Trump Is a Great Storyteller. We Need to Be Better.
My son is 3 years old. Every morning and evening I read to him. I love the joy he takes in learning new words, immersing himself in stories, seeing himself as the characters, and acquiring a moral and ethical sense. He lives in a fictional world of good and bad, of threat and rescue, of the choice between doing good or doing harm.
In Harrisburg, Pa., of the mid-1970s, I was a refugee and the child of refugees who had fled Vietnam. My parents had neither the time nor the ability to read to me in English. So I took refuge in the local public library. It became my safe space and books my constant companion.
I imagined myself amid the wonders of Manhattan, the bucolic splendor of Midwestern farms, the stirring and dreadful times of the American Revolution and Civil War. Even if there was no one who looked like me or had a name like mine, through these stories, I became an American.
As I remembered this during our presidential election, what became clear to me was that the contest for our American identity wasn’t strictly a political affair. It is also a matter of storytelling. Those who seek to lead our country must persuade the people through their ability to tell a story about who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. The struggle over the direction of our country is also a fight over whose words will win and whose images will ignite the collective imagination.
Donald J. Trump won barely, and by the grace of the Electoral College. His voters responded to his call to “Make America Great Again,” referring to a past when jobs were more plentiful, incomes more stable and politicians more bold.
唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)得益于选举团制度而勉强获胜。他的选民响应了他的“让美国恢复伟大荣光”(Make America Great Again)的号召，它指的是工作更充裕、收入更稳定、政治人士更大胆的旧时光。
That kind of nostalgia is powerful and visceral, but it’s hard to ignore the subtext. America of the golden age, if it ever existed, kept women out of the workplace, segregated and exploited minorities and restricted immigration by race.
It’s hardly surprising that the population of much of the literary world is terrified by Mr. Trump’s vision of good-versus-evil, us-against-them. At the recent National Book Awards and Dayton Literary Peace Prizes, most of the speeches proclaimed opposition to the values that Mr. Trump espoused.
文学界的很多人对特朗普的善恶观和敌我对立情绪感到害怕，这并不令人意外。在前不久的国家图书奖(National Book Awards)和代顿文学和平奖(Dayton Literary Peace Prizes)颁奖礼上，大部分获奖感言都表达了对特朗普支持的价值观的反对。
That opposition isn’t just political but literary: His story contradicts the idea of literature itself. Great literature cannot exist if it is based on hate, fear, division, exclusion, scapegoating or the use of injustice. Bad literature and demagogues, on the other hand, exploit these very things, and they do so through telling the kind of demonizing stories good literary writers reject.
The cast of “Hamilton” sought to remind Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, of this when he attended the show recently, imploring him directly to defend American diversity. When an offended Mr. Trump tweeted that the theater “must always be a safe and special place,” he missed their point: America itself should be a safe and special place.
Part of the fault is ours; too many writers are removed from the world of our readers. After my novel, “The Sympathizer,” was published, I would get letters from people who accused me of being “ungrateful” to the United States. The places where the book was most popular were the Northeast, West Coast and big cities. A vast section of rural Americans in the Deep South, heartland and North were not buying the book.
The day before the presidential election, an obscure novelist attacked me on Twitter. I was “NOT an American author (born in Vietnam).” As for my Pulitzer, it was “An American prize that shuns the real America. We long for the Great American Novel. When?”
Despite that criticism, this election reminds me of the necessity of my vocation. Good writers cannot write honestly if they are incapable of imagining what it is that another feels, thinks and sees. Through identifying with characters and people who are nothing like us, through destroying the walls between ourselves and others, the people who love words — both writers and readers — strive to understand others and break down the boundaries that separate us.
It’s an ethos summed up by the novelist Colson Whitehead in his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards last month: “Be kind to everybody. Make art. And fight the power.”
After election night, during which my partner, my graduate students and I drank two bottles of Scotch, I renewed my commitment to fight the power. That was always my mission. I was thinking of it when I named my son Ellison, after the novelist Ralph Waldo Ellison, himself named after the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Making my son a part of this lineage, I wanted him to understand the basic paradox at the heart of literature and philosophy: Even as each of us is solitary as a reader or a writer, we are reminded of our shared humanity and our inhumanity.
我和我的伴侣、我的研究生们在选举夜喝了两瓶苏格兰威士忌，在那之后，我再次坚定了自己反抗强权的承诺。这从来都是我的使命。我正是出于这个想法给儿子取名埃里森(Ellison)，那是取自拉尔夫·沃尔多·埃里森(Ralph Waldo Ellison)，而他的名字本身是取自哲学家拉尔夫·沃尔多·爱默生(Ralph Waldo Emerson)。我把我的儿子放进了这种传承之中，希望他能理解位于文学与哲学中心位置的一种基本的奇特之处：作为读者或作者，我们每个人都是孤立的，然而我们会意识到我们共有的人性以及我们的非人性。
My son need not become a writer, but he will become a storyteller. We are all storytellers of our own lives, of our American identities. I want my son to rise to the challenge of fighting to determine which stories will define our America. That’s the choice between building walls and opening hearts. Rather than making America great again, we should help America love again.