Beyond the Trumpery: A True, Progressive, Freethought Candidate

Beyond the Trumpery: A True, Progressive, Freethought Candidate September 19, 2016

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to frequent contributor, Chris Highland, for bringing both levity and gravity into this horrendous US presidential campaign season.


trumpery (Webster’s): worthless nonsense; from the Middle French tromper, meaning “to deceive”; synonyms: balderdash, baloney, blah-blah, blarney, blather, blatherskite, blither, bosh, bull [slang], bunk, bunkum (or buncombe), claptrap, codswallop [British], crapola [slang], crock, drivel, drool, fiddle-faddle, fiddlesticks, flapdoodle, folly, foolishness, fudge, garbage, guff, hogwash, hokey pokey, hokum, hoodoo, hooey, horsefeathers [slang], humbug, humbuggery, jazz, malarkey, moonshine, muck, nuts, piffle, poppycock, punk, rot, rubbish, senselessness, silliness, slush, stupidity, taradiddle, tommyrot, tosh, trash, nonsense, twaddle

I’m going to resist relating this colorful word to the current blathering humbuggery we hear from a particularly un-presidential and piffling Presidential candidate. You, however, don’t need to resist the association.


To help us come up for fresh air in this season of hooey and humbug, how about resurrecting someone whose voice echoes to us from another season of tosh, twaddle and taradiddle?

I think I need a thinker. How about you?

The person who is commanding my attention is a woman.


No, not that woman. This one lived two centuries ago and wasn’t even an American—though she may have been a good model for Americans. Her name was Frances Wright (you can call her Fanny and she won’t mind).


Frances Wright

Fanny was a feminist before feminism, an abolitionist before abolition and a freethinker before freethought became free—if it ever did.

Without balderdash, let me introduce you to this no-bunkum secular reformer: Frances Wright (1795-1852) was born in Scotland just after Thomas Paine dropped The Age of Reason like a brain-bomb on the world of believers. She came to America in 1818 just before Walt Whitman was born (Walt called Fanny, “one of the best women in history. . . There was a majesty about her”). She had a meet up with Jefferson, arguing against slavery, and was good friends with war-hero Lafayette. In 1825 she formed a community near Memphis for African Americans she had bought out of slavery (you read that right). By 1830 she was publishing the Free Enquirer and giving lectures in Philadelphia and New York. The best hint I can give you why I think she has to be remembered and honored is this fact: In 1829 she converted the former Ebenezer Baptist Church in New York City into a “Hall of Science.” Quite the conversion.

One of my favorite quotes from Fanny comes from her lecture on “Formation of Opinions” (boring title—revolutionary message!). She dared to say,

“What think ye, my friends? If Jesus, or his likeness, should now visit the earth, what church of the many which now go by his name, would he enter?”

Great question. Then she answers herself:

“It seems to me, my friends, that as one who loved peace, taught industry, equality, union, and love, one towards another, Jesus were he alive at this day, would recommend you to come out of your churches of faith, and to gather into schools of knowledge.”

“Crapola and horsefeathers!” I hear the faithful shout in anger. No surprise, Fanny got run out of a few lecture-halls (a badge of honor in my book). Maybe because her message was too commonsense, and all too true.

In another stunning passage in a speech we hear a trumpet call above the trumpery:

“My friends, I am no Christian. . .I am neither Jew nor Gentile, [Muslim] nor Theist; I am but a member of the human family, and would accept [truth] by whomsoever offered— that truth which we can all find, if we will but seek—in things, not in words; in nature, not in human imagination; in our own hearts, not in temples made with hands.”

This is the woman who held up her copy of the Declaration of Independence at the conclusion of a speech with the words,

“Let us lead all sects to this altar of union—this shrine of human liberty.”

Our founding document was her secular scripture, written in revolution and bound with hope.  The wise voice of Frances Wright rings out across the centuries with a timeless truth higher, sweeter and so much more needed than the calls of church bells or minarets. Fanny died in Cincinnati 160 years ago and she’s been forgotten in the fogs and flapdoodles of history.

