Ninety years ago today, Thomas Hardy died.
For readers who still believe you’re living in a benevolent universe where justice will prevail in the end, please remove Thomas Hardy’s canon from your must-read list. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Michael Henchard, Tess Durbeyfield, or Jude Fawley.
Okay, I’m just name-dropping. You can’t really ask them: they’re fictional characters living in Wessesx, the world that Hardy created in the southwest of England–the setting for most of his novels.
I don’t know if people read Hardy that much these days, or if we see his characters as simply weak in a world where they should have known better. Donald Trump, were he capable of reading a novel, would merely laugh at Hardy’s hapless victims, even though most readers consider them sympathetic characters merely overwhelmed by fate, ill luck, and bad timing.
But Trump’s disdain appears to signal the world we live in.
•In recent days federal agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country—98 stores in 17 states—resulting in 21 arrests of undocumented workers. There was no warning other than the current administration’s expressed goal of deporting these so-called illegals.
•While residents of Montecito, California, slept early Tuesday morning, heavy rains unloosed countless tons of earth, burying homes and sweeping away the people inside them. The death toll currently stands at 17. Eight remain missing. There was little warning.
•A three-million vote majority selected Hillary Clinton to be their president fourteen months ago, but foreign interference, gerrymandering, an archaic electoral system, and an ignorant populace (who never actually grasped how evil the “lesser of two evils” could really be) have left us in a state Thomas Hardy might have appreciated—where innocent, well-intentioned people succumb to the overwhelming powers controlling them.
This is Hardy’s world in full bloom. There is no correcting this. No impeachment. No invoking of the 25th Amendment. No institutionalizing of an obviously deranged president. No do-over. The only way out is the way he came in, with votes. Ten months from now we can utilize one of our rights to undo some of the harm and make the world somewhat more benevolent.
•Too late to save the undocumented immigrants but not too late to institute more humane laws or overturn the sadistic ones.
•Too late to save the California landslide victims, but not too late to address climate change and maybe prevent more of the same.
•Too late to unseat an unstable president, but not too late to hamstring him, to render him even more ineffectual than he already is.
If we all do our civic duty in November, maybe we can view Thomas Hardy as an outlier instead of a savant. But today, ninety years after his death, he seems particularly prescient.