Testing Late Show host Stephen Colbert on his American history on Friday’s show, best-selling author and pundit Rebecca Traister was impressed by Colbert’s grasp of Abigail Adams—at least as far as it went. Paraphrasing the “the one woman that we always hear about” (according to Traister) when it comes to the Founders, Colbert dredged up the oft-quoted, PBS-friendly sentiment “don’t forget the ladies” that Adams wrote to husband John regarding his drafting of the Constitution. A-plus for Colbert. Except, as Traister noted, Abigail Adams had a lot more to say about the Founders’ inevitable slighting of half the American population—and that she said it in the very same letter from which her palatably genteel sentiment is traditionally plucked.
“Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could,” isn’t, according to the author of books like All The Single Ladies and Big Girls Don’t Cry, quoted so much, even though, Traister said, that’s a tweet that would garner plenty of likes these days. (Colbert noted that it sounded suspiciously like something former Daily Show colleague Sam Bee would put out there.) Traister, whose new book, Good And Mad, splits focus between uncovering righteously angry and forgotten women throughout American history and examining how the recent midterm victories of pissed-off women across the nation are a continuation of that motivating energy, also noted that Adams (again, in that same letter) promised her husband that women would “foment a rebellion” should he and his founding buddies leave them out. She also spotlighted a Revolutionary (and revolutionary) woman named MumBet (Elizabeth Freeman), whose declaration of personal independence form the slavery in which she was held (by a prominent, independence-minded revolutionary, no less) led to a court case that essentially ended slavery in Massachusetts. Colbert had never heard of her, but he sure has now.
As Traister told Colbert, an incoming Congress with more women, more first-time candidates, and the first two Muslim and Native American congresswomen in American history sounds pretty revolutionary. Calling the makeup of the new Congress evidence of “the anger of women that has been bubbling over,” Traister explained that women are “changing the structures . . . simply by being there.” Calling out recent, Fox News-enraging stories about new Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Traister told Colbert of this new breed of female lawmaker, “they’re not just going to curse and dance and not apologize for either, but that they are going to push to make policy to make the world a more just place.”