“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” –Ernest Hemingway
Or was it Ernest Hemingway?
When I realized that Donald J. Trump was going to be the GOP candidate for president, I realized that anything I say would probably not change people’s views on the guy. The press and Trump’s supporters were deriding or hailing Trump (as the case may be) as being a new phenomenon. However, as a lay student of history and politics, I knew that Trump and the reasons he was selected were not new. Rather, Trumpism and populism and fear and loathing are as old as politics itself. People tend to think that the world they are in now is an unprecedented world. That the problems facing people in the twenty-first century have never been seen before. That the ’80s, or the ’70s, or the ’60s, were a more innocent time. The ’10s are so much more complicated.
The election of 2016, to me anyway, had parallels in the election of 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running against Lyndon Johnson. I was way too young to remember anything about that election, but we were a Republican family, and the underlying thought for years after was that Goldwater was a good man and should have won. I do a lot of chores around the ranch, and so I have time to listen to recordings and podcasts while I work, and I listened to Goldwater’s speech at the ’64 convention – you know the one where he said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Ah – what a bad word choice. It was a contentious convention, which I did not know, and I was struck by the number of cigar-chomping delegates who were frowning and fidgeting as Goldwater spoke. I was surprised by the clarity of what Goldwater was saying – it was Conservatism 101, and actually not “extreme” at all, especially when looked at from a vantage of fifty years later, and after the Reagan Revolution and the downfall of the Soviet Union. Goldwater will always be tainted in the eyes of Democrats, especially, but he was a remarkable Republican, and one thing is for sure: we would never have had Nixon if Goldwater had won.
I was struck by the Conservative surge in ’64. Goldwater had quite a movement going, and Johnson was vulnerable due to corruption in his administration and to the old, FDR ideas the Left was known for and still pushing for. Johnson was no Kennedy. I was also struck by the tensions in the Conservative movement itself. Conservatives at the time had two factions: the Libertarians, and the Traditionalists. Libertarians were basically for a reduced government, and more individual freedom, which meant fewer rules, fewer laws, and fewer restrictions on what people do. Traditionalists were all about doing the tried and true: we’d seen it all before, we have answers that apply, there is no such thing as a new man, and the current upcoming generation is like every other generation that came up before, and should be treated that way. Religion played a huge part as the holder of the Moral Compass. Goldwater seemed to me to bridge the gap between the two factions.
I also listened to a 1962 debate between Goldwater and Norman Thomas, a prominent socialist who makes Bernie Sanders look like a reactionary. In it, Goldwater did a masterful job of defining what “conservatism” means. Goldwater defines conservatism in this debate as, essentially, learning from the past to find solutions to current challenges and to avoid making mistakes in order to progress society into the future. Conservatism in his view was not about stopping progress or returning to some mythical “good old days,” but to boldly, yet prudently, progress.
Just as Trump was disruptive to the GOP of 2016, Goldwater was disruptive to the GOP of 1964. Trump is a businessman, and Goldwater was a businessman. And that’s about as far as it goes. Goldwater was a senator, and had experience with government. Goldwater also had a serious demeanor: you knew he had a lot going on in his head, that he thought seriously about the issues, and that he methodically drew his conclusions based on reasoned reflection. His attitude in the debate with Norman Thomas was respectful and gracious – even when Norman Thomas was being rude. Goldwater was a fascinating, intelligent man. Trump, on the other hand, is not. And I thought the GOP could use a refresher in what it really means to be Conservative – because Trump is not conservative in any manner.
It is rubbish that the ’10s are somehow more complicated or different than the, say, innocent ’60s. I’m sorry, coming within an inch of a massive nuclear annihilation as we did during the Cuban Missile Crisis is not innocent by any definition. I decided therefore to provide some context to the election in my own way. Rather than pontificate, I thought that the best way to provide historical context and “space” was to choose appropriate quotes by intelligent people related to the issues of the day. So, I decided to publish one or two quotes a day as public posts on my Facebook feed. The first two were by William F. Buckley and Goldwater:
“Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave. She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.
“Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?”- Barry Goldwater
Don’t they seem a little timely? Post-truth is not a new thing. Neither is religious extremism.
So I started my quote campaign, and I ran into a problem: I could find a nice juicy quote attributed to someone, and then find out that the quote was not from that person at all! And yet, all the best quote sites had the quote: “Brainy Quote,” “Goodreads,” and a boatload of other quote sites popped up the same fake quote as if is was whelped by the Gibraltar of Truth. These quote sites crowd out the actual source of a quote (if there is one). Results from these crowd-sourced and frequently incorrect quote sites show ahead of the source document or news story on searches. As a result, a quote looks legit, but is not. Just as this quote at the top of this post by Hemingway is not by Hemingway. But it sure sounds good, no?
Therefore, I decided to avoid using the internet to find quotes, and instead, I bought a used The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I like it much better. Even though many of the quotes are the same, the editors added history, sources, and cross-references to the quotes, so that a quote by Dorothy Parker (“Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion”) has a reference to Wordsworth (“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”) I just love this! This alone is worth the price of admission. And it provides a reason to use known sources rather than just assume some random site on the internet has any real information at all.
There is a relevance to the “Hemingway” quote, by the way: it is still a great quote, even if misattributed. My intention was to have it lead into an explanation of this writing project. I intend to write this year, and I intend to write from the soul, and instead of bleeding onto a typewriter, I’ll bleed onto my keyboard. Stay tuned.