A ‘Great Gatsby’ Quote Takes On New Resonance

People critical of the president’s and other Republicans’ behavior have been sharing a line from the Fitzgerald novel about the wealthy characters whose “carelessness” harms everyone around them.

By Ian Prasad Philbrick

It could have been any day on the internet: A critical comment, not naming President Trump or his Republican allies but clearly aimed at them, circulated on social media.

But the passage shared over the past few days by educators, writers and veterans of past presidential administrations came from an unlikely source: “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about greed and aspiration published nearly a century ago.

“They were careless people,” Nick Carraway, the narrator, concludes about Tom and Daisy Buchanan, characters whose excesses ultimately destroy the lives of those around them. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

For those who shared the passage online, Fitzgerald’s indictment of the rich, blasé Buchanans in the novel’s final pages seemed to fit an administration that has attempted to downplay the pandemic, even after Trump and other top Republicans tested positive for Covid-19.

“The juxtaposition between their privilege and their seeming indifference to the possibility of spreading the coronavirus is what was striking to me,” said Natalie J. Ring, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas whose Friday tweet sharing the Fitzgerald passage has racked up thousands of likes and retweets. “I was just stunned by, as Fitzgerald says, the carelessness of these people.”

Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama administration, also tweeted the quote Friday. “That’s the essence of that passage, as I read it: that the normal rules don’t apply to them, they can mess everything up and someone else will be there to clean it up,” he said. “I think that’s really been the attitude of this White House with respect to the whole pandemic.”

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