The internet is an increasingly nasty and dark place—the MAGA Nazis empowered by Trump's rise to power, leftists and liberals tearing one another apart, the nonstop stream of cyberbullying that's become so commonplace it feels mundane. But among the utter darkness of the Trump-era internet, Chelsea Manning is a beam of light.
In 2010, Manning was detained by the US government for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks that, in many cases, exposed wrongdoing. (Critics said that these leaks put American lives at risk.) Obama commuted her harsh 35-year sentence—the most prison time ever given to a US government leaker—in April.
During her imprisonment, she came out as a trans woman, sued the military to get hormone therapy, was harassed by prison guards, got subjected to torture and months in solitary confinement, and survived two suicide attempts. When she was finally released in May, she sent her first Instagram: a picture of her pristine new Converse captioned "First steps of freedom!! .. #chelseaisfree."
More than almost anyone, Manning has reason to be angry, even bitter. Instead, untainted by the last seven years of online discourse, she exudes a sort of purity. She unapologetically posts about the music she likes (drum and bass), her love of video games, and her genuine excitement about finally being able to exist outside of a cell.
While Manning's whistleblowing has been lauded as heroic by many on the left, she remains controversial. When Obama announced he would commute her sentence, Trump called her an "ungrateful TRAITOR" on Twitter, while liberals like MSNBC's Joy Ann Reid have said her time in prison should be "unpleasant." After the New York Times published a profile of Manning, anti-Trump conservative John Podhoretz tweeted, "This is not a good person. This is a bad, narcissistic, destructive solipsist and the pardon was outrageous."
In short, Manning gets more shit online than you could possibly imagine, and also knows how to handle it with more grace than most. She is always kind, but that doesn't mean she isn't cutting. Why own the trolls when you can educate them?
Maybe you're waiting for an aside on why this hopeful tone is actually problematic, or at the very least complicated. Sorry to disappoint. Manning seems to be that rare person who has evaded the usual internet cynicism—and that positivity is contagious. If Chelsea Manning can feel optimistic about a world that has wronged her so deeply, you can too.