But maybe not.
 Now you know her and won’t forget her.

In this season of crock and claptrap, it’s good to remember the brave, anti-baloney freethought “saints.” No amount of trumpery can silence the sincere and salient minds, in her age or ours.

One cannot help but give Fanny the last, no-nonsense word, to earn our vote—should she be running as a Fiddlesticks! candidate this year:

“Thus let us associate; not as Jews, not as Christians, not as Deists, not as believers, not as skeptics, not as poor, not as rich, not as artisans, not as merchants, not as lawyers, but as human beings, as fellow creatures, as American citizens, pledged to protect each other’s rights—to advance each other’s happiness.”

Given all the blither and bosh, don’t you wish her name were on the ballot?

References: Frances Wright, Reason, Religion and Morals; Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America.


Chris Highland 2008Chris Highland was a Protestant Minister and Interfaith Chaplain for many years. He renounced his ordination in 2001. He is the author of My Address is a River, Nature is Enough and ten other books. Chris is currently a member of The Clergy Project, the American Humanist Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, while he blogs at Secular Chaplain. He teaches a class on early American freethinkers at the Reuter Center, UNCA. Chris and his (reverend) wife Carol, live in the mountains of North Carolina. To learn more see

>>Photo Credits:By Michael Vadon –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

By John Chester Buttre, after J. Gorbitz – Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1887) History of woman suffrage[1], Rochester: Anthony, page frontispiece, Public Domain,

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  • mason

    Fanny has my vote!

  • ElizabetB.

    Fanny’s lecture is a rousing read!! Thanks, Chris! & as Linda wrote, especially for a smile during this *deplorable* election!!!!!!! The synonyms for trumpery are delights, to savor one by one…. …satisfying …in a very depressing way.

    Would Fanny be dismayed today by the fungibility of “fact”? We hear the mantra that each is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts…. but public figures contradict even themselves in purported fact statements, sometimes in the same paragraph or even sentence. o woe

    What a great character!!!!! Thank you for the introduction!!!!!

    • I agree, Elizabeth, quite a woman, quite a voice, quite a freethinker we need to hear! She would indeed be irritating and aggravating to many. . .esp. with her insistence on basics: like Reason, Liberty, Justice, common Humanity. And her focus on Unity among people of faith and no faith. Where is that voice today!

      • ElizabetB.

        I keep wondering how to write a letter to the editor in this bible belt community, sticking to issues not candidates, and avoiding alienating the many I know who I’m sure are mortified by trumpery but mortally opposed to Hillary. That focus on “Unity” is what I’ve been thinking (altho not with the altRight) and it’s made me suddenly realize — Hillary’s slogan is “Stronger Together” — but it really hasn’t registered with me. That’s very curious! Why haven’t I noticed and been inspired by that theme in her campaign? I’ve heard her say things along that line, speaking of Muslims for instance, but somehow it just doesn’t catch fire. Fanny for speechwriter!! (confession: I need to check out the Secretary’s convention speech!!)

        • Linda_LaScola

          Maybe you can tell your friends to vote for the only candidate who is experienced and qualified to do the job of president. HIlary Clinton.

          Seriously, even if Trump were a nice, decent guy, he has NO experience or qualifications to be president. It’s really very simple when you look at it that way.

          • ElizabetB.

            Past elections, I’ve felt Reason & facts (as Fanny advocated) had some hope of being considered, even if we might disagree about what they are. This year, it’s more like id speaking to id, and I’m not sure how to try to break that magnetism.

          • carolyntclark

            How can one watch him at one of his unscripted rally rantings and think that he is seriously fit for Office ?

          • Linda_LaScola

            I’ve heard of some people thinking he’ll make a good president because he will “shake things up” — obviously not realizing that it means destroying our democracy.

          • ElizabetB.

            I have wondered if our institutions really could survive domestically. Foreign-policy-wise the world’s survival would depend totally on whim from our side; and from other countries’ side, what they think they need to do with a nuclear bully. I heard that Kim Jong Un said Trump is the reason they are accelerating their nuclear testing.

