“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
It has been on my mind the past year to re-read Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I have not read it since college, in the 1980s. We read it for a class on developing one’s political philosophy, taught by the late, great Prof. James T. Murphy, at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. It was a great class with a diverse reading list. There was Aristotle and Hobbes and The Federalist Papers, yes, but also fiction, including Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The class was a symposium and met once per week. OHYS was assigned one week and we met again the following week to discuss it, and Prof. Murphy kicked off the discussion with this question: “Is politics fantastic?”
We stared at him dumbfounded, not quite understanding. Of course, politics was fantastic, that’s why I’m majoring in it, I thought to myself. Politics is awesome. Seeing we did not understand the question, Prof. Murphy asked again:
Is politics fantastic? What I mean is, lots of fantastical stuff happens to the characters in this book. A character levitates to heaven. And the people treat it as no big deal. But the government commits all sorts of atrocities, including mass murder of people in the town square, and nobody believes it. So I ask again, is politics fantastic?
Thus began one of the best discussions in that class all semester.
After all these years, that question is relevant again. Just this week alone as I write this (week of May 21-25), these things happened:
• President Donald Trump accused the FBI of planting a spy in his campaign under President Obama’s orders
• We learned that White House staffers who draft proposed Tweets for Trump intentionally incorporate bad grammar and spelling errors so it looks like Trump is the one Tweeting
• Harley-Davidson, taking advantage of the GOP tax overhaul, closed a factory in Kansas City, but rewarded its shareholders
• We learned that Mr. Trump admitted he intentionally demeans the press to discredit journalists so the public won’t believe negative stories about him
• The National Football League, buckling under to heaps of derision from Mr. Trump last fall, announced it will fine players who refuse to stand during the National Anthem
• Mr. Trump denounced migrant children who enter the United States at the southern border as “not innocent”
• He cancelled a planned, first-ever summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, accusing North Korea of “tremendous anger and open hostility”
Meanwhile, I came across this quote: “FYI…the ‘Alt-Right’ is a leftist movement, and the Confederate flag belongs to the Democrats, not the Republicans. Conservatives embrace neither. (and of course the Nazis were – on the American left-right spectrum – leftist/socialist, as were the fascists back then just as the ‘antifa’ fascists today). Those little people wearing hoods in this picture? They are Democrats.”
Is politics fantastic? By which I mean, when people embrace ideology over reality, is their capacity for self-delusion so great that they dismiss obvious evil, such as scapegoating innocent children and aiding and abetting robbing American citizens of their First Amendment rights, while peddling lies like in the above quote? You bet.
And that’s why it’s time I dust off my old copy of One Hundred Years of Solitudeand read it again. At the very least, as a good novel, it’s an antidote to President Trump and his deluded followers. But much more than that, maybe it could help me understand the chaos that Mr. Trump has brought to our country, and provide an intellectual foundation to do what little I can to alleviate some of the chaos.