On Trump and Libraries

I'm trying to remember when I first became aware of the notion, popularized throughout the Trump campaign, that intellectualism is "bad," a pustule on the ugly face of "liberal elitism." Embedded in this idea, of course, is classism, some deeply perverse misunderstanding that people with less wealth--seemingly simply by virtue of having less wealth--want simpler solutions, broader strokes, plain(er)spoken goals. The pervasiveness of this phenomenon has given us, just to name one example, Trae Crowder, whose "Liberal Redneck" persona has gone viral since 2016, precisely for its anomalousness. I have nothing against Trae Crowder. I just squirm under the assumption that poor white Southerners are "supposed to" support Trump--Trump, the man with zero political expertise, historical knowledge, military background, or diplomatic finesse, to say nothing of basic oratory skills--as the billionaire deity whose racist promises include making America great "again" (remind me when it was great for the majority of poor whites?) 

The growing disparity between the parties has become characterized by disdain vs fervor for intellectual exchange. To be a nuanced thinker, a president risks appearing "weak" or "passive," which were criticisms that Obama frequently endured. "Act now, think later...or never" is an apt summation of how Trump has treated his first 100 days. The objective of his campaign was to whip his would-be supporters into such a patriotic frenzy that they would forget to ask the crucial questions (such as, oh, "how" and "why"); they would be encouraged to relinquish any responsibility for their own research, dialog, and fact-checking, in favor of the jobs and greatness and hugeness and America-ness that would surely arrive on their doorsteps like so many winning Publishers Clearinghouse envelopes.

Desperate, disenfranchised, and sad human beings are very capable of complex thought. But complex thought is, um, hard: time consuming, uncomfortable, maddening, and often solution-less. When something shinier and easier is on the offer--even if it's a mirage--it *will* win, or I guess I should say, "win." It is a kind of ideological economics, and it is the same principle that underwrites nearly every aspect of any capitalist society. People don't eat Big Macs because they're healthy and promote long lives. They eat them because they're cheap and filling. Smarter and better-versed people than I have said it in myriad ways, but the bottom line is that we're living in a culture of rabid appetite, and Trump's campaign provided an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't know, guys

I don't know, guys

Now, full-bellied, the administration is making good on its platform of Zero Complexity. From education to climate change, we have been confronted by a cast of characters who seem hellbent on knowing as little as they can about the office they've been tapped to inhabit. We have, across the White House, more money than experience, more nepotism than intellect. Remember how slaves were denied access to books and education, so that they wouldn't figure out that they were human beings and not property? I can't help but think of this administration's abject rejection of intellectualism as a kind of slavery: just smile and nod at the "less government" rich folks, and pay no attention to what's happening in our schools; in Flint, Michigan; in Russia; or in Roseburg, Oregon, for example, where all 11 branches of the city's library system will be closed by June 1, because the majority of residents didn't want to pay a $6/month tax that would've prevented a funding crisis.

9 of 13 of Trump's "Broken Promises" as enumerated by Robert Reich,  Newsweek

9 of 13 of Trump's "Broken Promises" as enumerated by Robert Reich, Newsweek

The cutting of arts funding and shuttering of libraries would most certainly be the apotheosis of Trump's anti-thought modus operandi. The provocation of the senses, the expansion of the mind, the opportunities to participate in civic debates, workshops, and other special events--in other words, all of the stuff that's available to us not because we're of a certain class or color or creed but because we're human beings who yearn for connection and, yes, occasional transcendence--are not valued by Trump, and he is--according to me--showing us why: because they have no immediate dollar value, because they're not concerned with the dynamics of power, and because--most frighteningly, for him--they threaten to awaken his fan base to the errors and injustices of his personal politics. 

I grew up going to libraries; specifically, the Belmont Hills Library, the Bala Cynwyd Library, the Gladwyne Library, and "the big library," Ludington. The Belmont Hills Library was closest and smallest. I loved its starkness, the white wire chairs and tables, the bright cleanliness of the space. The Bala Cynwyd Library had the kindest and most helpful librarians. The Gladwyne Library had the best children's section, which was more or less in the basement, a low-ceilinged, wood-paneled room with cozy light fixtures and little nooks. Going to the Ludington Library was a treat. In my mind, it seemed to have everything. I learned to use microfiche there. I researched my first term paper, on the Berlin Wall, in the carrels there. I worked on job applications there. Before I could drive, I got dropped off and picked up there, and felt the early flashes of adulthood as I went off course, veering from the parameters of my prescribed topic to page through books with titillating titles. 

The Belmont Hills Library

The Belmont Hills Library

These days, I take my daughters to the library at least once a week, and at least once a week, Beatrice says, I can't believe we get to take all of these books home for free. I know, I tell her. It's a miracle. It's the best of what humanity can offer. 

I think of all the free resources my libraries have offered, many of which I've taken part in: internet, a quiet place to work, a comfortable chair, umpteen classes from ESL to accounting, neighborhood meetings, voting booths, storytimes for kids, films, lectures, exhibits, to say nothing of the thousands of books and periodicals and movies and music. Before we could look it up online, we could look it up at the library. The original information superhighway, except since you have to wend your way there, learning bits as you go, it's maybe more aptly the information scenic route.

Programs will suffer, as will the people who rely on them. And I'm equally saddened by what it says about us and our national disposition, our values and priorities. America: big on wars, small on books.

My first book is coming out in two months. I know it will be exciting to see it on bookstore shelves, but the thrill of seeing it at the library will be next-level. A book at the library has nothing to do with numbers or royalties, the sorts of things that publishers need to be concerned about. A book at the library is in many ways the truest book, a book that exists for the library, for the sake of the free and open exchange of ideas and learning. 

Are we really going to let a bookless billionaire bully usurp one of the greatest institutions of democracy and egalitarianism? It feels like an eviction from a spiritual home.