November 8, 2016 was Election Day here in the United States. November 9 was strange. It was then that the literary internet began to question: what happened? what’s going to happen? what do we do? Here’s a roundup of that conversation.
At first, many responded to the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency with a single expletive, fuck . There’s no single target for that epithet though. Criticism is everywhere! Criticism of polls, registries, databases, the electoral college, the DNC…
What about more eloquent criticism? As the initial shock set in, The Nation asked “ What role can the critic play in today’s uncertain times .”
What venues can play host to a critical sensibility that is both distinctive and imitable? What institutions can afford to supply the cultural critic with a steady income and a stable intellectual home? These are embarrassing questions to ask. It is unlikely that such a figure would emerge today from print journalism, as the walls close in on the handful of venues that still bother with criticism at all. It is even less likely that the Internet, each corner of which is constantly undergoing mitosis, can nurture a voice with the necessary kind of consistency and economic stability. Least likely of all is the university, which is presently too engaged in a struggle for legitimacy to speak for a public. Suggest any one of these sites and you can hear the laughter in advance. Too commercial, too hurried, too rarefied—and all of it too partial: Any setting that might give the critic a connection to genuine, generalizable experience is virtually out of reach. Or so it seems. But the fact is that, in one sense, criticism is doing better than ever, appearing with great frequency in the pages of high-circulation magazines like The New Yorker, online in publications like the Los Angeles Review of Books, and in the single columns of little magazines like n+1, The Baffler, and Dissent. Unlike in previous eras, however, criticism’s renewed vitality has come with a disturbing new register of anxiety and self-consciousness. Once, critics like Trilling, Sontag, and Kael commanded the attention of a large audience and were expected to shape and challenge a still roughly homogenous public opinion. Today, many critics struggle to find a unified culture to interpret and criticize and a public to address. As A.O. Scott insists, the critic’s role is “to disagree, to refuse to look at anything simply as what it is,” and yet in an age in which critics often are forced to set their sights on films like Avengers: Age of Ultron, it appears that the critic can be nothing other than “the vanguard of pointing out the obvious.”
Oxford Dictionaries’ editors pick a word of the year each year. In part because of the sheer number of lies that have been told and propagated during this political campaign season, the word this year is “post-truth.” It describes a time, possibly the present, after which the truth no longer exists, or no longer matters.
Fake News is one of the best examples of a post-truth event. If you’re a discriminating reader that has long-ago blocked sources of inacurate information; if you’re able to discern the merit of a valid primary source apart from a trumped-up opinion or a lie, congratulations, but you’re a minority in that sense. You might not have noticed that fake news is everywhere , and f ake news is often more popular than the real stuff . In a calmer tone, The New Republic points out that politicians and publications have often spread inaccuracies. That’s nothing new, and it may not be the “smoking gun” here.
Social media may have empowered the spread of fake news—and Trump’s candidacy surely fueled it. But it’s the Democrats’ own flawed political strategy that made the rise of fake news so important—and perhaps so decisive—in 2016.
When the Great Recession began, there was panic and it seemed that some were responding as though there had never been a recession before. Perhaps not in your lifetime, but it has happened. With the rise of an autocrat, it might be tempting to panic similarly, but there have been autocrats before, if not in this country. Masha Gessen’s article in the New York Review of Books sums it up.
I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:
Gessen provides 6 rules:
- Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable.
- Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. […] It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm.
- Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed.
- Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.
- Rule #5: Don’t make compromises. […] Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected.
- Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either.
Several reading lists are making the rounds lately:
- Post-Election Classroom Resources
- A Post-Election Reading List
- OH CRAP WHAT NOW SURVIVAL GUIDE
- 25 Works of Fiction and Poetry for Anger and Action
- Emerging Futures Reading List
Surely there are other worthwhile resources and readings out there in the world. If you know of anything you think is important or useful, please post it in the comments.