March 15th, 2017

Joyce Carol Oates, Trump, Twitter, John Lennon, and Jesus

Famous author Joyce Carol Oates is known for the number and length of her fiction output. But she’s also a Twitter-user, and yesterday she retweeted this pithy thought:

“I could shoot 24 million people on Fifth Avenue & I would’t lose a vote”–#TheirFuhrer

It seems to have stirred up a predictable tweet-storm. But aside from the “Trump=Hitler” insanity—which is so common now that it’s become a cliché—I wonder what on earth this statement is trying to say and why anyone (even a Trump-detester) with an intellectual and/or literary reputation to uphold would approvingly retweet it.

And yes, that’s a rhetorical “wondering” on my part. I understand that among the intelligentsia, these sorts of statements about Trump and Hitler are regarded as not only acceptable, but true and courageous.

But does a joke in which a person says he could shoot someone (obvious hyperbole), and that even then his loyal supporters would still vote for him, have anything to do with a desire to actually shoot someone? Of course not. We used to say much the same thing about Obama—that he could strangle a puppy on the White House steps and his supporters would figure out a way to defend him. But even those who disliked Obama the most probably didn’t think he was actually into strangling puppies.

It was a joke of Trump’s, people. Not a very funny one, perhaps, but meant to illustrate a point about the devotion of supporters and nothing else. Dinosaur that I am, Trump’s original comment reminded me of all the flap around John Lennon’s 1966 (fifty years ago!) remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus:

During an interview, [Lennon] argued that Christianity was in decline and that it may not endure longer than rock music, explaining “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity…

When Datebook, a US teen magazine, quoted Lennon’s comments five months later in August, extensive protests broke out in the Southern United States. Some radio stations stopped playing Beatles songs, their records were publicly burned, press conferences were cancelled, and threats were made. The controversy coincided with the group’s US tour in August 1966, and Lennon and Brian Epstein attempted to quell the dispute at a series of press conferences. Some tour events experienced disruption and intimidation, including a picketing by the Ku Klux Klan.

Shortly after the controversy broke, Lennon reluctantly apologised for the comment, saying “if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it”. He stressed that he was simply remarking on how other people viewed and popularised the band. The events contributed to the Beatles’ lack of interest in public live performances, and the US tour was the last they undertook, after which they became a studio-only band.

Revisiting that Lennon quote just now for the first time in all those years, I notice that his remarks were actually potentially more offensive to Christians than I had known, because he had added:

Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.

On the other hand, Trump seemed to be sticking to the subject of his popularity and the extreme loyalty of his supporters. Trump’s comment was uttered in January of 2016, over a year ago, so why it’s being recycled now I have no idea. But as relatively unfunny as Trump’s original joke was, multiply that by ten and that’s how unfunny and/or unwitty and/or illogical the retweet of Oates’ is.

How does Trump’s “I could shoot someone…” joke get translated into the mass murder of millions? And is this retweet a comment on Trump, on his followers (are they all supposedly intent on mass murder, too)? Or on both?

These also are obviously rhetorical questions, because the answer is that it doesn’t matter to those who love to tweet or retweet this sort of thing. And although I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised at the intellectual pretensions of those who do love to retweet this sort of thing (Oates, after all, was a Princeton professor for 36 years), sometimes I am surprised.

40 Responses to “Joyce Carol Oates, Trump, Twitter, John Lennon, and Jesus”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I am entirely in favor of liberal/leftist/progressives demonstrating their idiocy. And it turns out that all that is required to get them to do so is to offer an unapologetic, politically incorrect opinion and then to forthrightly stand by it.

  2. huxley Says:

    I might have some respect for a nasty one-liner like that if it had more zing than thud. As in:

    “The Three Saddest Words in the English Language are ‘Joyce Carol Oates’”

    –Gore Vidal

    “Stop Me Before I Write Again: Six Hundred More Pages by Joyce Carol Oates.”

    –James Wolcott

  3. huxley Says:

    But lawsy, at her peak — now long, long gone — Oates could give you nightmares with her exquisite darkness.

    I never got over her short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and her novel, “Wonderland.”

  4. Brian E Says:

    I think the 24 million is the reference to the number of people that will lose health insurance if the AHCA is passed.

