Elated? Depressed? This Lit’s for You

Citizen Kane’s election night defeat (Welles, Cotton)

[Update: We now know, of course, that Barack Obama has been reelected. Farida Bag, e-mailing in congratulations from Uganda, responded to this post with the following Philip Larkin line from “The Mower”:

Of each other, we should be kind,
While there is still time.”

Amen. After this poisonous election, we need to be reminded of this.]

Yesterday I posted on how Republicans and Democrats will probably respond if their candidate loses. Today I write about how they should respond. I have had to post the article before knowing the winner, but you may find it useful nonetheless. There’s no reason why Romney supporters can’t take the advice I offer Obama supporters and vice versa.

The ideal response, offered up by Rudyard Kipling, is not the most realistic:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same . . .

One would have to say this is a big “if.”

Feasting on your opponents’ tears, as warlord Dinas Vawr does in a Thomas Love Peacock poem, is a contemptible response so don’t do it:

We brought away from battle,
And much their land bemoaned them,
Two thousand head of cattle,
And the head of him who owned them:
Ednyfed, king of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.

Here is literary advice that does a better job of acknowledging and responsibly building upon election results. The first two passages contain advice for supporters if their candidate wins, the next two are passages designed to bolster them up if their candidate loses:

If Obama Wins

This passage from Jean Paul Sartre’s The Flies would have been useful in 2008 and is no less appropriate now. It is all very well to soar with dreams of hope and change, but actual governing is hard work. The coming four years may be no less hard than the first four, but this should excite Obama’s supporters, not discourage them. That, at any rate, is what Orestes says to his sister Electra after they have avenged the murder of their father Agamemnon and now must face the real world consequences of their success:

Orestes: We were too light, Electra. Now our feet press down in the earth like the wheels of a cart in its groove. Come with me, and we will walk heavily, bending under the weight of our heavy load.

If Romney Wins

For Romney supporters, I recommend the Flannery O’Connor short story “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” which is about a 20-something college graduate (Julian) living with his mother, who pays the bills He is constantly irritated by her, as the Right is irritated by Obama, and defines himself as everything she is not. When she dies of a sudden and unexpected heart attack, however, he suddenly realizes that he no longer has someone to push against. Just as the Republicans have to be more than a protest movement, so Julian has to step into responsible adulthood.

If Obama Loses:

In his 2008 victory night address, Obama credited Civil Rights protesters as having had a hand in his success. If he loses, he and his disconsolate supporters can turn to this Langston Hughes poem where a mother gives advice to a disheartened son.  There have been setbacks in the past, she notes, so don’t give up. The poem is particularly apt for Obama since his astounding ascent from success to success has sometimes seemed like a crystal stair:

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

If Romney Loses

If Romney loses, it will be in part because of how he alienated Latino/a voters. As South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham has put it,

If we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics. … If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.

Given the way the GOP celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit, however, it could take heart from Steven Milhauser’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer and see rebuilding the party as an exciting challenge. Dressler is a successful constructor of skyscrapers in America’s gilded age, but after a while he gets caught up in his cloistered vision of the world (a version of the GOP’s “epistemic closure”) and loses track of what is going on around him. As a result, he goes bankrupt.

Rather than feeling depressed by his loss, however, Dressler feels liberated by it:

Martin closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them he was aware of a change in the light. The sky was brighter, the sun higher—the day was getting hot. He felt light, transparent. Here in the other world, here in the world beyond the world, anything was possible.

And further on:

For when you woke from a long dream, into the new morning, then try as you might you couldn’t not hear, beyond your door, the sounds of the new day . . .

If the election is undecided

And if, today, the outcome is unclear because the two parties are in court, as could happen, I may be citing the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case in Dickens’ Bleak House.

This entry was posted in Hughes (Langston), Kipling (Rudyard), Milhauser (Steven), Millhaouser (Steven), O'Connor (Flannery), Peacock (Thomas Love), Sartre (Jean Paul) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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