polemical poetry to prickle the politics of "permanent austerity"
thistles stretch their prickly arms afar
Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Those
Living in the Age of Donald Trump
Events cast long shadows before.
One such event would be a war.
But how are shadows to be seen
When total darkness fills the screen?
Bertolt Brecht, ‘Alphabet’, from ‘Five Children's Songs’ (1934),
trans. John Willett
All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.
Brecht, ‘Solidarity Song’, trans. Willett
OK, you asked for it so here's
The best advice I have on how to see them through,
These worst of times that you
Tell me you’re facing now after just seventy years
When things went quiet, at least for those
Who lived a good way from the trouble-spots and chose
To block their otherwise ultra-sensitive ears
To what was going on, or close
Their minds to any bit of news that might,
If mindfully attended to,
Disturb their liberal consciences or cause a sleepless night.
From what you've said the case strikes me
As very like ours in the early to mid-
'Thirties when (let's not kid
Ourselves) we German leftists didn't exactly see
Eye to eye and fought such a lot
Of internal feuds that we lost the larger plot,
Put tactics ahead of everything that we
Were meant to stand for, and (here's what
You chiefly need to know) afforded just the chance
Those bastards needed to get rid
Of the few last obstacles to Hitler's advance.
Not that we can afford to ignore
Questions of tactics on the left, God knows,
But what 'all history shows'
(If you’ll allow me to take the role of sermonizing bore
Just for once) is how incredibly fast things went
Downhill from the time we spent
On endless internecine squabbles and bouts of score-
Settling to that pure stage-event,
The Reichstag Fire, expertly planned for max effect
As if to signal the echt-Wagnerian close
Of tottering Weimar and herald a new age of savagery unchecked.
My point is, you're now stuck with this
Monster in the White House along with his gang of crooks
After an electoral fix that looks
To me like the same sort of political abyss
We were peering into back then,
In the dog-days of Kristallnacht and the big Nazi rallies when
We were in shock or denial, so that those hit-or-miss
Efforts by a few brave, isolated women and men
To end the agony all failed for lack
Of coordination and went down in the history-books
As having, if anything, set the resistance back.
That's my main message to you now
In this age of resurgent barbarism aiming to turn
Progress on its head: just learn
From what went wrong, and more than anything how
To manage love and hate
So that with lovers, comrades, and those close to us we create
Bonds strong as any pledge of amity or wedding-vow,
While toward enemies maintaining always a state
Of readiness to take
Actions that an ethic of rational self-concern
Would rule out but for the huge difference they could make.
Chris Norris is a philosopher at Cardiff University and lives in Swansea. He has published many books about philosophy, literary theory, and music along with several collections of poetry including For the Tempus-Fugitives (Sussex Academic Press) and The Winnowing Fan (Bloomsbury), both in 2017.