On his 181st birthday, a salute to the dazzlingly incisive Mark Twain - born Samuel Clemens - the "true father of our national literature." A cranky, witty, clear-eyed, anti-slavery moralist who never met a bullshit piece of political malarkey he didn't rush to eviscerate, he long ripped "public office (as) private graft." What would he have made of our current con man catastrophe? In his honor, maybe this: "Patriotism is defending your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."
Just as I did during the 2008 crash, in 2016 I frequently reflected on Twain’s “Its not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, its what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.
That quote is so applicable to any group think setting, like when Sanders’ supporters at our caucus were chastised by the Clinton supporters who alleged that only Clinton could beat Trump.
Yes, that IS the quote that flashed on the screen during the first minute of the BIG SHORT, which we should all watch now that Trump is appointing a team that will create a crash that will make 2008 look like a practice session.
Abby, thanks for this piece. I love Twain.
Irreverent and clever and just downright on target.
We need more folks like him and it makes me miss John Stewart just to think about it.
Mark Twain has been one of my idols for around seventy years. In fact there was a rumor in my family that I am a distant relation. I’m so proud of even the possibility that I’ve never researched it. I’d hate to find it wrong.
- Over the years, I’ve watched with teeth gritted so hard I’ve chipped the enamel, as various groups have tried to bowdlerize or make his writings politically correct. Both Twain and Will Rogers could use their pens to strip the lies and blather off a politician or bigwig and leave him with his slimy ribs protruding in full view.
- Boy, could we use a Twain’s, a Roger’s, a Mencken’s, or a Thurber’s sharp pen to prick the balloons and let the hot air out of the current crop of elected misfits.
- H. L. Mencken wrote:
_"The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum._ _"The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."_ H. L. Mencken on elections Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 1920
- Sure wish we had 'em back!
“Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.”
Actually, Donald Trump would be no stranger to Twain. His endearingly mischievous character, Tom Sawyer, reappears in different guises throughout Twain’s writing career. At first harmless, Tom plays in the make-believe child’s world of St. Petersburg, and suffers no real consequences for his (forgivable) selfishness. In __Huckleberry Finn Tom returns to play in a much more adult world – turning serious issues of slavery into the horse-laugh of the last pages, turning Jim into a minstrel “darky”, all while endangering not only Jim’s freedom, but his life. Tom reappears in A Connecticut Yankee, this time as Hank Morgan, the techno-American who would turn King Arthur’s England into Hank’s own version of America (remember Viet Nam? Remember Iraq?). When Arthur’s culture declines to become America, Hank destroys it in order to save it. Finally, solipsistic Tom reappears as Satan, or Number 44, in Twain’s final works. What is hinted at in the earlier works is made explicit: the character’s belief that the world is an extension of the self, that it can be moulded to reflect the self, and that if the world doesn’t enjoy that prospect, it can be punished, even destroyed. Tom’s narcissism is tolerated in St. Petersburg, where no one has to work, and where “adventure” is most prized. But operating in a more real world, where there are real consequences to one’s decisions, that narcissism becomes darkly destructive. Tom Sawyer is very much an American character, and Donald Trump appears finally as Tom’s blonde embodiment. The dark satire that marked Twain’s later work, where he fully explored the extent of Tom’s rapacious appetites and their horrific consequences, is, I fear,
about to embrace us.
Mark is a quotable guy for sure. but take some time and read “To the Person sitting in Darkness” It is the all time best anti colonial piece ever. Also don’t forget “The War Prayer”
I have read a lot of Twain but don’t think I ever read “To the Person sitting in Darkness.” Thanks so much for this suggestion. It is very impressive and perhaps we should rename the Clinton Foundation to the “Blessings-of-Civilization Trust.”
Check out Twain’s Letters From the Earth. Gawd, he was prescient.
Some of my favorite quotations:
“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
― Mark Twain
“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”
― Mark Twain
“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
― Mark Twain
We need icons of peace like Bobby, Martin, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Howard Zinn and of course our modern day Clemens, HS Thompson.
thanks Joy- i first read it duringVietnam, and was struck by the
“Torches of enlightenment and Progress….suitable for burning villages on occasion”