  5. Paul in Boston Says:

    Funny how the left throws out the Hitler canard against Trump but ignores Soros’ completely unapologetic acknowledgement of having been a Nazi capo during WWII. They certainly don’t complain about Obama’s and Clinton’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood which was effectively the Arab wing of the Nazi Party in the 1930s and 40s and who to this day call for the destruction of the Jews. There are some levels of hypocrisy that a too great to tolerate.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Brian E:

    Maybe I’m too literal, but they’re not being “shot,” and the hashtag is #TheirFuhrer. I assume she meant “all of the above”—Trump and his followers will kill millions of all sorts of people, and Trump and his supporters are all Nazis.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    For the record, I’ve never been a fan of Oates’ work.

    But perhaps I didn’t read the right things. I don’t remember what I tried to read—it was so long ago. But maybe I should try Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? on your recommendation, huxley. Although I can’t say I need any MORE nightmare-generators than I’ve already got.

  8. huxley Says:

    neo: “Where Are You Going…” is a short deadly read. Not as nightmarish as “Wonderland.”

    Or you could watch, “Smooth Talk,” which was the film based on it with Treat Williams and Laura Dern. It won a Sundance award. That works too.

  9. parker Says:

    Remember Joyce, the first ones ‘they’ shoot when the televised revolution begins are the ‘intellectuals’. Lennon wrote and performed some wonderful tunes during his Beatles tenure. So what? He was a pretentious posser and found Yoko attractive. That says it all.

    I find djt’s persona off putting. That said, he promises to be a far better POTUS than Oates or a Lennon. Oranges are not apples and apples are not plums. But what do I know?

  10. Brian E Says:

    “Maybe I’m too literal, but they’re not being “shot,” and the hashtag is #TheirFuhrer.”

    It’s the only thing that makes sense. Trump taking away people’s health insurance = killing them. You have to think like a leftist.

    I’ve been interacting with my wife’s nieces, who have gone completely nuts. I’m trying to interject a smidgeon of reality, in hopes they may regain a small portion of functionality.

    Once of them posted that the world had indeed gone batsh* crazy because the directions with her frozen lasagna said to “divide into 11 equal portions”. Even in a sane world that’s pretty funny!

  11. parker Says:

    BTW, I would not trust a Princeton professor of 36 years to possess the ability to competently weed my garden beds or can tomatoes. But then, I am not an intellectul.

  12. parker Says:

    “You have to think like a leftist.”

    Next you are going to demand we describe the sound of one hand clapping. 😉

  13. M J R Says:

    “I understand that among the intelligentsia, these sorts of statements about Trump and Hitler are regarded as not only acceptable, but true and courageous.”

    De rigueur, esteemed neo, de rigueur.

  14. miklos000rosza Says:

    Oates is a bad writer who never learned the virtues of revising one’s work. She writes bad sentences. She’s best known in the literary world for hunting down and persecuting anyone who gives her a bad review. Years at Princeton have given her all kinds of connections, many authors whom you’d never suspect. When I was for ten years writing regularly for the L.A. Times Book Review, my agent warned me about ever writing one negative word about Oates, (or Toni Morrison or John Updike.)

    I believed her, but I didn’t like it. When I was first starting out and did reviews for a small weekly, I lost my job after I wrote one negative sentence about Ursula LeGuin, whose followers mounted a campaign against me that I at first thought was a joke. It was not. My heresy was not allowed to stand.

    I knew someone who tried to write about Ken Kesey and found that there was an organized claque determined to crush anyone who brought up anything about what their hero once did on that famous bus —- (I’m stopping myself right here. I honestly don’t feel safe.)

    If you write a review of Joyce Carol Oates in Juneau, Alaska; Perth, Australia; or in Guam, beware.

  15. AesopFan Says:

    Brian E Says:
    March 15th, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Once of them posted that the world had indeed gone batsh* crazy because the directions with her frozen lasagna said to “divide into 11 equal portions”. Even in a sane world that’s pretty funny!
    * * *
    Just more evidence of the insanity of the nutrition labeling that encourages companies to find a portion size that allows them to claim certain “acceptable” amounts of calories, sodium, fat, etc — and never mind that any rational person simply does not eat portions of that size.
    (But really, 11???? – did anyone even read that label before sending it out?)

    I like knowing what the food’s values are, but just give it to me per oz or gram or dry measurement, and I will figure out my own portions thankuverymuch.

  16. AesopFan Says:

    This article from The Atlantic addresses the primary question about tribal belonging that drives this kind of action/reaction. It’s basically sound, if you allow for the fact that the author was totally spaced-out about her own biases, because, well, she’s right.

    I confess to never having read any of Oates’s works that I can remember.

