Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Writers in the Time of Trump

A few years ago another writer and I discussed some of the differences between fiction written in the US by American writers and fiction coming out of Europe, especially Eastern Europe. My view was that most of us (certainly most whites) live very different and protected lives in the US, and have never faced the kind of threat to our existence as was common during the period of the Soviet Union (and is still common in some countries). I cited the movie The Lives of Others, which is set in 1984 East Berlin. An agent of the Stasi asserts to a colleague that everyone has something to hide, and to prove it he offers to spy on a popular writer, Georg Drayman, who has long been considered loyal to the government. So begins the gradual change in the agent as he becomes involved in the target’s life.

There are plenty of novels about a future dystopian America, and most of them establish extremes of government and life. The Giver by Lois Lowry, a 1993 YA novel, presents a society equally destructive of humanity as that found in In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster (1987). But the movie made me wonder what writers in this country would do if pushed into the same circumstances as the playwright, Georg Drayman. I didn’t expect the next president of the United States to offer an opportunity to examine the question at length.

The first response was the ongoing arguments over the election and Trump’s policies and personal conduct. Stalin has his supporters even now, and many well-intentioned voters defended their choice of the GOP winner, disregarding his most egregious behavior. Sometimes they were smug and rude, but lately they’ve grown quieter. Perhaps reality is sinking in, along with the economy (unless you’re very rich and have money in the stock market).

But the challenges to the new guy have been many and swift. First was the Women’s March on Washington (and on almost every other city around the world) the day after the inauguration. With our pink hats and signs and goodwill, we marched (or stood patiently in place, moving perhaps a foot an hour) for many things but mostly for unity and mutual support.

We offered safety to strangers, and marked that with safety pins on our jackets and FB logos for our profile pictures.

When Kellyanne Conway provided us with one more of her fabulous gaffes, we made that into a logo to commemorate the Bowling Green Massacre.

And then there was the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, for those loyal folks who need to be grounded in reality but seem to lose their grip on it regularly. The hat has a sparkling style, you have to admit.

These moments are fun, and the use of humor is not to be discounted.

Equally important, however, are the protests with links that writers have posted on FB and elsewhere stating facts (real ones, the kind that can be verified and stand the light of a thousand days), discussing positions, and keeping track of government activity.

https://thinkprogress.org/about is a progressive news site.

http://www.snopes.com investigates news stories and determines how accurate they are.

http://capuano.house.gov/news/curtain.shtml is a page on Congressman Capuano’s website. There he lists actions taken by Congress that may not make the news but are still changing people’s lives, and usually not for the better. While newspapers foam at the mouth over every little tidbit about Russia, the Republicans in Congress are removing protections for clean drinking water, whistleblowers in nuclear power plants, and more.

One of the signs of a healthy personality is the variety of ways such a person copes with adversity. For some of us, we are living in a state of deepening adversity but we appear to be coping well. We are standing up for our views and values, reaching out to help others, using humor to underscore the absurdity or cruelty of a situation or position, and staying abreast of truth, facts, and information.

I’ve always believed that anything that can happen in another country could happen here, but I never expected it to happen so fast or in quite this way. Now I’m waiting to see how this new reality plays out in crime fiction.


  1. Well said, Susan. I believe we will be judged in future by our responses to the stunning and appalling political situation of our times. May we all be equal to the challenge.

  2. Thanks, Marian. There's no sitting on the fence this time for anyone. We can be open minded but we must know what we stand for and speak up and act.

  3. Well said Susan. I equate the present with writers under the hammer fist of Stalin. My most beloved and favorite poet, Anna Akhmatova said, "We must write and write. We must write with our hearts and with our blood till all the blood runs out."

  4. Thanks, Kiana. I don't think we are yet facing the extreme of Stalinism, but I do think we are in danger of having our rights slip between our fingers. I admire everyone who has found a way to challenge the disruption of democracy, wherever it comes from. Thanks for stopping by, and for the quote from Akhmatova.