Given how 2016 is working out, now might be the moment to remind ourselves that the famous phrase “may you live in interesting times” was originally conceived as a curse. President Donald Trump may end up being a more benign—or just lameduck—force than presidential nominee Trump, but it is hard to see the positives in the result of the election in the US. If Barack Obama’s candidacy was based on “change”, Trump’s has been founded on “change back”. As with Brexit, the electorate has chosen to press refresh with no clear idea as to what comes next. Kurt Vonnegut had the best phrase for dealing with all this. “So it goes,” he wrote. I’ve always believed, in defiance.
One should only spend so long on the wrong side of history without figuring out what lessons there are for us—and more particularly, for publishing. The economic shocks are likely to be short-lived in the first instance, but the wider implications for societies and countries now in states of flux will be felt long into the future. Tim Hely Hutchinson, c.e.o. of Hachette UK, is right to say that “the fight for kindness and tolerance” must continue, and counsel that the “lesson of history is that populist politicians do not create lasting benefits for their voters”. But others are correct to suggest that publishing has more work to do, as was evidenced by the series of articles we ran in The Bookseller last week from black, Asian and minority ethnic publishers, and the supplement we created this week in support of the London Book Fair and Publishers Association’s Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference (available at the event and online). In his piece for it, Little, Brown and Orion c.e.o. David Shelley writes about the “awkwardness” of discussions about diversity in workplaces that are anything but. This is important. As the past week has demonstrated, and social media has exaggerated, we tend to live in self-supporting filter bubbles that prop up what we think we know of the world and occasionally pat us on the back for being smart. We feel the election of Trump and Brexit deeply for their wider implications about us, but even these shockers pale when compared with the wars in Syria or the Yemen, as Waterstones, among others, has noticed. If it takes “awkwardness” (or today perhaps, anger) to move us, we should embrace it.
The better news is that the forces we feel around globalisation, the connections we build through social media and the knowledge we glean from opening our eyes to societies near and far, do not go away simply because they also cause profound disturbances among today’s voters. Publishing has long developed a deep and positive conversation about how it can engage with this future world: it is now a more interesting and unstable place, but not one we can shy away from facing.
Philip Jones is editor of The Bookseller.