At new-student orientation this summer, University of Mississippi students are learning about the usual: meal plans and financial aid. But they're also hearing something else: a seminar born out of an incident on election night last November.
As soon as I hear that a novel is set in a college or a university, I'm in. David Lodge, Richard Russo, Donna Tartt, Chad Harbach — they've all created campuses with an intimate, sometimes cozy feeling that offers an escape from a world that can seem terribly open-gated and impersonal. Like an Agatha Christie novel, you know right away who the characters are and where the drama will play out.
When they proposed it in the 1770s, it was such a novel idea. That instead of a king anointed by God, instead of a sage, instead of one leader telling all of us what to do, we should, every four years, all of us, pick our own leader, who would serve for a season, and then, job done, gently depart.
Nothing like this had been tried for thousands of years. Somehow, together we would be wiser than a single king. We would lead ourselves.
In principle, democracy seems noble, beautiful even.
At my family dinner table, I wondered a little. More than a little.