          • carolyntclark

            and then there’s the SCOTUS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
            That is a really devastating thought.

          • Linda_LaScola

            Although why would conservatives think Trump would keep any promises he’s made about the courts? He’s pretty changeable and obviously not very conversative himself.

            I think he’d have a ball shaking things up and making headlines, without much thought to governing. That’s what he’s done so far.

          • ElizabetB.

            A glimmer of hope… sometimes appointees surprise their appointers — when they really think about things during their service on the court : )

          • mason

            Living through this I’m seeing first hand how a dictator could take over a democratic republic. To get his way with whatever he wants, Donald the Con artist-spoiled brat would find a way to declare Martial Law. I always knew there was a segment of the US population that are fascists at heart, but it’s much larger than even skeptic pessimist I imagined. We may be on the verge of US Civil War II.

          • Linda_LaScola

            There are the fascists and then there are people who just hate Hillary and are amused by Donald and see the US presidential election as a simple popularity contest.

          • ElizabetB.

            Like Linda, I know we have a fascist percentage, but I think the reason it has a chance is that there’s a perfect storm for candidate Trump. Biggest: the “never Hillary”/anti-Clintons core that’s been solidifying for years; then the shock of an African American president & 8 years of visceral, intensifying anti-Obama sentiment; partisan “news” that doesn’t let inconvenient ideas intrude & vigorously disseminates imaginatively crafted “facts” (like O. is anti-small business), with no agreed-upon referee of said “fact”; the drive to save lives through overturning Roe v. Wade & turn the court right; all mixed in with the perfectly legitimate anxiety from terrorism and the irrational feeling that the only effective response is force — bombs and torture.

            It’s hard for any alternate view to catch a foothold. But I know probable Trump voters read our local opinion page, so I’m thinking hard about what to try to say into the storm.

            Civil War II: even if it didn’t come to violence — I wonder if my “reluctantly Trump” friends would catch on to what he was doing and help contain or remove him. Though if he followed his Russian hero, there might not be many voices around to enlighten us. ….He is the great shape shifter, so there’s no way to guess, I guess. [Very sorry to be gloomy!! off to register voters today!!]

          • ElizabetB.

            A man in grocery line a couple weeks ago struck up a conversation, said he was carrying a gun before they “are all taken away.” I said I didn’t think anyone was wanting to do that. He said he was voting for Trump, “We need law and order.” Before thinking, I reacted, “He’s said he’s going to order our soldiers to torture people, which is against the law… that doesn’t sound very ‘law & order’ to me.” He segued into the military & we parted on friendly terms. I wasn’t happy to be standing in line with a pistol packing trumpist. The cashier looked unhappy — I couldn’t tell with which one of us. I wondered what he made of my point — I sort of expected him to say something like “That’s a law that needs to be changed,” but he didn’t.

            Trump is bypassing reason to connect with people’s feelings (deplorable ones), which are so strong they aren’t thinking. Many only listen to *him* and don’t realize the flim flam history. The supporters who *are* thinking are just so set against Hillary that they think she’s worse.

            You guys are making me think that in writing that LtE I need to be thinking about that sliver of people who may still be reachable… but still there’s the conundrum of how to warn against a history of fraud while sticking just to the issues, not candidates. Maybe the stakes are so high I need to revise my policy. But that makes me ask whether I’d be participating in the extremism and polarization we’re suffering from. A puzzling situation from top to bottom!!!!!!!

          • mason

            There’s a variety of minimal thought voters that are for him, but his Evangelical voters are accustomed to hearing about crazy rants attributed to Jehovah & Son every week from the pulpit. Rants far worse and more demonizing than those by the disgusting Donald.

          • ElizabetB.

            Tragically I do think there is desensitizing going on. The Sunday I finally stopped trying to divide time between a liberal & my family’s conservative service was a Youth/Boy Scout Sunday when the youth pastor preached about Jael & Sisera (the lady who drove a tent peg through the commander’s skull) and asked the young people When your time of opportunity comes, will you be ready? He appeared oblivious of the gore, upbeat and cheery. I was pretty horrified.