  17. AesopFan Says:

    miklos000rosza Says:
    March 15th, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    * *
    I had no idea the organized suppression leagues were of such long standing. I suppose, if we had the data, we could find there were similar ones operating via Letters tot the Editor and passionate missives to publishers and book-stores in re, oh, Henry James, for one.

    Is the phenomenon limited to living authors (at the time of the hounding, that is) who are still publishing, or does it apply posthumously as well?

    It might be illuminating to compile a list of authors with such anti-negative rabid fans (the word is short for “fanatics” btw, seems very appropriate for them) v. those who have “balanced” responses to reviews pro or con v. those who have rabid anti-fans who attempt to suppress positive reviews (Orson Scott Card fell into this category despite prior plaudits when he refused to cave to the LGBT/SSM brigades).

    Other authors seem to call forth a hagiographic syndrome that brooks no dissent from the worshipful expositions, but won’t actually lynch you for saying something negative, perhaps including Charles Dickens (after he became literature instead of a pop-hack), jane Austen, and a few more icons.

  18. huxley Says:

    I would not trust a Princeton professor of 36 years to possess the ability to competently weed my garden beds or can tomatoes. But then, I am not an intellectul.

    parker: I’m plenty disgusted with current liberal intellectuals. I’m not happy with Joyce Carol Oates either.

    However, I will tell you Oates she grew up as a hard-scrabble, white, working-class.

    I remember an interview with her after she landed her Princeton position and she mulling over her life. Unlike everyone else on the Princeton faculty Oates compulsively did all her housework even though it made for 13-hour working days when she was younger.

  19. parker Says:


    Sounds to me like she forgot her roots. I tried to read one of her books decades ago and had to return it to the library after 30 pages. It was so forgettable that I can not remember the title. So good for her to transcend a poor beginning. But that does not cut any slack when it comes to her condescending attitude over the last 3 decades.

  20. huxley Says:

    parker: Just so’s you know.

    Whatever her faults may be, she’s not a silver spoon kid.

    And once upon a time, she really did write some indelible fiction.

  21. parker Says:


    Did you not read/comprehend my short 10:53 response? If not let me make it clear: I do not give a damn about the spoon. And once upon a time is just many yesterdays ago. She entered the perceived leftist elitist class (36 years on the Princeton facualty) and (from essays and interviews I have read) decided to piss on me and those like me from a superior height.

    Do I make myself clear? If not I must be another white male privileged hetrosexual knuckle dragging homophobic misogynistic transphobic islamophobic stupid yadda yadda who should be sent to the reeducation camps under the authority of Bill Ayers.

    In other words, give me a f×%king break.

  22. parker Says:

    BTW huxley I will not hire you to weed my garden or can any tomatoes I would consume. 😉

  23. neo-neocon Says:


    That’s certainly interesting. “Fans,” indeed.

  24. Esther Says:

    Thing is, he may not have personally strangled it, but Obama did eat a puppy… [insert whirling scene from Vertigo here]

  25. Mac Says:

    For what it’s worth, I also assumed the 24 million remark was about the health care bill. Just hours before I read this post I had seen a headline about 24 million losing insurance because of it.

    Obviously that’s pretty much the same thing as taking them out and shooting them.

  26. huxley Says:

    Did you not read/comprehend my short 10:53 response?

    parker: Did you not comprehend mine?

    It seems to me we’ve been through this before. I don’t draw such bright lines when it comes to people who disappoint my standards.

    I’ll defend Joyce Carol Oates. I’ll defend Donald Trump.

    I’ll point out that the tweet, while stupid and repugnant, was not Oates’s words. It was a retweet based on a new CBO statistic trumpeted in a NY Times headline.

    So, what Oates did was hit a web page button to retweet something someone else said. Essentially she was saying, “Yeah, me too. What about the 24 million who lose their coverage?” with the Hitler/mass murder snark.

    I wish she hadn’t clicked that button. For that matter I wish Trump hadn’t remarked about shooting someone on Fifth Ave. That didn’t cover him or his supporters in glory either.

    I wish both sides would call off the dogs a bit.

  27. Hangtown Bob Says:

    “But even those who disliked Obama the most probably didn’t think he was actually into strangling puppies.”

    True, but even Obama himself admitted that he was into EATING puppies (dog).

  28. Artfldgr Says:

    And yes, that’s a rhetorical “wondering” on my part. I understand that among the intelligentsia, these sorts of statements about Trump and Hitler are regarded as not only acceptable, but true and courageous.

