In an email after Tuesday’s election, I asked my former boss Charlie Birnbaum, manager of the Stonzek Theater, an art-house film venue in Lake Worth, Florida, his thoughts on Donald Trump being elected president and what it meant for the future of the arts. After confessing to be “completely depressed about the results, although not quite suicidal,” Charlie answered in his usual refreshing but slightly cynical demeanor: “The arts won’t suffer much…people will die from lack of health insurance, then Florida will be underwater from denial of global warming so when North Korea [attacks with] nuclear weapons, the world will be under a nuclear cloud. So don’t worry about the arts; we’ll always have cave paintings.”
After reading Charlie’s apocalyptic missive, I started thinking about how other people invested in the arts might feel right now. I’m fortunate enough to interview talented writers and indie filmmakers on a regular basis, so I got in touch with a few of them and asked two basic questions: how they felt about the outcome of the presidential election, and what it meant to them as writers, artists, or patrons of the arts.
Their answers for the most part are unedited.
“It’s November 11, Veteran’s Day. I’m thinking of my father today, how he – a child of immigrants – would not recognize the country he fought for so valiantly, unquestioningly, honorably. The last two days have felt like a terrible nightmare for me. I’ve woken up each morning having to re-orient myself to this new reality: the landscape of hate, the images of hate, and the rhetoric of hate from my fellow Americans. I have to open my eyes, leave sleep and adjust to the onslaught of another day in hell, just as if there’d been a death or a bad diagnosis. I’m not sure yet how it will impact my writing. One thing is that for right now, I have to take a break from social media, television news and the Internet. I’m exhausted and depleted and have done so little writing, except online. So starting today, the 11th, I’m on a social media and FB diet which will, I hope, free me to focus again on my second novel, a personal essay and a short story. I’m also submitting poetry and revising my chapbook. I have to start somewhere; somehow, I have to push on.
“I was already letting my own feminism penetrate my fiction, and I can see that now, this might tighten that focus, sharpen that lens. Hard to predict but I do know that I feel angry as a woman and I write angry women pretty well!”
– Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next
“I feel deeply disappointed, and afraid. We all have a great deal of work to do to challenge the misogyny, racism and hatred that Trump’s election has unleashed. “
– Hannah Kohler, author of The Outside Lands.
“More than anything I’m sad that someone with few qualifications now occupies such a prestigious role. I’m sad that many people in this country are so angry about the current system that they are willing to take such a gamble on a man who has proven to be a bigot and a misogynist. I’m sad that so much of Obama’s hard work will be undone. I’m sad for women and the rights we stand to lose. I’m sad for all minorities. I cried on election night. I was so sure she was going to win. I’m go back and forth between the grief stages of denial, anger, and depression. I don’t know when I’ll reach acceptance.
“I feel like I was too shy before. I feel like it’s now my responsibility to be political, to share my opinions and why I have them, to create more of a dialogue to help with the divide that’s so obvious in our country. I didn’t speak up much during the campaign cycle because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I never included my beliefs in my writing. Now, I feel like I might. I am working on a couple essays for my blog about the election, for example. Up until now, I’ve used my blog to write about fiction, but now real life has my attention.”
– Kim Hooper, author of People Who Knew Me.
“A Trump presidency’s effect on the arts, particularly literature and film, has two main aspects to it: policy and creativity. In terms of the former, the obvious implications of a Republican administration include diminished funding for artists. The NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and other government-funded organizations have long been a target of conservatives. With a Republican back in the White House, we may see a return to the anti-art forces that prevailed under Reagan and the two Bushes.
“It could be argued that with a GOP President, Senate, and House, there would be little check on a move to defund cultural organizations. That said, Trump is far from a conventional Republican (he was a Democrat until just a few years ago) and actually alienated many Republicans over the course of his 18-month run for President. While some may reconcile with him and vice-versa (we’re already seeing this in just the first few days in his brief period as President-elect) it is also quite possible that he will never align himself completely with the traditional GOP positions on matters such as public support for the arts.
“Therefore, it is not a guarantee that efforts to cut off funding for the NEA and other organizations will move forward in a Trump presidency. As he proved during his campaign, his positions can change on a dime so this remains to be seen.
“On the creative front, the impact of Trump’s presidency will likely be felt much sooner than any policy changes. To the extent that art comes from a hurting place, that the source of many writers’ inspiration is rooted in pain, those who are in despair over the outcome of the campaign will likely channel some of that anger and resentment into their work. While there is a palpable pall and deep depression among many who supported Secretary Clinton in one way or another, the sadness will lift, if only just enough to allow artists – including writers and filmmakers – to want to give voice to their feelings.
“While this may result in direct reaction to the events, e.g., political statements about the campaign, stories about racism and sexism, and satire about America under a President like Trump, it may also simply spark the creative juices in general. The resulting work may not have any apparent relation whatsoever to the events of the campaign and election but may simply serve to help put pen to paper and image to film.”
– Larry Richman, Journalist and Director of Programming, Palm Beach International Film Festival
“I’m devastated by the election outcome, and I’ll admit that I did not see it coming. I am deeply liberal, but I don’t think I live in a liberal echo chamber. I live in a very red state, and many of my friends and colleagues and neighbors are registered Republicans who saw a dangerously unstable demagogue and grudgingly voted for Clinton. They are as shocked as I am. ‘Who voted for him?’ they’re all saying, ‘It’s unbelievable, absolutely devastating.’
