From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
by Joshua Ferris
I commit to take action because you, Donald Trump, don’t just tell lies, as men in power have always done. You attack reality. You shun science. You deny empirical evidence. You use conspiracy to corrupt truth. You present us with “alternative facts” and “the deep state.” You raise specters of illegitimacy to disguise your illegitimacy. You magic away genuine threat.
So overwhelmed is reality by your chants, your tweets, your organs of propaganda, that it has split in two. There is the old reality, verifiable but disparaged, and there is this new one, made up by you and your surrogates, willfully imposed, offensively fantastical, pandering to your donors and constituents but megalomaniacal by design.
Your critics struggle to describe this state of affairs. Journalists and academics do their best to document it. Inevitably, a little helplessly, they call it a fiction, to distinguish it from demeaned, assailed fact. “Fact versus Fiction,” read the headlines. “Another Trump Fiction.” “It’s Trump versus Fact.” Who can blame them? And yet, poor fiction! What has it done to deserve conflation with your lies?
I’m not just a concerned citizen. I’m also a novelist. I spend a good portion of my waking life thinking about fiction and its relation to reality. I admit to being a little, uh, taken by surprise, a little shown up, by the likes of you. Your walloping falsehoods continually outstrip my capacity to imagine you. Writing in 1961, Philip Roth remarked about American reality: “It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination.” Yes, you are the envy of every novelist. The cheap, tawdry, teetering, rotted-through yet all-too-real novelette that is your administration outdoes every one of my dreams for plot and theme. Who needs the fiction writer with you in office? I know how important American jobs are to you. Won’t you resign, Mr. Trump, for my sake?
But not for my sake alone. Fiction isn’t just something I do. It’s something I need. We all need it. The stuff of fairytales and the bedtime story, of church parables, of the YA novel, the literary short story, the action-adventure flick, and the episode on Netflix. People read, recite, sketch, perform, watch, stream, and dream up hours of fiction every day. Without it, our lives would be duller and more difficult.
But that’s not really why it’s a necessity. Fiction instructs. It edifies. It teaches us about the lives of others, the limits of knowledge, and truths universally acknowledged. As art, it transports and transcends. Finally, it motivates. It’s the college admissions essay, the visionary’s speech, the physicist’s dream of a unified theory. What is a wish but a fiction? What is a prayer?
What is hope for the future? Like the novel itself, fiction endows life with purpose and pleasure. It is the dream of heat and light sparked in a vacuum. Let’s not confuse all of that with the broad, conspiratorial, fear-mongering, mean-spirited, weaponized alt-reality of our reality-television president. You eradicate dreams. You obliterate hope. You give the lie to the ideal of progress. You are our dark fantasist-in-chief. We must not demean fiction by calling what you do by that name. Call it what it is: pure fantasy, a dystopia come to life where your every crowd breaks records, neighboring countries are shitholes, safety and prosperity are in your hands alone, loyalty is the only measure of truth, there are very fine people on both sides, and Jared Kushner is qualified.
I commit to take action because we need reality, which you disdain, and we need fiction, which you distort — and because I want my dreams back.
Take action today:
I commit to doing everything in my power to vote these clowns out of office while doing my best not to hate those in my family not similarly committed. Commit to vote in November.
Joshua Ferris is the author of four books including, most recently, The Dinner Party.