November 14, 2016
Independent Bookstore Allowed to Keep Controversial Anti-Trump Display
by Ryan Harrington
One has to imagine that the looming presidency of Donald J. Trump will raise a number of questions, both worrisomely new and enduringly ancient, about free speech, community inclusivity, and meaningful and effective dissent. Where better to seek guidance, support, or a new angle on these critical subjects than your local independent bookstore?
I realize that reads as a threadbare platitude so delicate and sentimental (read: meaningless) that it should only be taken out to eulogize local bookstores that have gone belly up (after they’ve already croaked).
But I think it can be true. Bookstores can be wild, challenging, and constantly evolving places. They don’t and shouldn’t tell us what to think. They shouldn’t even have very fixed ideas about that themselves. Rather, they should hold up a magnet to our moral compasses, send the needle spinning, and push us out into the world. We should wander for a bit, then find our way back to do it again. Maybe they should have scones, too.
I think a shining example of this in the late days of that bitter and awful campaign has been the controversial banner that hung for the weeks preceding Trump’s victory in the window of Inquiring Minds Bookstore in Saugerties, New York.
The banner in question was a Nazi-red flag, complete with swastika, that read, “Trump: Make America Hate Again.” It accompanied a window display of books about the rise of Donald Trump as well as that of Adolf Hitler. The display included signs explaining the connection it intends to draw. I think that’s awesome.
The display invited criticism from town leaders, picketing Trump supporters, and the denunciation of the Anti-Defamation League. And I think that’s awesome, too.
The bookstore should flex its right to re-purpose a hateful symbol in the name of protest, and I think our community leaders and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League need to announce when and why they feel that a boundary has been crossed. And I think that we’re better able to hold these two semi-opposed thoughts simultaneously when we spend time doing some good, hard, compass-spinning bookstore thinking. I suspect the bookstore in question carries at least one volume that puts forth the argument that any invocation of the swastika is unforgivably hateful act. And I suspect someone on staff knows exactly which book that is. That is likely the awesomest part of all of this.
The American Bookseller Association (a founding member of the Media Coalition that aims to protect First Amendment rights of bookstores, the coalition that defended Inquiring Minds against town officials threatening to impose fines) is reporting that the bookstore has won this argument insofar as it will not be fined.
Go visit, and/or protest, your local bookstore. And take care of each other — we’re all we have.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.