December 8, 2015KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEthicsReading

Trump, Saunders

Throughout the summer and into the fall, I felt that Donald Trump’s hijacking of the Republican storyline was pretty funny. Recently, it’s become less funny; and yesterday it stopped being funny at all. Trump’s call to stigmatize an entire group of people—to bar them from entering this country, to describe them as believing “only in jihad”— is the kind of thing we haven’t heard from would-be US leaders (at least not ones with decent poll numbers) in many decades. When even Dick Cheney says you’ve gone too far, you’ve probably gone too far.

So this morning I was walking to school and thinking about Trump’s descent into racist demagoguery, and about internment camps, and about Nazi Germany— and I was also thinking about the class on George Saunders that I was about to teach. George Saunders! America’s greatest satirist! The heir to Mark Twain’s estate! And I thought, Oh, what I wouldn’t give to hear Saunders weigh in on Trump. And then I remembered that, in a way, he already had.

Written in the shadow of 9-11, Saunders’s story “The Red Bow” recounts the reaction of a “Village” (the term is both purposefully quaint and ominously capitalized) to the death of a young girl. The girl has been mauled by dogs; the response of the Villagers is to kill all the dogs—the “infected” ones and the healthy ones. When a cat begins acting odd, the narrator (who is the father of the dead girl) reports:

The thing was, we did not know and could not know how many animals had already been infected—the original four dogs had been at large for several days before we found them, and any animal they might have infected had been at large for nearly two weeks now, and we did not even know the precise method of infection—was it bites, spit, blood, was something leaping from coat to coat? We knew it could happen to dogs, it appeared it could happen to cats—what I’m saying is, it was just a very confusing and frightening time.

Eventually the narrator’s uncle and the Village doctor draw up a “Three-Point Emergency Plan”; one point reads: “All Infected or Suspected Infected animals must be destroyed at once.”

Then someone asked could they please clarify the meaning of “suspected”?

Suspected, you know, said Uncle Matt. That means we suspect and have good reason to suspect that an animal is, or may be, Infected.

The exact methodology is currently under development, said Dr. Vincent.

How can we, how can you, ensure that this assessment will be fair and reasonable though? the guy asked.

Well that is a good question, said Uncle Matt. The key to that is, we will have the assessment done by fair-minded persons who will do the Evaluation in an objective way that seems reasonable to all.

Trust us, said Dr. Vincent. We know it is so very important.

When the narrator’s grieving wife emerges from seclusion, the narrator and his associates fill her in on “everything that had been happening.”

And I watched her closely, to see what she thought, to see what I should think, her having always been my rock.

Kill every dog, every cat, she said very slowly. Kill every mouse, every bird. Kill every fish. Anyone objects, kill them too.

Then she went back to bed.