Photo credit (hat): Gage Skidmore

Previous American generations might have taken their literary touchstones from writers such as Hemingway, Dreiser, Fitzgerald, London, Twain, and Dickens—or even Shakespeare and Sophocles—but pity the poor millennials, who have nothing to help them understand life’s challenges but what Harold Bloom so aptly described as the “cliches and dead metaphors” of J. K. Rowling. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Harry Potter boy wizard books have become the default cultural lens through which people under 30 view Donald J. Trump.

Typical is the group of grad students at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who recently created a “Resistance School” to train activists to fight Trump’s political agenda. They call themselves “Dumbledore’s Army” after the group of Hogwarts students that met in secret to train in combating the dark arts. Theirs is hardly the first student group so named in the age of Trump, and it is sure not to be the last.

Millennial news site BuzzFeed went viral with an online quiz, “Who Said It: Steve Bannon or Lord Voldemort?” The Guardian touts a browser extension you can install on your computer “that changes any mention of Donald Trump or his cabinet to the name of a notable Death Eater. Install it, and your browser will instantly refer to Betsy DeVos as Dolores Umbridge, Jeff Sessions as Antonin Dolohov or Rex Tillerson as Draco Malfoy.”

Rowling herself has long been encouraging these comparisons. In 2015, she tweeted of Trump that “Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.” A writer at the Atlantic called this “notably hyperbolic” given that “Voldemort was a literal mass-murderer; Trump is not.” But if we want to put the best gloss we can on her comments, we might allow that the Dark Lord was nowhere near as bad because, hello, “he” is a fictional character.

Simplistic metaphors of good versus evil are important, even necessary—for children. Shouldn’t we expect Harvard grad students to have similes at their disposal beyond tired references to He Who Must Not Be Named?

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