Donald Trump’s election has been one of the most divisive events in recent times. It has engendered fear in some, whilst others voted for Trump out of fear.
As I am a Briton, you may say I am out of order commenting on American politics, but we are all going to be affected by whatever happens next in the USA and you may notice that there are similarities with the Brexit vote, as Nigel Farage has so rightly commented. (I never thought I would write “Nigel Farage” and “rightly” in the same sentence).
- The unexpected.
- The people who thought they were being ignored.
- The deep divisions and anger.
- The rejection of ‘expert’ opinion.
- You could possibly find a few more.
What can historical fiction writers contribute?
The long view.
British politics in the 17th and 18th Centuries were dominated by the fear of Roman Catholicism, especially as it was seen as an instrument of our enemies, France, Spain, Rome. That was a major factor in the hostility towards the Stuarts and fear of their supporters, the Jacobites.
Notice that in the end we in Britain got over it. By the 20th Century nobody asked you if you were a Protestant or a Catholic. Nowadays we cooperate on lots of things. I have joined with Roman Catholics in several Christian activities. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us. All right, I admit it is taking Northern Ireland a bit longer to get with the programme, but it is happening even there. Let us hope our fears of Islam can go the same way.
I remember words of wisdom from a Scot, David Steele, when he was the Leader of the Liberal Party, “The trouble with the English is that they never remember, and the trouble with the Irish is that they never forget”. Let us learn the right lessons from the past, and not just keep old hatreds alive.
What can we mere novelists do?
Tell the truth! But tell it, not like a history textbook, but as if we were there. Make it real. Maybe that can help us get over our divisions and mutual suspicions a bit quicker this time. In his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell imagined a government controlling the way history was taught so as to prevent people discovering embarrassing or inconvenient truths. It has been known in some countries. We writers have a responsibility.
Finally, I would like to remind Americans, including Donald Trump, that there was a time when immigration was strongly encouraged. It was called The Slave Trade. (Not a thing we in Britain can be proud of either).