Writers Against Trump: What Must Happen Next
Russell Banks, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Blanco, and Fernand R. Amandi on The Literary Life Podcast
Post-election, there are still urgent questions of the political and legal moment that must be addressed. Mitchell Kaplan is joined by Russell Banks, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Blanco, and Fernand R. Amandi to discuss what just happened and what must happen next, and how the Democratic party can connect with Trump voters across America.
From the episode:
Richard Blanco: Politics have completely objectified and dehumanized us, all of us, and in a way has gotten permeated into the very act of even what car you drive today says who you are. If you drive a red pickup truck, you’re a Trumper, right? So I think we’ve got to stop looking at the world in these in red and blue colors and look at the purple in between.
If time allows me, I would like to end—as I always say, my poems are smarter than I am—I would like to end in a poem that speaks to this very issue. It’s inspired by the Declaration of Independence but turning it on the head and calling it the Declaration of Interdependence, which is, I think, where we need to move forward. Also, it’s inspired by the greeting of the Zulu people; it’s sort of a good morning. You look someone in the eye and say, I see you.
And I think we’ve stopped seeing each other. We’re statistics. We’re banners. We’re colors on a map. We can discount entire regions of the country just because the red on a map, not knowing that there’s real people that live there. And so, this speaks to that. To stop stereotyping ourselves. And I think that’s what the challenge of the Biden presidency—knock on wood—has to do, is not forget this, and just a process of humanizing America again and having conversations and stop stereotyping each other.
“Declaration of Interdependence.” And it borrows, obviously, excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.
Such has been the patient sufferance…
We’re a mother’s bread, instant potatoes, milk at a checkout line. We’re her three children pleading for bubble gum and their father. We’re the three minutes she steals to page through a tabloid, needing to believe even stars’ lives are as joyful and bruised.
Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury…
We’re her second job serving an executive absorbed in his Wall Street Journal at a sidewalk café shadowed by skyscrapers. We’re the shadows of the fortune he won and the family he lost. We’re his loss and the lost. We’re a father in a coal town who can’t mine a life anymore because too much and too little has happened, for too long.
A history of repeated injuries and usurpations…
We’re the grit of his main street’s blacked-out windows and graffitied truths. We’re a street in another town lined with royal palms, at home with a Peace Corps couple who collect African art. We’re their dinner-party talk of wines, wielded picket signs, and burned draft cards. We’re what they know: it’s time to do more than read the New York Times, buy fair-trade coffee and organic corn.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress…
We’re the farmer who grew the corn, who plows into his couch as worn as his back by the end of the day. We’re his TV set blaring news having everything and nothing to do with the field dust in his eyes or his son nested in the ache of his arms. We’re his son. We’re a black teenager who drove too fast or too slow, talked too much or too little, moved too quickly, but not quick enough. We’re the blast of the bullet leaving the gun. We’re the guilt and the grief of the cop who wished he hadn’t shot.
We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…
We’re the dead, we’re the living amid the flicker of vigil candlelight. We’re in a dim cell with an inmate reading Dostoevsky. We’re his crime, his sentence, his amends, we’re the mending of ourselves and others. We’re a Buddhist serving soup at a shelter alongside a stockbroker. We’re each other’s shelter and hope: a widow’s fifty cents in a collection plate and a golfer’s ten-thousand-dollar pledge for a cure.
We hold these truths to be self-evident…
We’re the cure for hatred caused by despair. We’re the good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway. We’re every door held open with a smile when we look into each other’s eyes the way we behold the moon. We’re the moon. We’re the promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another: I see you. I need you. I am you.
Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including Everything Inside: Stories (Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Story Prize and the 2020 Vilcek Prize in Literature), The Art of Death, a National Book Critics Circle finalist; Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times Notable Book; Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; and Krik? Krak!, also a National Book Award finalist. A 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature winner and the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, and elsewhere.
Richard Blanco is the award-winning author of several books. Blanco’s poetry collections include City of a Hundred Fires, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and How to Love a Country. He currently serves as the first-ever Education Ambassador for the Academy of American Poets and is a member of the Obama Foundation’s advisory council.
Fernand R. Amandi is the managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi, the nation’s leading multilingual and multiethnic public opinion research and strategic communications consulting firm. Mr. Amandi is also an MSNBC contributor, instructor at the University of Miami, and host of the #StrangeDaysPodcast.