In the days after the election of US president Donald Trump, some disappointed voters called for national unity, urging Americans to reach across the aisle for mutual understanding and cooperation with the country’s new leader. And some decidedly did not.
In a galvanizing essay published by the New Yorker in December, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, author of Americanah, was vocal in her disdain for “healing” and “optimism.” She implored the reader not to cave to “understanding,” but to stand firm with strong, meaningful words:
America loves winners, but victory does not absolve. Victory, especially a slender one decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states, does not guarantee respect. Nobody automatically deserves deference on ascending to the leadership of any country.
Five months later, her feelings have not changed. In a conversation at PEN World Voices this week with Daily Show host Trevor Noah, moderated by editor Chris Jackson, Adichie stood her ground and insisted we not look for a silver lining to the Trump presidency.
Adichie, who splits her time between Nigeria and the US, said she was fed up with the American fixation on a sunny, solution-forward disposition.
“What I was struck by was this rush to try and find the bright side,” she said of the election and the ensuing attempts to understand Trump’s strategy and voter base. She said:
That impulse came from what I think of as this incredible American discomfort with discomfort. Americans don’t like to be uncomfortable. It’s also linked to this optimism. On the one hand there’s a lot I admire about that; it’s the reason people come to this country. If you compare it to the world-weary European “Woe is me, the world is dark,” obviously I prefer American optimism! But I think it can go too far.
“There’s very little cause for optimism,” she concluded.
The author also expressed anger that people who were dehumanized by Trump during his campaign were now left with the task of trying to empathize with him and his worldview.
She warned against the seductive slide from outrage into complacency. Wrote Adichie, “Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots.”