Assistant Editor James Ellenberger: The Trump submissions have arrived. Droves of flaxen-haired poems and stories bask in the submission queue like flaccid porcupines, bristling at the cool, liberal wind that whistles atop our heads here at the CR office. Things to keep in mind: Trump is, yes, a total goon, an irregular Cheeto that shouldn’t have made it through quality control. But alas. The Electoral College, with some help from the people, has chosen.
It’s rough. No bones about it. Even in a post about reining ourselves in as writers, I can’t help but take pot shots. It’s hard not to be frustrated with this presidency, let alone with the fissures in our political and social consciousness that the election brought into the light. The air in office breakrooms and at family dinners is thick, as if with gasoline fumes. Everyone has talking points heavy as flint in their pockets. Internet forums, too, invite the incendiary; laid out like coal quarries, they burn endlessly underneath like Centralia, PA. It’s a difficult time. But even so, our writing, the stuff that we’re showing others and trying to publish, doesn’t have to become dismissive, petty, and aggressive.
In the many, many submissions that I’ve read over the past few months, I’ve seen every known subspecies of ad hominem argument. Authors have demonized large swaths of individuals for their education, political affiliation, geographical location, financial situation, race, and gender. There have been assassination fantasies, absurd caricatures, and parodied elections. Rural characters have struggled to distinguish their orifices from holes in the ground while academics build castles of glass and stock up on stones.
There’s catharsis in skewering a known enemy, feeling as though the page alone remains the bastion of total personal expression. Before you send a Trump submission–or that story about a working-class hero who’s easily manipulated, all heart and no brains–out for publication, perhaps consider how “on the nose” it is. What conversation is it entering? What kind of belief system is it perpetuating? In other words, is the work doing more than yawping in the echo chamber of what’s already been said? Is it work that’s doing more than venting, berating, or inciting anger? Is it giving folks a fair shake or relying heavily on the unfair dogmas we’ve adopted as Truth?
That isn’t to say that we don’t want your politically-minded work. We love submissions that grapple with difficult situations and our current political climate. Susann Cokal’s “Fourteen Shakes the Baby,” which appeared in issue 13.1, is a great example of this brand of work. It’s shocking and brutal, yet beneath its surface we can see a political and social system deeply ingrained with misogyny, one that exists well beyond one young woman’s experiences. The text’s relentless focus on the body manages to cross the liminal space between abstract policy and how we really live our lives. We ought to use our writing as an opportunity to embrace complexity rather than reification of the binaries that got us here in the first place.