    Thanks for saving me the time i usually make a mistake on… heh

  29. Kyndyll G Says:

    Regardless of numbers involved, the lefties should not be allowed to get away with purposefully leading people to believe that “Obamacare insurance”=”health care”=”dying in the streets without it.” Losing useless insurance, with expensive premiums, sky-high deductibles and minimal coverage, is not a bad thing if it leads to any outcome that either tackles cost of health care (the real problem) or at least more useful insurance, like what we used to have.

    You’d think that my friends would know better. I have friends who discovered first-hand that Obamacare led to them actually having to buy insurance, and that the “Bronze” level coverage (the only one they could even come close to being able to pay for) would never confer any benefit in any year in which they didn’t have major medical expenses that would financially destroy them even with “insurance” throwing in a few bucks after the gigantic deductible had been met. They couldn’t even afford the premiums so they went without. Yet even those people are wailing about the millions “losing” insurance.

    I speak as someone who has had insurance through my employer throughout this debacle, and thanks to direct and indirect effects of Obamacare, my insurance is so useless now that I went to urgent care the last time I needed medical attention because going to my doctor means $150-200, 100% out of pocket, for a brief office visit. And there was/is talk of TAXING my useless insurance because of how much the employer subsidizes it. Insane!

  30. Artfldgr Says:

    this morning i heard them argue that national socialism wasnt real socialism… just as communism isnt real socialism and that Engels didnt call for an end to the jews, slaves, and especially the poles calling for the holacaust (world storm), in the Maggyar struggle, and half a century herr Fuhror stepped forward to work with Stalin to fulfill engels and be Heroes of the Father and Motherland…

    Then the world found out that the white race were jew lovers (in the eyes of such racists labeled with their own term they invented), and ernst rudin and sanger had a great time, and her with the kkk too (wisked off to give speeches and liked the response to her social crisis), the great sanitizing of marxism from that had to happen, so clean that the youth of today, would really confuse the jugend of yesterday in knot knowing what they are fighting for the way willi munsenberg invented the tools to create.

    and what part of the repeat conditions through sanger, broken families, and such didnt we get? that it repeated, except that this time, instead of the socialist winning, or the fascist third way democrat, or a democrat socialist (menshivik), a capitalist won…

    oy… now its time for the war..
    because how else do you reset the economics the elite put us in? and how else do they do that without they themselves hanging from the same lamposts and being spit on as in the 1940s?

  31. Artfldgr Says:

    We used to say much the same thing about Obama—that he could strangle a puppy on the White House steps and his supporters would figure out a way to defend him.

    yeah… he was just making a traditional indonesia, or asian chinese meal… was the dog a sharpei or not?

  32. Artfldgr Says:

    Why not give Oates a white feather and see if she gets it?

  33. Ray Says:

    I read that the female college professor at Middlebury College who was assaulted by the students is blaming Trump for the attack. Poor Donald gets blamed for everything but Obama was always an innocent bystander.

  34. Janetoo Says:

    Kyndyll: Thank you for articulating what has happened to employer provided healthcare! Mine is absolutely AWFUL. My deductible is so high, I am sure I will dither about going to the ER if I feel like I am dying and end up dying. I have a heart condition and was in the hospital for a week last year and it was ruinous.

  35. DNW Says:

    ” Janetoo Says:
    March 16th, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Kyndyll: Thank you for articulating what has happened to employer provided healthcare! Mine is absolutely AWFUL. My deductible is so high, I am sure I will dither about going to the ER if I feel like I am dying and end up dying. I have a heart condition and was in the hospital for a week last year and it was ruinous.”

    Yours is a common story. The left’s view is just that you have lived too long already; and that their ailments are more meritorious than yours, and their victimization by life, is more deserving of consideration than your victimization by the government … which after all is merely done to eliminate the unfair privilege you enjoy as a result of your undeserved enjoyment of personal talents and gifts which you have no socially justifiable claim to keep for, or enjoy, yourself.

    This is the psychology you are up against when “your niece” (to make up a case) defends ObamaCare.

  36. Sergey Says:

    Strange, but I remember her early short stories A Garden of Earthly Delights, in Russian translation, when she certainly was a devoted Catholic. I had not a high opinion about her kind of Catholicism, which seemed to me a rather ideologically charged moral preening, more becoming to Puritans, but her later evolution into outright atheism still surprised me. So, nowdays all these Puritans became virtue-signaling Liberals. Interesting development, indeed.

  37. Sergey Says:

    The present divide is not anymore just political or even ideological. We are faced with a kind of religion, and at that, a pagan one. The humorous part of the situation that the members of this cult do not understand neither that they are members of a cult not that this cult is essentially pagan and so deeply antithetical to Judeo-Christian worldview on which USA were founded. So such acrimony: religious conflicts are always the most bitter and insoluble.

