America in the Age of Trump

Boycotts, Condonations, and 'The Divide'

by Argun Ulgen

23 November 2016

Is AntiBookClub's call to Penguin Random House to drop The Art of the Deal from their catalog an effective form of resistance?
From the cover of The Art of the Deal 
cover art

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

Matt Taibbi

(Spiegel & Grau)
US: Oct 2014

On 9 November 2016, Donald Trump won the electoral college both on the strength of and in spite of a campaign built upon bigoted, misogynistic, and racist rhetoric. In response, AntiBookClub—a small independent publishing company operating under a progressive, reformist platform—released an “open letter” to Penguin-Random House directly urging the company to stop representing Trump. In an eloquently stated passage, the letter advises:

As an influencer in the publishing world, your continued financial support through the sales of his book sends a message to your readers that you condone his racism, his misogyny, and his contempt for people of different nationalities and religions.


  
Compellingly, AntiBookClub’s letter equates rhetoric to action, and in so doing, eschews the often abused practice of treating campaign language in a vacuum absent any post-Election Day accountability. Hateful rhetoric is a crippling, corrosive force which perpetuates culturally cancerous conditions. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 437 reported acts of verbal and physical abuse during the week of 8-14 November 2016. That’s more than one reported incident per hour since Trump has become the United States President-elect.

However, AntiBook club’s letter still implicitly flirts with the notion of a book publisher boycott insofar as it risks readers deciding to severely contract their book choices due to the Trump’s name catalogued by the same publication company. This inherent risk forces one to decide which condonations are better for the democratic process, and which are not. In such a complex, protean society, the answer is often unclear.

Indeed, Americans dutifully pay taxes for wars and corporate bailouts we don’t necessarily agree with while working under a predominantly corporate capitalistic society, which heavily incentivizes self-serving behavior over public interest contributions. We tolerate taking massive financial gambles at young ages by paying six figures for heinously expensive Universities, and in so doing, by making deals with exploitative student-loan creditors who shackle basic liberties with unforgiving, compound-interest debt. Many people abide by these circumstances, among others, in the hopes that they will live financially productive and fulfilling lives. Certainly, however, disagreeable condonations are being made.

Matthew Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap explores this grim reality on a larger scale. The Divide, written with a combination of relentless beat reportage and righteous indignation, illustrates how America is tearing its democratic core asunder in two extreme, opposite directions.  According to Taibbi’s findings, the US government continuously indemnifies American banks’ “sophisticated” fraudulent behavior—that which was responsible for the loss of billions of dollars to the American economy and the destabilization of both our domestic housing economy and global markets—while at the same time zealously pursuing arrests and convictions of indigent black and Latino individuals for violations and non-violent misdemeanors. Inherent to these concurrent processes is the promotion of a culture in which wealth before systemic democratic values is the ultimate mandate.

The Divide‘s findings apply to Trump’s presidential campaign. Absent Trump’s absurdly marketable billionaire sheen and his reality TV star status, both his bigotry and his divisive, underdeveloped positions on domestic and foreign policy wouldn’t have seen his campaign through last winter. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders—presented as a hardscrabble populist who wished to forsake zero-sum capitalism for a wealth re-distribution scheme which would empower the middle class and scrutinize more closely the ultra-rich—was heavily overlooked both by voters, the mainstream media, and even the Democratic National Committee, for lacking nuance. What explains “the divide”, so to speak, is that Trump was considered “too big to fail”, while a senator from Vermont who had an albeit imperfect but peaceful, respectful, and more feasible platform, was too small to succeed.

As it were, The Divide, with all its intellectually integrative powers toward highlighting corporate tyranny and pleading for reformism, was published by Spiegel and Grau. In turn, Spiegel and Grau is a publishing imprint of Penguin-Random House. So for those readers who opt to boycott Penguin-Random House for its continual distribution of Art of the Deal, they would have to condone the interminable self-deprivation of several other books which, like The Divide, is arguably an urgent must-read prior to the inauguration in January.

To condone Penguin-Random House’s continued publication of Trump’s The Art of the Deal is also to allow oneself to support other Penguin-Random House publications, such as The Divide. This particular condonation—one made for the expansion of book-based knowledge to cultivate more considered, well-deliberated economic and political action toward an egalitarian ideal—should rank highly among the several other condonations many make in their lives. Otherwise, even this famous passage from Kurt Vonnegut could be just as easily scrutinized if Trump’s Art of the Deal were to rest next to Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed at a public library:

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

As a country, we deserve a higher political grammar, and this begins with the quiet, thoughtful absorption of a variety books: from those authors we love, we dislike, we wish to learn from or to criticize. In this regard, my own open letter to mainstream publishing houses and other promotional vehicles would be this:

Publish more well-reasoned, well-researched, compelling, strategically-sound reformist literature toward empathetic, inclusive solutions to the world’s problems. Promote these works with the same vigor The Art of the Deal was afforded back in 1987. Seek and publish writers from increasingly diverse platforms who offer vivid worldviews as to why the importance of preserving a peaceful, yet self-critical multicultural environment in America is so necessary as we endure the corrosive effects of moneyed interests. Then advertise these works as the “Must Reads”, even if they won’t project the highest short-run profits. Because we don’t need short-run profit projections, right now. We need to save the world—and most urgently, this country—from becomming an increasingly divisive and violent place.

In a sense, this strategy may also be considered a kind of boycott against works akin to Trump’s campaign rhetoric: for when you expand knowledge, you vanquish hateful rhetoric and the violent divisions it engenders.

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