Saunders on Trump, and writing


This is from George Saunders’ latest New Yorker piece, chronicling his days on the campaign trail talking with Trump supporters and protestors:

The tragedy of the Trump movement is that one set of struggling people has been pitted against other groups of struggling people by someone who has known little struggle, at least in the material sense, and hence seems to have little empathy for anyone struggling, and even to consider struggling a symptom of weakness.

There are a lot of funny lines and startling passages in the article.  As a whole, it’s lyrical, depressing, depressingly funny, thoughtful and humane, which is what we’ve come to expect from Saunders.  (And how wonderful and terrifying a thing is that, for a writer — to have that set of expectations in place whenever you write?)   I picked this one quote to single out because of how Saunders zeroes in with such brutal precision on the heart of the story.

Saunders is as liberal as I am. But what strikes me the most about the piece isn’t his politics or even his style.  It’s his writerly mind, and how that intersects with his humanity.  He wants to understand these people, the people who are supporting Trump no matter how many terrible things Trump says.  He wants to inhabit them as a writer inhabits a character he loves.  Because you’ve got to have some measure of love to inhabit any character, even an unlikable one.

But it’s only when he moves past the broader political talk that he is able to connect with any of them, when they start talking about specifics and about specific people.  (The section subtitled “How do you solve a problem like Noemi?” is one of the story’s highlights.)   It’s only then that he finds any real generosity of spirit.  Because specificity is where we live, as writers and as people in general.  Harder to demonize anyone with a face, and a story.



About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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