Talking to ordinary people

“My country is the world and my religion is to do good.”  – Thomas Paine

Here’s another quote I had typed on a piece of my “cute” stationery in the 70s, which was in my beat-up quote notebook.  The type is fading on these saved quote loose pages, but then again that old typewriter I used in the 70s was a second-hand, manual one my Pop found somewhere.

I had mentioned that I wanted a typewriter and Pop came home with a used one shortly thereafter.   My Pop always encouraged my interests.  When I came home with stray pets, he let me keep them, when I told him I really wanted a large desk, he found an old wood schoolteacher’s desk.  The top was badly damaged, so he covered the top with a woodtone formica, which I absolutely loved.  I didn’t have to worry about damaging the top when I set a glass of iced tea or cup of hot tea (my two favorite drinks – always) on it.  In 7th or 8th grade, I needed to do a science project and science is not my strong suit.  I decided I wanted to order some liquid that I saw in a science catalog a boy in my class had.  It could preserve snowflakes on glass slides.  My mother helped me order the liquid and sure enough, my Pop came home with a microscope and slides, he found somewhere, probably a flea market.  It worked and I got an A on that “saving snowflakes” project…

After looking through my old quote notebook, I decided to tape the falling apart cover back together the other day, using some dollar store, red duct tape I had in my sewing/craft room.  It might be good for another 40 years:

The quote at the top of this post is from Thomas Paine, one of America’s foremost political theorists, activists, and revolutionaries.  He fought with words. The American Pamphlet Debate, probably set the stage for how big issues in America are fought in the public square, as intellectuals, politicians, and often, unheard of American citizens rise from the rabble, with a voice or message that will not be silenced.  America has always had a very egalitarian view when it comes to the voices that gain prominence and effect enormous influence and change.

I like The Smithsonian magazine, because in every issue there are so many articles that spark my interest.  From the July edition I mentioned the article on the history of maps a few days ago.  There’s a very interesting article on Earl Shaffer, who was the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 1948, that’s definitely worth a read.   Another article in that edition, What Happened to America’s Public Intellectuals?, written by Elizabeth Mitchell, got me thinking, again, about America’s long history with our very open, often loud public debates.

Mitchell lays out the current angst with America’s seeming dismissal of experts, in favor of populist fervor:

“This painful conclusion weighs heavily on public intellectuals, who created the country during the 116 steamy days of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and crew crafted a new nation entirely out of words. Then they bolstered it with 85 newspaper columns under the pen name Publius, now known as the Federalist Papers, to explain and defend their work.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-happened-americas-public-intellectuals-180963668/#yVyIdqRP8zD3WrGS.99
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Understanding America’s long tradition of public debate leading to great political and cultural changes leads me to believe that public intellectual battles, to win American hearts and minds, are ingrained in the American psyche and I don’t believe the soul of America is lost.

Millions of Americans may have fallen for a fast-talking, NYC real estate hustler/con man turned reality TV star, but even with the power of the bully pulpit of the Office of the President of the United States and his just “great” tweet storms, brimming with 140-character rants, he still seems to have a public image problem, if his flagging approval poll numbers are to be believed.  While some of the self-professed “experts” on politics and national security fuss and fume daily, via their own tweet storms, about how people aren’t listening to them, perhaps many of them have the same problem as Trump – overblown egos and constant braggadocio repel many people.

America’s Pamphlet Debate began more than a decade before the Revolutionary War.  I mentioned the 2-volume Library of America set, The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1764-1776, in a previous blog post.  The set was edited by Gordon S, Wood and it includes many of the most influential pamphlets in the Pamphlet Debate, which really defined both American political beliefs and principles and later, the very framework of The Constitution. Volume 2, which covers 1773-1776, includes this explanation on Thomas Paine’s writing approach:

“Paine was determined to reach a wide readership, especially among the middling sorts in the tavern and artisan centered worlds of the cities, and to do more than explain and persuade; he wanted to express feelings — even revulsions and visions — that the traditional conventions of writing tended to disparage.  He refused to decorate his work with Latin quotations and scholarly references; instead , he relied on his readers knowing only the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  He used simple, direct — some critics said coarse, even barnyard– imagery that could be understood by the unlearned.  He wrote for ordinary people and forever changed the rules of rhetoric.”

p.647,  The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1773-1776, edited by Gordon S. Wood, published by The Library of America, copyright 2015

President Trump may have lowered the bar with his effort to reach the common man, resorting to ruthless, modern mass media information warfare tactics (GOP insurgency, indeed), but Americans, even “the worst deplorables”, are not beyond having their hearts won over to American principles, defending The Constitution and above all treating other people respectfully.   Even with FOX news serving as a powerful Trump propaganda platform, America is not becoming Trumpistan.

The real crisis for America’s current intellectual class, is not Trump, but that many Americans are sick of puffed up pontificating pundits, parading a pile of degrees from posh pillars of academia, posing and primping before the cameras  — talking down to them.  Trump, while certainly no Thomas Paine (or Mussolini, for that matter), has learned the fine art of the con man, he identifies his mark and speaks directly to him.  That is why Trump relates to ordinary people – he knows he’s got to get them and keep them buying into him.  He talks to them.

The media faces the same problem as many of the pundits, especially given how many times, in recent months, the media spun themselves into a tizzy with a new, devastating revelation about Trump, which within 24-48 hours fell apart, as the facts in these stories turned out not to be facts at all.  The constant media and punditry Trump hysteria is destroying their credibility way more than anything Trump can do.

I agree with Mitchell’s view on America’s present crisis of spirit.  She writes:

“If we look back at our history, public intellectuals always emerged when the country was sharply divided: during the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the fights for civil rights and women’s rights. This moment of deep ideological division will likely see the return, right when we need them, of the thinkers and talkers who can bridge the emotional divide. But this time they will likely be holding online forums and stirring up podcasts.”
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-happened-americas-public-intellectuals-180963668/#yVyIdqRP8zD3WrGS.99

One of the things I love about YouTube videos is that I can find so many crafting and sewing tutorials.   I can watch several videos on how to make something and get different approaches about how to make it.  I don’t have to buy an entire book or magazine for directions for one project.   Often, I end up using bits and pieces of instructions and advice from several videos.  Many of these videos are made by ordinary people and completely amateur.  Yet, some of these amateur videos are carefully edited and produced with the dedication of professional videographers.  Some have tens of thousands of subscribers.

Most of America’s intellectuals and experts on politics and public policy talk to each other, not to ordinary Americans.  And while castigating Trump’s use of Twitter, many of America’s intellectuals lazily lecture and throw temper tantrums about Trump, daily, on Twitter, and of course, boringly brag about all their “expertise”.

Love him or hate him, Trump talks to ordinary people.

Note: Here is a podcast that is a Library of Law and Liberty conversation with Gordon S. Wood, discussing the American .Pamphlet Debate

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Filed under American Character, American History, Culture Wars, General Interest, Politics, The Media, Worthwhile Quotations

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