  38. AesopFan Says:

    Mac Says:
    March 16th, 2017 at 1:05 am
    For what it’s worth, I also assumed the 24 million remark was about the health care bill.
    and Kyndyll —

    No one ever mentions the people who LOST their insurance under Obamacare and either had to replace it with worse & more expensive plans, or do without.

    My preference: repeal the PPACA and every other government interference in health care and insurance, other than policing fraud.

  39. AesopFan Says:

    Artfldgr Says:
    March 16th, 2017 at 10:47 am
    Why not give Oates a white feather and see if she gets it?
    * *
    I’m presuming you are referring to the WWI SJWs’ attempts to shame men into enlisting — I see on Google that there are a number of other meanings now, some diametrically opposed to that of branding someone coward.

    The stories at Wikipedia were interesting – I’ve put some here, because maybe Oates needs some new material 😉
    One of the many sad stories to come out of that conflict is that of the Welsh poet posthumously awarded the Bardic Chair for his epic poem submitted to the Eisteddfod the year he died in the trenches.
    There is a very good movie about him called “Hedd Wen” (his bardic pseudonym) which includes a white feather episode, IIRC.
    (first of 4 parts)
    (caution for brief episode of nudity)
    In August 1914, at the start of the First World War, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald founded the Order of the White Feather with support from the prominent author Mrs Humphrey Ward. The organization aimed to shame men into enlisting in the British army by persuading women to present them with a white feather if they were not wearing a uniform.[2][3]
    This was joined by some prominent feminists and suffragettes of the time,
    While the true effectiveness of the campaign is impossible to judge, it did spread throughout several other nations in the Empire. In Britain it started to cause problems for the government when public servants and men in essential occupations came under pressure to enlist. This prompted the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, to issue employees in state industries with lapel badges reading “King and Country” to indicate that they too were serving the war effort. Likewise, the Silver War Badge, given to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness, was first issued in September 1916 to prevent veterans from being challenged for not wearing uniform. Anecdotes from the period indicates that the campaign was not popular amongst soldiers – not least because soldiers who were home on leave could find themselves presented with the feathers.
    One such was Private Ernest Atkins who was on leave from the Western Front. He was riding a tram when he was presented with a white feather by a girl sitting behind him. He smacked her across the face with his pay book saying: “Certainly I’ll take your feather back to the boys at Passchendaele. I’m in civvies because people think my uniform might be lousy, but if I had it on I wouldn’t be half as lousy as you.” [7]
    Private Norman Demuth, who had been discharged from the British Army after being wounded in 1916, received numerous white feathers after returning from the Western Front, and decided that if the women that handed them out were going to be rude to him, he was going to be rude back.[8] One of the last feathers he received was presented to him whilst he was travelling on a bus, by a lady who was sat opposite him. She handed over the feather and said, “Here’s a gift for a brave soldier.” Demuth replied, “Thank you very much – I wanted one of those.” He then used the feather to clean out his pipe, handed it back to her and remarked, “You know we didn’t get these in the trenches.” The other passengers subsequently became angry with the woman and started shouting at her, much to Demuth’s amusement.[9]
    The supporters of the campaign were not easily put off. A woman who confronted a young man in a London park demanded to know why he was not in the army. “Because I am a German”, he replied. He received a white feather anyway.[10]
    Perhaps the most misplaced use of a white feather was when one was presented to Seaman George Samson who was on his way in civilian clothes to a public reception in his honour. Samson had been awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the Gallipoli campaign.[11]
    Roland Gwynne, later mayor of Eastbourne (1929–1931) and lover of suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams, received a feather from a relative. This prompted him to enlist, and he subsequently received the Distinguished Service Order for bravery.[12] The writer Compton Mackenzie, then a serving soldier, complained about the activities of the Order of the White Feather. He argued that these “idiotic young women were using white feathers to get rid of boyfriends of whom they were tired”. The pacifist Fenner Brockway claimed that he received so many white feathers he had enough to make a fan.
    The white feather campaign was briefly renewed during World War II.[13][14]

  40. OlderandWheezier Says:

    As Stefan Kanfer wrote this week on

    …Those who refuse to acknowledge the truths of these works we know as Holocaust deniers, but those who persist in comparing Adolf Hitler with any U.S. politician reveal themselves as members of a group just to the side of the Holocaust denier—the Holocaust trivializer. There are no lower categories.

    It’s worth one’s time to read the entire article –

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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