On 9th November, the morning after the U.S. Presidential election, my friend Mark posted this to Facebook.
This morning makes me understand what it must feel like for those people who look at the political landscape, look at the establishment, look at the leader and say, ‘I don’t recognise this; it doesn’t speak to me; it doesn’t represent my situation. It doesn’t represent anyone I know.’ It’s a feeling of despair and dislocation. It’s the same feeling that makes people crave something different. Choose anything that’s different. Even a man like Donald Trump.
In the week since the election there have been thousands of op-eds and ‘hot-takes’ published on why Trump won the electoral college and the mindset of his voters. But surprisingly, I have not seen this particular sentiment—empathising directly with how such people are feeling—anywhere else. At least, not expressed so clearly.
One major project that English PEN prides itself on is our translation programme, which is funded by Arts Council England. The simple idea is that by translating the best of world literature into English, we can make the world, and other people, a little more legible. I’ve said in many places that literature is the best way to truly empathise with people of who are different from oneself (be the difference one of gender, race or simple geography). In the past English PEN hs sponsored anthology books that showcase writers from a particular country or region: Beirut 39, Syria Speaks, and We Are Iran for example. Africa 39 (not a Writers in Translation title) also springs to mind.
Rather than read another hundred angst-ridden op-eds on ‘economic anxiety’ and white nationalism, perhaps straight-up literature might help us understand why so many people voted the way they did… and what progressive politicians in the USA can say or do to win them back.
What, I wonder, does true Red State literature look like?