and curated format. Of course, true to brand, that interest came married to fear: what if I can’t write as frequently as they’d like? What if I can’t think of anything original to write about?

Much to my relief, however, my worries have not (yet) come to bear. I have fresh ideas almost daily, and the Monthly publishes the pieces I write, spanning a broad range of newsworthy topics. Indeed, my editor supports me whether I am feeling wonky, patriotic, exasperated, sassy, or inspired.

Since its first days, the Trump administration has fought aggressively to silence reporters, women, public servants, and dissenters of all stripes. Journalists have become the unsung heroes who continue to expose the administration’s—and the Republican Party’s—misbehavior. Just as importantly, media organizations have lifted up and amplified the women, public servants, and dissenters who speak truth and put pressure on power.

To their credit, the team at the Monthly has given me a platform to expand what I reluctantly started on Twitter—to become a full-on fighter against the Trump administration’s war on women, expertise, and the federal government.

I’m proud to write for a publication that is fearlessly committed to lifting up voices that would otherwise be suppressed if the president had his way. The Monthly may not always break the news, but we elevate incisive analysis to help readers truly understand what’s at stake in this political moment. That approach, coupled with our solutions-based journalism, is precisely how the magazine makes a meaningful impact on the national discourse.

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Julie Rodin Zebrak

Julie Rodin Zebrak is a veteran attorney with nearly 20 years of experience at the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice. She is the founder and CEO of Yes Moms Can and the co-founder of Mamas4Kamala.