Leon Wieseltier on Donald Trump: “We must not accustom ourselves to this.”

This comes via E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post:

My friend, the writer Leon Wieseltier, suggested a slogan that embodies the appropriate response to Trump’s ascent: “Preserve the Shock.”

“The only proper response to his success is shame, anger and resistance,” Wieseltier said. “We must not accustom ourselves to this. . . . Trump is not a ‘new normal.’ No amount of economic injustice, no grievance, justifies the resort to his ugliness.”

Wieseltier’s comment to Dionne recalls for me Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). In 2016, the movie’s birds seem to be an apt trope for Trump’s voters. What the characters in the film take at first to be an isolated and controllable phenomenon blooms into an infestation, calling to mind Camus’ The Plague (1947). The blonde elitist woman in The Birds (played by Tippi Hedren) can be seen as Hillary Clinton, and her very presence in the blue collar world of Bodega Bay has set the order of nature on its head. What was sedate, predictable, and tame is now unsettled, untamed.

So first there is the shock of the isolated incidents of a few birds here and there behaving erratically, then, by the end of the film, you realize that the birds have morphed into a mass phenomenon, stretching to the horizon. They appear to have achieved full take-over of America. The goal of vanquishing them has been replaced by the lesser goal of simply outlasting them (or finding a place, anyplace, where they are not). In the concluding scene, the birds are tip-toed around by the surviving characters as they move quietly from their house to an automobile, no longer resisted. They have learned not to stir them. The birds, at the ready to whip into a frenzy on the least provocation, have become the new normal.

In 2016, liberals and moderates like myself think we know our more conservative neighbors, our fellow citizens, and of what they’re capable. Perhaps we don’t. Perhaps we have never really known them at all. The film concludes on a note of profound alienation–as may the 2016 election.

So that’s The Birds glossed for our political moment in 2016. Fortunately for those of us who are liberal or moderate, 2016 is still playing out, and we’re knee deep in the bird-shit muddle of it. Our real-time rendition of The Birds may make for us a better end than it did for Hitchcock’s characters. The danger now is what Wieseltier identifies: to accustom ourselves to Trump’s new normal; to lower or even drop our resistance to it, as so many in the Republican Party, to their eternal shame, already–and so easily!–have done. To echo Thoreau, we must resist the temptation to resignation. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

I’m not desperate yet, so I’m not resigned. I’m ready to resist Trump and fight alongside Wieseltier and Hillary. How about you?

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About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in climate change, donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leon Wieseltier on Donald Trump: “We must not accustom ourselves to this.”

  1. Dionne’s comment that “perhaps we have never really known them [conservatives] at all” was particularly chilling for me. I once worked on a Holocaust oral history project, interviewing survivors of the Nazi era. Time after time, people commented that one of the most hideous aspects of that time was the way in which former schoolmates, neighbors, business associates — people they had known for years, or even decades — RACED to turn them over to the authorities, without being pressured, or even asked, to do so. Again and again, they commented “If he/she/they had really hated me so much, for so many years, then why did they seek out my company in the first place?” Several said that this experience had permanently destroyed their ability to trust anyone at all — even their own spouses and children.

    In the United States in 2016, there are three groups — blacks, gays and Muslims — that I can’t picture any but the tiniest sliver of the non-black, non-gay, non-Muslim population lifting a finger to help, if the events of 1933-45 were to repeat themselves. Although most Americans would (I assume) not choose Joseph Stalin as a role model, American history has been based in large part on a belief in the attitude underlying one of Stalin’s most famous statements:
    “I have a problem with a man. I kill the man. I no longer have the problem.”

  2. Pingback: Donald Trump’s Victory and The Ending of The Planet of the Apes | Prometheus Unbound

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