Friday, April 1, 2016

It Ain't Necessarily So

POST-GAZETTE -- Res Publica
It Ain't Necessarily So
by David Trumbull
April 1, 2016

"The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never be sure they're authentic" -- Abraham Lincoln

As I write this column to be published on April Fools Day, I am thinking of my friends on social media, most of whom, in the frenzy of the current presidential nomination media circus, seem to have lost all common sense. My Facebook feed is full of false memes, fake quotations devised to support this or that political view. My friends, both Republican and Democrat, appear to have temporarily lost the ability to distinguish news from parody and truth from phony "quotes."

"A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." -- George Washington.

FAKE. There is no record that Washington ever said that. If you have read any of Washington's writings you know that in an age when "flowery" prose was in style, he was flowery even for his age. Had Washington ever expressed the sentiments above (which I somewhat doubt in view of his role in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion), he would likely have done so in at least three times as many words. Often I've wanted to quote Washington in my columns, but I find it very difficult due to his prolix prose. A good rule of thumb is that any Washington "quote" brief enough to fit in a Facebook meme, is likely not a real Washington quote. The website has a list of this and other spurious Washington quotes.

"If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they'd still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific." -- Donald Trump, in People magazine, 1998.

FAKE. There is no record that Trump said that in People or anywhere else. One tipoff is that while Fox News existed in 1998, it had been around for just over a year and wasn't even available in all parts of the country, it was hardly, in 1998, the massive voter influencer that the meme suggests.

"The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations." -- Thomas Jefferson.

FAKE. While the quote is perfectly in tune with Jefferson's distrust of banks and of commerce, he did not say it, at least not in those words. The tipoff is "moneyed incorporations," While Jefferson would have known of what we now call not-for-profit corporations, such as colleges, churches, and municipalities, for profit business corporations, with few exceptions, did not exist until a quarter of a century or so after Jefferson's death. The website has a list of this and other spurious Jefferson quotations.

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