We always knew our country could fall victim to a right-wing coup. It’s happening right now, in the form of a stolen election by the repulsive Donald Trump, and everything we cherish is at stake: our freedom, our democracy, our basic human decency, our lives and the lives of those we love.
Well, who ever said freedom came cheap? Many people I know are shocked into silent despair and fear by the specter of a racist sexual predator con-man dictator throwing our Constitution in the garbage with a phony call to “Make America Great Again”. I’m refusing to be silent or afraid, and am fortifying myself with an immortal source of strength: the literature of struggle.
Some Americans in both blue and red states may have grown morally soft through pampered living. We’re finding out just how soft many Americans are as we observe the reactions to Trump’s fascist coup. But literature offers us guideposts for the fight against totalitarianism and brutal power politics. Many of our greatest writers were intimately familiar with the horrors of dystopian violence and oppression.
Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and the other Beat Generation writers who long ago inspired me to launch a website called Literary Kicks grew up as pampered American children of a different era … but they came into adulthood in the shadow of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler, and their classic novels and poems cannot be understood today without the horrifying context of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Virginia Woolf is sometimes mistaken for a “delicate” writer (hah), but her best novel Mrs. Dalloway tells the story of a shattered soldier back home from the surreal battlefields of the first World War. Fyodor Dostoevsky risked his life to fight against tyranny in Russia, and once endured the psychological terror of being led to the place of his execution before being released to write again. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman wrote for their lives as their beloved country split in two over the question of slavery — a condition that seems familiar today as America ponders whether we have any unity left in our country at all.
I wasn’t thinking much about these dark currents 22 and a half years ago when I created Literary Kicks. I was in a buoyant mood back in the summer of 1994, and so perhaps was the world: the Soviet Union had fallen, the Clinton administration was making peaceful overtures in the Middle East, the brand new Internet craze was promising a new era of connectivity all over the world. It was in this buoyant mood that I decided to use the pen name Levi Asher, and it was only a year ago that I announced I wanted to stop using this name, because I had become a more serious person, and wanted to be a simpler and more truthful writer.
There is a time for kicks, and there is a time for inspiration. Literature is good for both, and this calls to mind for me what I was busy doing in the weeks before the cataclysmic election day last month, November 8 2016, which will go down in infamy as the day an aspiring dictator attempted to steal our country (whether we will take our country back from Trump and his band of criminals remains to be seen, but I pray that we will). I had been working in my capacity as a professional web developer and designer with the wonderful folks who oversee Allen Ginsberg’s estate to launch a new version of AllenGinsberg.org, a beautiful, thoughtful and content-rich website also known as the Allen Ginsberg Project.
If election day had gone differently, we would have announced the new version of this website immediately afterwards with much happy fanfare. The opportunity for this celebration was stolen from us. But we did put up Allen Ginsberg’s great angry poem America to express how many of us felt on this horrifying day. The first line of this poem expresses how many Americans — especially women, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, hardworking immigrants and others who are directly targeted by the hatred Trump sold to a gullible minority of voters — must feel as the country we love so much and have devoted our lives to supporting slips suddenly into hellish kleptocracy and ethnic hatred.
America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing
I pledge today to keep writing blog posts here on Literary Kicks, and to also keep finding ways to breathe life into my labyrinthine new project Pacifism21, and to try to do everything else I can with the small platform I’ve built online to help my country and my world during this treacherous age. Literature can save our souls when the going gets tough.
I built a website called Literary Kicks a long time ago, when the world seemed a happier place. Well, there is a time for kicks, and there is a time for inspiration. America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. We are not nothing, but some of us may feel so depressed or frightened or beaten-down that we may occasionally need to be reminded that we are not.
That’s what Litkicks and Pacifism21 are here to help us with from now on, and that’s what I’m dedicating my Twitter account to as well. We’re in for a long fight, and we will all need to be fearless and focused in the difficult months ahead.