I am grateful for the opportunities I had to witness national politics up close, to play some tiny role in supporting Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012. It felt that much worse to see Trump elected in 2016 knowing that I’d spent that season on an esoteric art project instead of participating in things I’d learned were effective at turning out voters. However, art requires free time. Separation from powerful institutions seems necessary, too.
Not that there are no creative people in politics. There are many: brilliant speechwriters, designers of memorable posters and websites, clever strategists and communicators who are able to turn any moment to a campaign’s advantage. But these forms of creativity have a limit. They are much needed, but the creativity is constrained. The message and aesthetics must be palatable to the majority of your audience; a creative inspiration that risks offending the middle of the road is off limits. And in a risk-averse field, the line is usually drawn somewhere far safer than the 50th percentile. Politics is the art of the possible, as the saying goes. Originally attributed to Otto von Bismarck in 1867, the full quote is, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
So, how do we expand what is possible? How do we make the attainable, the next best better than what is possible otherwise? Outside of politics. In the culture at large, in the realm of thinkers, artists and writers.
But how does this happen? And if I’ve chosen a 100-part essay from quarantine as my contribution to unseating Donald Trump, should I change my approach to writing to make it more effective? What constraints on my creativity am I willing to accept to have a greater impact?
Earlier, I drew a parallel between the constraints of advocacy emails and the constraints of certain poetic forms. Every form of communication has its constraints, and the opportunity to respect or reject these constraints when convenient. I’ve chosen (so far) not to write this series in rhyming couplets. I’ve chosen to use conventional punctuation and spelling (mostly). I’ve chosen so far to use only sentences that are true, but I’ve also used included memories that I can’t verify. I’ve chosen to use some actual names and some vague identifiers such as “my friend” and “the organization.” Some of these stories have appeared in drafts I’ve written that might today be called memoir, autofiction, or a novel; the line between those three up for debate. But why adhere to any of these? Donald Trump has used fiction, misspelling and unconventional punctuation throughout his term. And many artists I admire exaggerate and fictionalize to great effect.
This week’s posts will explore some of these constraints, as the form of this series comes together.