It feels more like America when our willful, crude, chaotic President Trump loses control of the national conversation.
There’s a beautiful episode several years before the Communist government began to crumble in Czechoslovakia, when Vaclav Havel strategized about no longer reacting to the actions of the tyrannical government but making the government react to him and to his brother and sister dissidents. (Though he didn’t care for the name dissident.) He wanted his voice, anyone’s voice, to have a chance to matter in the public sphere.
Havel wrote directly to Dr. Husak, the head of the Communist government, explaining the ways Husak and his people were ruining the country’s best traditions and values. Havel made sure friendly newspapers across the free world had a copy. Then he waited to be arrested and interrogated. And he was. But he was released, in part because there was enough publicity about Havel and the Letter that could serve as a form of pressure and defense. For a time, the government lost its monopoly on the national and international conversation about Czechoslovakia.
Havel’s essay is called the Letter to Dr. Husak. It’s not terribly long. Some of the most moving parts are about the recovery of a people’s dignity. Inside the country, the Letter could only be distributed secretly via samizdat–typed carbon copies! People who were brave enough could tune into Radio Free Europe and hear it being spoken of there.
There were fewer, clearer channels of communication available then. It’s not so easy to see how to make a similar move today. But let’s keep thinking about the general principle and how it might be practiced.