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Author Richard Russo Ponders What The Presidential Election Was Really About

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This morning, we're hearing more responses from around the country to the election of Donald Trump as president. Richard Russo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and screenwriter. "Nobody's Fool," "Empire Falls" and his latest, "Everybody's Fool," explore the world of the white, male, blue-collar demographic that carried Trump to victory. He joined us from Maine Public Radio in Portland, Maine.

Good morning.

RICHARD RUSSO: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, what was your reaction on election night when you saw that Donald Trump had won?

RUSSO: Well, I think like a lot of people, disbelief. I'm still kind of cycling through, like a lot of people are, what was this election really about?

MONTAGNE: Well, obviously...

RUSSO: I have a friend of mine who always says, in a democracy, you always, always get what you deserve. And apparently, we deserve Donald Trump.

MONTAGNE: Does it say anything to you about the state of our country?

RUSSO: Well, I've been thinking about the very demographic that you were talking about. And we've been hearing a lot of talk about jobs. But I would draw a distinction between jobs and work. I don't have a job, but I have tons and tons of work. That work sustains me. I'm doing something that gives my life meaning, it connects me to other people.

I think when you lose a job, you have less money and you get scared. But when you lose work, which has happened to many of Donald Trump's supporters - or they fear is going to happen to them - you lose your dignity. Maybe you're nobody. Maybe you don't matter.

I think that Trump supporters have really been worried about their sense of not belonging anymore. If I blame Trump supporters for anything, it's that if they've been feeling undervalued, denigrated, ignored, that's not a new feeling. It's just new to them, you know? Black people in America have felt that way for a long time. So have Latinos.

MONTAGNE: Well, given all of the division, what is the responsibility that you and your fellow writers have, if any, in this very new era in American life?

RUSSO: Well, it's a new era in one way, and in other ways, it's just the same old world. It hasn't really changed. And I don't think that the purpose of literature has changed either. I think we writers do have a responsibility, first to entertain, but second to instruct by bearing witness. If we had a great responsibility before this election, I would say we have, perhaps, an even greater one today.

And what I was talking about earlier, in making a distinction between jobs and work, the thing that I'm most convinced of is that in the larger sense of work, when I leave the studio here, Renee, after talking with you, I'm going to go back home and go get back to work as a writer, as a husband, as a father of two distraught daughters who were - who went out and bought pantsuits to vote on Election Day and to my granddaughter and grandson. My sense is that I have work to do. And I want to get back to it.

MONTAGNE: Richard Russo is a novelist and screenwriter. He joined us from his home state of Maine.

Thank you very much.

RUSSO: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.