Michelle Obama has been a living symbol of hope since her husband launched his historic run for office in 2007. So, it was something of a gut-punch when the outgoing FLOTUS echoed the post-election thoughts of many Americans, saying in an Oprah interview recently, “We are feeling what not having hope feels like.”
All is not lost, though. In a time of searing uncertainty, people are banding together to fight against what they see as the existential threat of a Trump presidency, and to create fresh hope where supplies have drastically dwindled. One figure who has been a beacon of activist optimism in this chaotic landscape is author and journalist Summer Brennan, whose informative, prescriptive Twitter dispatches have been spurring her many followers to action since November 9th. Now she’s amplifying her message by taking it offline with a promising new Trump resistance podcast, The FourFiftyOne.
“I suppose it’s a case of ‘Be the podcast you wish to see on iTunes but couldn’t find,’” says Brennan, whose political acumen is informed by eight years as a communications consultant at the United Nations.
Although shows like Slate’s Trumpcast already exist, FourFiftyOne is a different beast altogether. It’s a podcast about what it means to live in a time when Trumpism is pushing through America—and what one can do to push back. The title of the show, whose inaugural episode dropped Monday night, is a nod to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with no shade intended toward Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which takes its name from the electoral college. Brennan hosts the show with fellow journalist and podcast rookie, Jesse Hirsch, along with Jonathan Mann, another journalist who is also a musician and a veteran of podcasts such as Songonauts.
The seeds of FourFiftyOne were sown during an informal summit of writers and journalists in Brooklyn following the election. Hirsch and Brennan, who were friends beforehand, both attended. The group’s ensuing discussion focused on navigating a path forward for their profession in the age of Trump. Although the casual meeting covered a lot of ground, its attendees ultimately left with more questions than answers.
“The President-Elect’s assault on truth has been very stressful for many people in these fields,” Brennan says.
Just over a week afterward, she threw down the gauntlet with a tweet soliciting partners for a podcast about all the issues the group had raised. Hirsch and Mann promptly heeded the call. After a series of phone calls, the three met up for lunch and agreed to officially commence work on the podcast. Since Mann has the most audio experience, he settled into a producer role. Jesse commissioned a snazzy block-number logo and started a FourFiftyOne Twitter account. All three nascent hosts continued to do a lot of deep thinking about what the podcast would be and would not.
“Our focus is about how everyday people are coping with what’s happening around them in a changing America,” Brennan says. “We agreed we’re not trying to be Radiolab or This American Life or anything. We’re very informal, which is the only way we could do it at the moment. It’s just another venue for conversation.”
After a quick dry run, the trio recorded and released its first episode over the past week. It’s a fifty-minute state of the union address; a snapshot of a moment three people can barely believe they’re actually witnessing. Rather than a total downer, though, the show should serve as a breezily cathartic listen for anyone in similar states of disbelief. Beyond cataloging their vast and sundry list of fears for the future, the trio sounds fired up about what happens next. They’ve already recruited several guests for future episodes to offer a range of advice, from encouraging listeners to attend town hall meetings, to making sure they maintain a healthy news diet. While all three hosts are avowed liberals, they leave the FourFiftyOne door wide open for Republican guests, and encourage a plurality of opinions.
A podcast this new still has plenty of kinks to work out—some tangents taper out into “Yeah, but, um, anyway…,” and the intro music is a temp track—but for Brennan, one of the biggest challenges is simply getting out of her own way.
“I like talking to people but I don’t crave a stage,” she says. “I’m definitely introverted, so doing something like this is a little like jumping into cold water; you just have to make a decision and then do it. Think about it too much and it will never happen. If my biggest obstacle in resisting Trump and helping others do so is my own shyness, though, I will be very lucky.”
The three hosts have modest goals for their podcast. They’re not looking to tear up the iTunes charts, nor do they plan on merely venting their spleens into a vacuum. Instead, they’re hoping FourFiftyOne will be a balm for people feeling lost, terrified, angry or numb—and that it will make them feel un-alone.
“We are all in this together,” Brennan says. “All around us, across the country and even the world, there are millions of people who do not want to see America and our allies slide into fascism. There are millions of people—the majority—who do not want to see bigotry and bullying prevail. I believe that this rejection of darkness is the trajectory of the world.”
Although she, Hirsch, and Mann have thought through many topics to pursue in future episodes, and are excited to tackle them, they also admit that what happens with the show will depend a lot on what happens in the country.
“We have no grand plan. We’re just here to try and take stock of what’s happening,” Brennan says. “But, of course, it would be great if we could help prevent authoritarian kleptocracy in America.”