Following Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, George Orwell’s classic 1984 has skyrocketed to the top of many best-seller lists. The theory and fiction included in this reading list may shed some light on how the U.S. arrived at this point, how we can understand the divisive state of US politics today, and where those of us who object to his presidency can go from here.
1. Plato, The Republic
The Republic provides an understanding for how different models of political power emerge from one another, and how, seemingly, not much has changed in this regard as Plato remarks that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” This serves as an important reminder that the executive orders Trump has utilised to push through his policies, and too Adolf Hitler’s use of emergency powers, are tools of a ‘democratic’ model of governance.
Read it here.
2. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
In Arendt’s seminal text on totalitarianism, she traces the origins and development of totalitarianism, as well as its inextricable ties with, but also its differences from, fascism. Arendt provides a clear and yet troubling account of the totalitarian elements of Donald Trump’s presidency thus far; most notably in his non-vetted and non-consulted issuance of executive orders. But by also thinking about Trump’s divisive rhetoric and relationship with the judiciary through Arendt underscores how the new President of the United States can be cogently placed as a contemporary manifestation of totalitarian fascism.
Read it here.
Arendt’s work on the ‘banality of evil’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem is also particularly resonant for our current political climate.
3. Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason
Laclau asks: ‘What drives populism?’ and ‘How are collective identities created?’ His exploration of these questions can offer an understanding of Donald Trump supporters’ identification with his divisive rhetoric, as well as considering how a critical-left populism may be cultivated from the collective anger and opposition felt in response to Trump’s actions.
4. Carl Schmitt, Legality and Legitimacy
As a political and legal theorist who worked for the Nazi party, Schmitt was well accustomed to the process of monopolizing political power. In this recently translated text, Schmitt rejects the restraints on liberal constitution, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law. Legality, he argues, is not necessary for political legitimacy: only a regime with minimal constraints can function and “ensure domestic security in a highly pluralistic society.” That which Schmitt had proposed to help Adolf Hitler consolidate power may be in the process of being realized by Donald Trump. After only a little more than one week in the White House, he has removed many of the existing restraints on authority in a democracy. His sacking of U.S. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and his recent attacks on individual judges following judgements against his Muslim travel ban provide stark examples of the attempted removal of any constraints and the reincarnation of the Schmittian battle between legality and legitimacy.
5. Angela Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
After judicial methods of redress are stifled, the only remaining response is a people’s protest. In a collection of essays, conversation, and speeches, renowned activist-scholar Angela Davis writes about the connection between historical struggles for freedom and the struggles and protests in modern-day America. In her words, “Often times there are historical conjunctures that one cannot necessarily predict, but they’re moments when things come together in such a way that new possibilities arrive. And I think that when the Ferguson protesters refused to go home after protesting for two or three days, when they insisted on continuing that protest, and when they were—when Palestine activists, Palestinian activists in Palestine, were the first to actually tweet solidarity and support for them, that opened up a whole new realm.” Davis reminds us of the challenges that confront us in the course of fighting for freedom and provides hope for collective liberation movements.
6. The Anti-Inauguration: Building Resistance in the Trump Era
“The Anti-Inauguration” includes five speeches that contemplate resistance and future politics in the era of a Donald Trump presidency. It features Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Anand Gopal, and Owen Jones.
Ebook available for free here.
Two fiction recommendations
7. Don DeLillo, White Noise
In this brilliant satire, DeLillo discusses how fear is manufactured, impacts upon, and can change a population’s mindset. In this way, DeLillo’s story echoes the engenderment of fear that has served as a bedrock for Donald Trump’s discriminatory and racist rhetoric. But
8. Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here
It is 1935 and a charismatic presidential candidate is elected on the back of calls for a new era of prosperity for the country. The protagonist, Doremus Jessop, soon begins to realize however, that the new regime is becoming increasingly authoritarian. This once cautionary tale seems to me to be deeply prophetic of Donald Trump’s presidency, while also highlighting the complicity of those who stand by in the face of such fascism.
For an explicit take on the rise of Islamophobia in modern America, see: Arun Kundnani’s The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. For a more historically-rooted perspective that traces Islamophobia back to the 11th Century, see: look at Deepa Kumar’s Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.
Please feel free to add other suggestions in the comment box below, or reach out to me on Twitter.