Over at Literary Hub, “an organizing principle [i.e., website] in the service of literary culture,” about 600 writers ranging from Stephen King to Jane Smiley to Dave Eggers to Rita Dove have signed an open letter denouncing Donald Trump.
The presumptive Republican nominee, the signatories argue, “deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities.”
And there’s this:
as writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power;…
we believe that any democracy worthy of the name rests on pluralism, welcomes principled disagreement, and achieves consensus through reasoned debate;…
the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies;
It goes on in this vein for a bit and then concludes:
We, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.
Well, good for all the writers, though I remain dismayed that it takes someone or something like Donald Trump to rouse writers to political commitments, even low-risk ones such as this.
I know I will not be voting for Donald Trump under any circumstances that I can plausibly imagine, though it’s overheated to call him a threat to the American way of life (seriously, if the US of A can’t withstand him as president, the game is already over, folks). At this point, neither will I be voting for Hillary Clinton, for many of the reasons that Matt Welch outlined in his excellent piece, “Hail To the Censor: Hillary Clinton’s long war on free speech.”
FFS, both Trump and Clinton called for censoring the Internet within days of one another in virtually identical terms because of the non-existentialist threat of Islamic terrorism. “You’re going to hear all of the usual complaints—you know, ‘freedom of speech,’ etc.,” said Clinton, while Trump harumphed, “Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.”
In this sense, my basic issue with the #NeverTrump letter isn’t that it goes too far in denouncing a candidate virtually no vaguely intellectual or serious person could ever support, it’s that the letter isn’t ultimately real about its commitments to things like free expression. You don’t need to say Hillary Clinton is equally bad as Donald Trump to argue that neither candidate is acceptable as president if in fact you believe in something/anything approaching unfettered free speech, true tolerance, yadda yadda yadda.
I get that virtue-signaling is not just a thing, but often a good thing; it’s a speech act that can make a huge difference at any given time. But what I want out of “writers”—who really have no special claim to insight or seriousness than mere journalists or “ordinary” citizens—is ultimately a commitment to speech and expression, not an expression of something as small-ball as partisan politics.