“I haven’t begun to process what this means for me as a writer, in part because my first priority is what this means for me as a teacher. I teach at a community college and many of my students are going to face dangerous consequences. I have students with undocumented family members. I have students who are LGBTQ. I have students who are Muslim. Most of my students are dependent on the financial aid programs that we’ll see radically cut under the Ryan budget, which is almost certain to pass at this point. As a writer, my primary focus has always been to critique the culture and specifically from a feminist standpoint, so I don’t know that the election changes that.”
– Liz Kay, author of Monsters: A Love Story.
“It’s hard to know where to begin. I slept very poorly last Tuesday night while waiting for the results to come in; I can’t say I had a sense of foreboding, exactly, but when I checked my iPhone at 4 a.m. London time and saw that Trump was well on his way to victory, I was so upset that I couldn’t really get back to sleep at all.
“I’m still not sure it’s quite sunk in, for me or for any of my friends, colleagues and fellow writers here in the UK and Europe, the vast majority of whom have been absolutely stunned – particularly by the fact that Trump seems to have won such a significant proportion of the female vote. I struggle to understand how any woman could have gone into the voting booth and put her vote next to the name of a candidate who had so publicly and so belittled, bullied and harassed other women.
“It’s impossible to talk about Trump’s victory without mentioning the U.K.’s own situation with Brexit. Waking up on June 24 the day after the referendum, I was just as baffled and emotional about the result as I am now about Trump’s election to the presidency. It is difficult not to feel that we left-leaning liberal, progressive people are an increasingly endangered species. And the divisions in my own country – my own London borough actually had the highest turnout in favour of remaining in Europe in the whole of the U.K. – are stark, and bear comparison with the deep divisions now felt in the U.S.
“In the short term, Donald Trump winning the presidency has immediate practical implications. My husband and I were hoping to be able to spend a year or two living and working in the U.S. next year, and I don’t know now if that will be possible. In first instance, because Trump might make it more difficult for immigrants like us to enter the U.S.; and second, we are unsure whether we would feel comfortable making our home there now. But America is a huge and diverse nation, and it’s inspiring to see so many people coming out to say that Trump and his reactionary policies do not reflect the country they know and love.
“On a more abstract level, it’s fair to say that political turmoil of any sort can be creatively inspiring; artists of all stripes need something to kick against. During the Thatcher years here in the UK, for instance, we saw an incredible flourishing of culture, reacting against policies that were so destructive and punitive for so many.
“I myself am not an overtly political writer, but it’s difficult to see how the times we are living in won’t filter through to my writing. If I have any kind of mission statement for my fiction, it’s to explore and reflect the beauty, strangeness and transience of ordinary lives. At the heart of fiction is an act of empathy – of trying to understand and unpick the workings of another human being’s mind. Perhaps that very act can stand in opposition to the sort of reactionary, narrow-minded, trigger-happy politics that is currently being peddled on both sides of the Atlantic.”
– Laura Barnett, author of The Versions of Us
“I am absolutely devastated by the outcome of the U.S. election. Writing this on November 10th, I am less enraged, motivated and fired up, than simply grief-stricken. As a gay woman, I fear what this means for me, and the LGBTQ community. I fear for all the minorities Trump has directed his hateful rhetoric at, and the supporters who have embraced that dark and frightening space. I feel like a bully has moved in with me against my will, and I am unsafe in my own home. This is a dark day for America; I can feel the heartbreak across the country.
“I am a writer who writes for and about women. I am drawn to tell female stories about uniquely female experiences and the way we move though the world as modern women. Trump’s misogyny, and the misogyny of his supporters, does not change that one little bit. I will double down on my efforts to speak truthfully about the female condition; our struggles and sadness, our success and our strengths. I am still a nasty woman, and so are my readers. Women have been telling our stories for many years and we will not stop now.”
– Georgia Clark, author of The Regulars.
“I’m devastated by the outcome of the election. My initial thought about writing after the Trump victory was that what did it matter what I write, why bother – that depression voice. But I do believe in the power of art and stories to make human connections. Ideological divides are not crossed by rhetoric or argument, but maybe we can get closer with empathy. I’m telling myself that on day two post-election as I get started on a new novel.”
– Rae Meadows, author of I Will Send Rain.
And my own two cents? I have to say that the outcome of this election didn’t surprise me as it did most people. My own co-workers and friends laughed at me when I said Donald Trump would probably win the primaries, and they didn’t believe me when I stated that he had a shot of winning the presidency.
I’m not a political analyst, and for the most part, I don’t talk about or deal in politics. But I’ve seen it before, you see. I am Venezuelan-American; I lived through the turmoil and nightmare of Hugo Chavez, his rapid rise to power, his shocking ability to play the voters, making them see what he wanted them to see, fueling their anger and disconformity at the monopoly of a two-party system. I lived through his demonizing of the media, the blatant and vulgar insults directed at the middle class; I witnessed the lewdness of an elected president shouting over the microphone to his wife at a political rally, “I’m going to give it to you tonight real good,” while his supporters cheered on and added their own sexist shouts to the mix.
How did this happen? It happened right under our noses, and we turned a blind eye, believing that reason would prevail over emotions in the voting booths. Of course we’ll fight and protest against injustice and any attempt to take away our rights and particularly the right to express ourselves through art, film or literature. But we also have to wake up to a painful reality: A deeply divided America, which may never be the same again.
Author’s note: Because most of the writers interviewed for this article are women, I want to clarify that I did try to contact the same amount of male writers as well. Their responses varied, but they included traveling, lack of time, and complete lack of reply.