Discover more from Backbencher
At Long Last, What "Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin" Means
It's all about Donald Trump's bizarre headway into the union household vote.
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. I can admit it now. When I first encountered this piece of Enlightenment wisdom, the famous final line in Candide, in high school French class circa 1975, I nodded sagely but had absolutely no idea what it was supposed to mean. We must cultivate our garden? Really, Voltaire, is that all you’ve got after surveying the grotesque cruelties and absurdities of this vale of tears and mocking Dr. Pangloss’s fatuous notion that we inhabit the best of all possible worlds? A modern version of this sentiment might be: Wash daily and cut your fingernails, and for God’s sake zip up your fly! That’s just what you do. It’s no philosophy; it’s no answer to the larger question of how we ought to live.
Now, having just read Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol’s excellent new book Rust Belt Union Blues, I think I have a better idea of what Voltaire was getting at. The book furnishes a sort of answer as it relates to the bizarre success Donald Trump has enjoyed drawing a following from union rank and file, never mind that Trump’s presidency was one long assault on labor rights. Trump plans to travel to Detroit on September 27, the day of the next presidential primary debate that Trump won’t attend, to make hay out of the United Auto Workers strike. Newman and Skocpol’s book will help you understand why. That’s the subject of my latest New Republic piece. You can read it here.
Thanks for reading Backbencher! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.