A hand went up in the back of the room. “How can he do that?”
“Who do what?” asked Miss Gates patiently.
“I mean how can Hitler just put a lot of folks in a pen like that, looks like the govamint’d stop him,” said the owner of the hand.
“Hitler is the government,” said Miss Gates, and seizing an opportunity to make education dynamic, she went to the blackboard. She printed DEMOCRACY in large letters. “Democracy,” she said. “Does anybody have a definition?”
“Us,” somebody said.
I raised my hand, remembering an old campaign slogan Atticus had once told me about.
“What do you think it means, Jean Louise?”
“‘Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.'” I quoted.
“Very good, Jean Louise, very good,” Miss Gates smiled. In front of DEMOCRACY, she printed WE ARE A. “Now class, say it all together. ‘We are a democracy.'”
–From “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
David Frum has a good article in the March issue of The Atlantic called “How to Build an Autocracy.”
This is one of its scarier paragraphs: “Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it–and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans–these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.”
At the same time, the press will be weakened into nonexistence: “…modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist.”
From quotes Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen: “Lying is the message…It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.”
The article ends with a (not too specific) warning that we must defend liberty “with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.”
Like the former speechwriter for George W. Bush that he is, From makes his last words dazzle with a “what-can-you-do-for-your-country” pinch in the rear: “What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”
What would Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch say? Finch would have said something morally uplifting like this to his precocious daughter Scout–the protagonist of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” What I would pay to be in his soothing company right now.
There are always people on the right side of history. That’s why I’ll be focusing on social novels here. (According to Wikipedia, a social novel is “a work of fiction in which a prevailing social problem, such as gender, race, or class prejudice, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel.”) We are talking about everything from “Hard Times” to “The Grapes of Wrath” to “Native Son”…and pretty much every book Dostoevsky wrote.
I took a long hiatus to prepare for some courses this semester, but I hope there are still a couple of readers out there!