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There will be enlightenment upon the exit of Trump from office, however ugly or vile he’s transformed it. Revolutionary cultural change will occur, even if there are plutocrats in the way.

“Écrasez l’infâme” — “Crush the vile thing.”

Who in the United States has any interest in Voltaire? College students sometimes read his “Candide” as a novella, and audiences have enjoyed it as an operetta by Leonard Bernstein. But the book ends with a refrain that sounds like quietism: “Let us cultivate our garden.”

Actually, I think that last line, which is among the most famous in all literature, should be understood as a call to engagement. “Cultivation” means commitment to culture, to civility, to civilization itself. That is the argument I want to make.


What more can we aspire to in the age of Trump? The opposition to bigotry and the defense of civil rights once again call for a commitment to the cause of civilization. They require moral passion seasoned with wit.

Cultivate gardens. Écrasez l’infâme.

America has monarchists… and some are dominionist idiots who somehow forgot about the Constitution and those who fought for it.

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.

Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

For the literal-minded, of course Balzac is of a different generation, but only idiots would think enlightenment thought ends with…whom? And what’s a meta for… play?

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.



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