It is only fitting that the nation’s largest celebration of literature, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, would focus on the nation’s biggest political story. Over a two-day span of talks by and conversations with some of the nation’s leading intellectuals, President Donald Trump was a recurring theme, subtly or overtly, in the booth where you could ask Muslims about their faith and try on a hijab, and in the auditorium where liberal commentator Joy Ann-Reid talked about the imperiled Barack Obama legacy.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had openly crowed about his love of “the poorly educated,” and the embrace of anti-intellectualism was a hallmark of his political movement. Accordingly, any gathering in which freedom and depth of thought are celebrated is an act of resistance, doubly so when it is held in the state most vehemently opposed to the Trump agenda.
The literary community can sometimes lapse into sanctimony, but there was no such danger on the USC campus last weekend, as large crowds shuffled past the statue of Tommy Trojan, the school’s bellicose mascot. “Unlike President Obama, I was actually born in Kenya,” joked Stanford scholar Mugambi Jouet during a Sunday talk. The reference, of course, is to Trump’s scurrilous birtherism, in many ways the heart of his appeal. Jouet, author of Exceptional America: What Divides Americans From the World and From Each Other, patiently explained to one dismayed audience member that ultra-nationalist Marine Le Pen had not in fact won the French election. She’d made the runoff stage, but that wasn’t cause to panic.
As for our own political system, Jouet was similarly optimistic. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” he said. “And democracy is only what you make of it.”Read More