During a discussion at Goodenough College in London, a young American couple loudly held forth. They were due to fly home to Duluth, Minnesota, and were asked about the political situation. The young woman “didn’t follow politics”, she said, but she thought Donald Trump was being unfairly targeted. All he’d done was make errors with his tax returns.
Questioned by an elderly and slightly scandalised Canadian, the young woman revealed she didn’t know about Trump’s indictments and upcoming fraud and criminal trials. She hadn’t heard a judge’s recent statement that a New York jury had found as a fact that Trump raped the writer E Jean Carroll. She had no idea he’d received a target letter from the Special Counsel relating to the January 6 riots, and was likely be charged with election tampering, or that he could be indicted for racketeering in Georgia, all imprisonable offences.
Further, (the Canadian pressed on with questioning – it had become contentious) the young woman didn’t believe climate change was real. In the midst of the brutal Cerberus heatwave, temperatures in parts of Europe were now over 40°C, and wildfires were raging. There were simultaneous destructive heatwaves in North America, Asia and North Africa. Marine heatwaves were occurring. She didn’t know any of this, no sir. But she sure would be voting in 2024.
When American founding father Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What kind of government have you given us?”, he replied, “A democracy, if you can keep it.” He meant democracy can be lost, that it’s up to the people to retain it. The way to keep democracy is to participate, and to ensure you understand what’s going on. If you don’t follow politics, you’ll make choices based on incorrect assumptions. But in the case of Trump, America risks losing its democracy altogether. This would affect the entire world. People are happy, even proud, to vote in a knowledge vacuum. And off we go, careering into darkness.
Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible is a fictionalised story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692. The play was a comment on McCarthyism, and is a study of mass hysteria, conformity and group think. Currently performed in a punchy revival by London’s National Theatre, it features the chilling line, “The little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law.”
The Crucible’s Puritans know their community has turned savage, but no one has the courage to defy the crazy children. It’s all very topical for 2024, as US Republicans silently or expressly enable Trump’s 2020 election-denying. Only a few politicians in that party will admit there’s a serious threat to the democracy they should be working to keep.
At Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on the south bank of the Thames, a rollicking matinee of The Comedy of Errors was full of schoolchildren. They were aged about 10 years and upwards, and they were totally engaged. They cheered, they fell about laughing. They were excited by the dancing, they found the knockabout fights and comic routines hilarious. And they were exposed, all that time, to the most beautiful and sophisticated language.
This is something else worth keeping, this one particular example of our various multicultural treasures. Language is surely the key to rational thought. The more sophisticated your use of it, the better able you are to think logically, and to express complex ideas. Knowledge is power, and so is skill with the spoken and written word. Art isn’t just beautiful, it has a formidable, transformative purpose. It’s the way out of the world of crazy children, the path that leads away from darkness.