On the day President Trump is inaugurated, thousands of writers in the United States will express their indignation. "In order for us to heal and move forward...," say Writers Resist, "we wish to bypass direct political discourse, in favor of an inspired focus on the future, and how we, as writers, can be a unifying force for the protection of democracy."
And: "We urge local organizers and speakers to avoid using the names of politicians or adopting 'anti' language as the focus for their Writers Resist event. It's important to ensure that nonprofit organizations, which are prohibited from political campaigning, will feel confident participating in and sponsoring these events."
Thus, real protest is to be avoided, for it is not tax exempt.
Compare such drivel with the declarations of the Congress of American Writers, held at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1935, and again two years later. They were electric events, with writers discussing how they could confront ominous events in Abyssinia, China and Spain. Telegrams from Thomas Mann, C Day Lewis, Upton Sinclair and Albert Einstein were read out, reflecting the fear that great power was now rampant and that it had become impossible to discuss art and literature without politics or, indeed, direct political action.
"A writer," the journalist Martha Gellhorn told the second congress, "must be a man of action now ... A man who has given a year of his life to steel strikes, or to the unemployed, or to the problems of racial prejudice, has not lost or wasted time. He is a man who has known where he belonged. If you should survive such action, what you have to say about it afterwards is the truth, is necessary and real, and it will last."
Her words echo across the unction and violence of the Obama era and the silence of those who colluded with his deceptions.
That the menace of rapacious power -- rampant long before the rise of Trump -- has been accepted by writers, many of them privileged and celebrated, and by those who guard the gates of literary criticism, and culture, including popular culture, is uncontroversial. Not for them the impossibility of writing and promoting literature bereft of politics. Not for them the responsibility to speak out, regardless of who occupies the White House.
Today, false symbolism is all. "Identity" is all. In 2016, Hillary Clinton stigmatized millions of voters as "a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it." Her abuse was handed out at an LGBT rally as part of her cynical campaign to win over minorities by abusing a white mostly working-class majority. Divide and rule, this is called; or identity politics in which race and gender conceal class, and allow the waging of class war. Trump understood this.
"When the truth is replaced by silence," said the Soviet dissident poet Yevtushenko, "the silence is a lie."
This is not an American phenomenon. A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that "for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life."