Professor Wu's Rulebook

Words of wisdom from American authors in the age of Donald Trump


At the time of writing, Donald Trump – a thin-skinned charlatan, a self-proclaimed sexual harasser, a blusterer and a bigot – will be inaugurated today, the 20th January, as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Many people are understandably dismayed at this reality. And, while we have done our best to collect together some vital reading in the event of a ‘Trumpocalypse’, we – that is, all of us – can always do more.

As such, we have brought together quotes from some of the finest American authors that can help guide us in these troubling times. From Maya Angelou to Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace, these literary masters offer words of wisdom applicable to all times – but are perhaps most needed today.

Enjoy, comrades, and keep holding the fire!

Maya Angelou

“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”


“We may encounter many defeats; but we must not be defeated”

Don DeLillo


“Some people prefer to believe in conspiracy because they are made anxious by random acts. Believing in conspiracy is almost comforting because, in a sense, a conspiracy is a story we tell each other to ward off the dread of chaotic and random acts. Conspiracy offers coherence.”

William Faulkner


“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

“The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”

George Saunders

CT george_saunders02.jpg
Photo of George Saunders. (Chloe Aftel/Random House)

“America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.”


“American society is uncomfortable with the idea that some people’s lives are difficult past the point of sanity and that they aren’t necessarily to blame. There’s no way you can argue that everyone has a difficult life. This is an incredible culture; the majority of people live in amazing comfort, with real dignity, maybe more comfort and dignity than any other culture in the history of the world. We live relatively safe and sane lives, which, if you’ve ever loved anybody and therefore feared for them, is a wonderful thing. But part of our moral responsibility is to keep in our minds those whose lives are unsafe and insane. In this way, fiction can be like a meditation, a way of saying: Though things are this way for me right now, they could be different later and are different for others this very moment.”

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

“It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”


“If [a man] needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ’cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he’s poor in hisself, there ain’t no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an’ maybe he’s disappointed that nothin’ he can do ‘ll make him feel rich.”

Mark Twain


“Who are the oppressors? The few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.


“Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise. Then it follows that laws and constitutions should change around and say there shall be a more nearly equal division.”


“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

Kurt Vonnegut


“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”


“There’s only one rule that I know of […] God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”


“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

Alice Walker


“This is a wonderful planet, and it is being completely destroyed by people who have too much money and power and no empathy.”


“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

David Foster Wallace


“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”



Are we missing any pearls of wisdom from any other great American writers to help us through the dark days of Donald Trump? Let us know your favourite quotes in the comments below! 


  1. Not an American and not an “author” but Zizek’s very misunderstood words are just as important for any thinking American right now:

    “The current political map has to be redrawn; we need new options,” says Zizek, a leftist who initially supported Bernie Sanders. “The main thing is political mobilisation of the left, to break out of a status quo.

    “In this situation in which we are now, only some kind of a shakeup can save us,” says Zizek. “And one good thing about Donald Trump – and it’s an obscenity to call this a good thing – is that he put [the system] into great disarray; it almost fell apart.

    “He is not a dangerous guy who is appearing to be polite. All his violent outbursts – completely vulgar, tasteless statements – mask the fact that there is nothing extraordinary about him.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for getting involved, shesou – we completely agree with you. Zizek is a favourite of ours, too. Frequently offers excellent analysis. Perhaps less prescriptive than others; but always there to make a cutting and insightful point.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the reply. I enjoyed the collection of quotes and felt it was both timely and fitting: a crossover of the literary and the political. That change [albeit a highly undesirable one] is now afoot only proves that change is possible. This is what, as you are obviously aware and actively doing, is what needs to be emphasised.

        I agree on Zizek. I have found much of his recent short form journalism to be rich in insight (but I have a soft spot for thinkers who offer no more than thought).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So pleased to hear you enjoyed the collection – and you hit the nail exactly on the head. To paraphrast Gandhi, the thing about change is that you have to actively act in a way you want others to in order to change the world. But it is possible!

        We have a soft spot for the thoughtful writers, ourselves. Was such a great loss recently to lose Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism. Another great writer full of insight and fantastic analysis.

        Liked by 1 person

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