The gloom that descended on the literary blogosphere on the day after the election could not have been heavier or more dismal. Most disquieting were the comments by various bloggers avowing, either implicitly or directly, that books and book blogging hardly seemed important after Bush's victory.
Surely in most cases this is a temporary affliction; the gloom will lift and the literary discussions will begin again. Still, I do hope that the disappointment over the election results--they've bummed me out too--will not cast a more lasting pall on the activities of literary weblogs, which have become not merely a respite from the even gloomier poltical circumstances we've been enduring for quite a while now, but have provided a real alternative to media-ized discourse on books and culture, which in my opinion only further pollutes the already foul political climate in which we are quite obviously going to have to continue to live. In my view, the endless series of rabid political books by journalists and other self-syled pundits that appeared over the past year or so only made the outcome we just witnessed all the more certain.
Books--fiction more specifically--seem trivial in comparison to politics and political awareness only if you've really invested most of your intellectual resources in the notion that political movements and ideas finally determine the degree to which serious engagement with ideas can be made at all, that everything else curious and creative people might find worthwhile must be subordinated to "political critique" or else it's just so much fluff. (That we invest a great deal of our emotional resources in particular political campaigns or outcomes certainly can't be avoided, nor the subsequent disappointment when our hopes are dashed.) It may be true that in large quarters of Bushworld books don't count for much, but it seems to me that we give in to the very attitude toward books and reading we deplore when we also declare in the wake of political disillusionment that we don't care much about them, either. If the outlook and assumptions that led to these most recent election results are really to be understood and confronted, it will only be, in my opinion, through the books--fiction and nonfiction--and the commentary about them that will appear over the course of the next four years.
Yesterday my mother called me to talk about the election. I was born and raised in a red county in a red state--a rural Missouri county of a pretty thoroughly lower-middle/working-class sort--and she still lives there. (She voted for Kerry. bless her.) She related her distress at those around her, her friends and acquaintances, who ignored all the ways in which the Bush administration had made their lives harder and less prosperous and voted instead on such issues as abortion and gay marriage. She doesn't think much of gay marriage herself, but she correctly observed that nothing would be done about these issues, anyway, and in the meantime the Iraq War would only get worse, jobs would get even scarcer, and the environment would be further degraded. She just couldn't understand how such people could so completely ignore their real political interests and vote on these cultural matters instead. (She is, of course, providing anedotal confirmation of the thesis of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas, although she hasn't read it. I suggested that she should read it, and should pass it around to her friends.)
Yet neither she nor I would say that these people who voted for Bush in the face of all the reasons why they shouldn't are bad people. They're really quite mild and unassuming in most respects. When I go back there to visit, I don't expect any of them to come after me with torches because I'm a liberal. I think it's really misguided to call them fascists and morons, words I have seen used in some places to describe these red-staters. (Yes, George W. Bush, and much of his administration, is indeed "scum," but most of the people living in St. Francois County, Missouri are not.) They need to be talked into voting for the more inclusive agenda, helped to see where their true interests lie, not called names or dismissed as hopeless. As it turned out, Bush got "only" about 53% of the vote in Missouri. A little more talking, a little more cajoling, among some of these very people might have made the difference. If they're to be persuaded the next time around, a few books might come in handy.