The very idea of “President’s Day” has always been a farce. But in the age of Trump the idea of celebrating the American presidency’s unchecked power just feel bitterly ironic. Red Wedge isn’t the only one feeling this irony; today, in several cities, “Not My President’s Day” rallies are taking place.
When our editorial board adapted the text below and designed its accompanying image, it was intended as a reward for our fall fundraising drive (which we are in the process of mailing out as we write this). It is now available exclusively to anyone who joins the Red Wedge Patron program at ten dollars or more each month. The words are adapted from the famous speech that tail-ends Charlie Chaplin’s remarkable film The Great Dictator. Chaplin was, of course, a fellow traveler of the Communist Party; his artistic irreverence was always complimented by a humanism that often veered into outright radicalism.
The speech itself serves as a warning of sorts. We rather expected the relevance of our adaptation to be lost after November 8th. We were wrong. There are some now referring to the Trump presidency as “authoritarian neoliberalism.” Others are remarking that Trump’s ascendancy is the latest in a growing list of right-wing authoritarian rulers across the globe. For that reason, if Chaplin were to rise from the dead today, he might find that his speech remains as relevant as ever. Notwithstanding a few word replacements, that is. We have generously taken the initiative on that ourselves.
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I’m sorry, but we don’t want to be emperors. That’s not our business. We don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. We should like to help everyone if possible: Jew, Christian, Muslim, black, brown, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned our souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost...
The internet and the smartphone have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in us, cries out for universal cooperation, for the unity of us all. Our voices reach millions throughout the world. Millions of others, victims of a system that makes human beings torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can read this, we say: do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of those who fear the way of human liberation. The hate will pass, dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
Comrades! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, those who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural people with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are human beings! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberation!
You, the people have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure!
Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give us all a chance to work. That will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and sadism. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all human happiness. Comrades! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!
– Adapted from Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, 1940
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Alexander Billet is a writer, poet, and cultural critic. He has written for Jacobin and In These Times, and is chief editor at Red Wedge. He further pollutes the cesspool of Twitter through his account: @UbuPamplemousse
Craig E. Ross, an editor at Red Wedge, is a printmaker and cartoonist currently living in St. Louis who works mainly in woodblock prints. They received a BFA in Printmaking from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Craig has self-published various comics and zines such as MEDITATIONS: A Vision In Woodcuts and the acclaimed STEAL AWAY: The Visions of Nat Turner. Craig also runs the “Red Wedge Comix” blog at Red Wedge, and helps run the Dollar Art House.