It may surprise you (or it may not) that I am not quoting a recent president. Not at all.
Rather, I am quoting from a man who wrote these words in 1969, when the Johnson Administration was giving way to the Nixon Administration in this great country of ours. He wrote them at first privately to himself, and later published them in his well-known and well-respected book, A Continuous Harmony. The man is Wendell Berry. I will let him speak in his own words:
If you aren't for us you're against us, somebody is always saying. That seems to me a sad little pair of options, insofar as to any kind of intelligence the possibilities ought to be numerous, if not infinite. Intelligence consists in being for and against such things as political movements up to a point, which it is the task of intelligence to define. In my judgment intelligence never goes whole hog for anything public, especially political movements. Across the whole range of politics now (and I suppose always) you find people willing to act on the assumption that there is some simple abstraction that will explain and solve the problems of the world, and who go direct from the discovery of the abstraction to the forming of an organization to promote it. In my opinion those people are all about equally dangerous, and I don't believe anything they say.*
I really need to stop the quote now, because there is plenty to digest here already; and as anyone knows who has read Mr. Berry, there is an abundance of wisdom on either side of any snippet, even if that snippet is a long one; and that he put those other words there for a reason, and they really shouldn't be left out. (You'll need to buy the book.)
But I cannot resist the desire to add the very next sentence that follows ". . . I don't believe anything they say." Here it is:
What I hold out for is the possibility that a man can live decently without knowing all the answers, or believing that he does -- can live decently even in the understanding that life is unspeakably complex and unspeakably subtle in its complexity.*
Thank you, Wendell Berry, for words that help me to take from them, and from you, more of both humility (I hope) and courage.
* Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural. (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint. 2012 edition.) p. 49.