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Life Is Elsewhere

Garth Greenwell is correct to question the concept of “relevance” as it is commonly applied to art [“Making Meaning,” Essay, November]. His arguments make me wonder about my long-held instinct to seek out “irrelevant” literature. I used to think it was a question of escapism, of wanting to avoid the intrusion of reality into the sphere of the imagination, but I don’t think that’s it entirely.

I recoil from transparent appeals to relevance in my reading—in recent years, this has often included journalism and fiction forced by the marketplace to maneuver itself into some artificial frame involving Donald Trump. It’s what drew me to Greenwell’s essay before anything else in the November issue, which was otherwise largely concerned with the election and threats to American democracy. Beyond escapism, there is simply fatigue.

Richard Hiatt
Colorado Springs, Colo.


Why Riot?

I read with interest David Bromwich’s article on the recent protests [“Is America Ungovernable?,” Essay, November]. I appreciate his contrarian stance, though I was bothered by his insistence, as though stating a fact, that the destruction of property—such as “statues of Confederate military officers”—is self-evidently a bad thing.

How does Bromwich view, say, the destruction of the Berlin Wall? Does he not think there is a point at which people have simply had enough, when we should agree that it is better for them to take out their justifiable anger on monuments than on other people?

I urge Bromwich and other representatives of an aging white center-left (to which I also belong) to resist their knee-jerk reactions to the uprisings and instead try to consider where protesters are coming from and whether—even if we are occasionally disturbed by their actions—their rage might not be fully understandable, even righteous.

Malcolm Fraser


Bromwich’s provocative essay left me wondering why he has such a blinkered view of the Black Lives Matter movement, and why he essentially ignores the police brutality that was inflicted on peaceful demonstrators—perhaps most visibly in June of last year, when tear gas was used to clear a path for Donald Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. At times, Bromwich seems to be willfully conflating this year’s largely nonviolent protests with isolated instances of violent rioting or looting.

If there has appeared to be overlap between these forms of unrest, we should still understand the historical context of protesters’ actions, which are motivated by injustice and are meant to influence our politics and to inspire action. Reform doesn’t happen without pressure. It doesn’t spontaneously emerge from an atmosphere of stability. The degree of carnage to which Black and Latino Americans have been subjected by law enforcement simply cannot go on. America is only governable if those of us who are governed feel that we are heard and can instigate change.

Joshua P. Cohen


Whose Left?

Who and where exactly are the “many on the left” whom Kevin Baker claims “cannot bring themselves to vote for a candidate or a party they blame for making the rise of Donald Trump possible in the first place” [“You Say You Want a Revolution,” Easy Chair, November]? Are they voices in his head, or on Twitter? A handful of carefully curated Reddit threads? He never really bothers to say.

He writes of “putting aside our arrogance for a moment,” but he does nothing of the sort, instead demanding that we follow Black Democrats—here discussed monolithically—who “overwhelmingly” supported Biden. I don’t know how Baker reconciles this with the reality that Bernie Sanders raised far more money from Black voters than any other Democrat in the field. Black support for Biden is taken for granted.

Baker stakes his credibility on understanding the left—he voted for Elizabeth Warren, after all. (Kudos.) He refers to himself as a member of the “liberal left,” whatever that is. He says a candidate in the Biden mold can be pushed to do the right thing. But it is not clear to me that we agree on what that would be, or that Baker understands the political landscape he attempts to diagnose.

Samuel Ephraim
New York City


The Votes That Count

I was disappointed to find that your roundtable discussion on voting [“What’s in a Vote?,” Forum, November] all but ignored the importance of down-ballot and local races, which are, of course, also decided during national elections.

Years ago, an uncle of mine ran for magistrate in Pennsylvania and won narrowly; this was an election in which every vote mattered. He went on to win reelection and served until he retired because of age restrictions. The sum total of our local and state elections can be just as crucial as the national contests—if not more so. They certainly make a difference in any vibrant democracy.

Jim Meehan
Lake Worth, Fla.

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January 2021

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