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Author Richard Russo Ponders What The Presidential Election Was Really About


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.