Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, by Nick Offerman


Four stars, read in January 2018.

I am not quite juvenile enough to really hang out with Nick Offerman, and I think he would happily agree with me. But also, I would fucking love to hang out with Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. And regardless of whether or not I could handle all the farting and comically explicit sex talk, I think they would be two of my favorite people in the world. That is largely what I came away from this book with, because this is a book about all the things Nick Offerman thinks are important and the people who exemplify those traits. Is there a better way to get to know someone, really?

Of his 21 subjects, only four are ones I would choose myself (Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, Yoko Ono, and Carol Burnett). But I thoroughly enjoyed his explanations and can appreciate each of his other choices, which is impressive considering that three of them are Founding Fathers and sweet baby Jesus am I just sick of hearing about those bewigged bastards.

Offerman is right to claim them, though, for “our side”—because that’s the problem, that in my head they are associated with the nationalist white-supremacist dirtbags who keep insisting that our country not progress beyond its founding, and I am utterly devoid of patience with people who think the facts of history should be exchanged for a patriotic national mythology. The way I see it, if you’re going to pretend the bad things didn’t happen, you don’t get to celebrate the good things, either. Until we’re willing to deal with the horrific damage done by the founding of this country, I cannot even consider using the word “great” to describe it (or its founders), much less any superlatives. The differences between us and other countries are far less significant than we like to think they are, because anything that is true only in the United States is also true only for a small percentage of people in the United States.

As I will explore in the coming pages, our country’s inception had a lot of heroic nobility deservedly draped about its innovative framework, but it was also a series of events conducted by human beings, and so the intrepid experiment could not help but display some flaws as well. Not only were our fledgling American government and society crafted by human beings, but further, it must be noted with appropriate gravity, by all white dudes. With no small irony, the Declaration of Independence was composed, ratified, and signed by several Caucasian men, some of whom owned a great many slaves. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Native American tribes in the Ohio Country were being mercilessly murdered and/or driven off their ancestral lands so that “we” could eventually build the pastoral suburbs of Cleveland, an assemblage of neighborhoods that, it must be noted, really are quite leafy and serene, but are they worthy of genocide? That is precisely the stripe of conundrum I hope to probe in the following pages.

And he does, decently, in a way that demonstrates how possible it is to be honest about facts and still find people to be inspired by (see his treatment of Theodore Roosevelt, our notably-mustached former president who is what we might call a mixed bag of positive and problematic, for a good example).

I love the way Offerman talks about religion, which I’d already seen when I read (the first half of) Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

I feel like the vitriol toward same-sex marriage in this country is rather monopolized by self-professed Christians. I’m unaware of a prominent American politician who is Muslim making anywhere near as much illogical noise as the likes of outspoken Republican and Tea Party politicians Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Tom DeLay, who said in a 2014 interview, “I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government. When we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.”

Now, you see, if I hadn’t given myself that careful warning earlier, it’s language like what Mr. DeLay said right there that would cause me to become very emotional. Even now, I can feel my knickers threatening to get themselves into a twist . . . When Mr. DeLay, a prominent former congressperson from Texas, made that statement, he urinated on both the Bible and the Constitution. Our nation is the greatest nation on earth for exactly the opposite reason of his speech. The Constitution protects us from such a silly idea, so that wherever you come down on the subject of the Bible or any other religion, you will be treated with an equal amount of fairness as the next citizen. His statement is patently anti-American, as well as patently unholy . . . This sort of absurd rhetoric strikes me as having strong similarities to the communist paranoia of McCarthyism, and the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. His stance would be laughable, if it weren’t for the fact that people like him are being elected to political offices of the highest importance, where they can encourage the perseverance of discrimination.

And in this book I discovered that I also greatly enjoy his thoughts on guns in the United States.

When our citizens are determined to openly wear pistols on their belts to go shopping at Walmart, that signifies to me a failure on the part of the macho ideal. Ostensibly, the handgun is displayed to let evildoers know, in no uncertain terms, that this is not a person with whom to trifle. It then follows that the wearing of the pistol presumes a situation in which the bearer will need to shoot someone, rendering the brandishing of the weapon a badge of fear, does it not? It occurs to me that if we keep on turning to such “masculine” methodology to solve our conflicts, the only inevitable ending is a bunch of somebody’s family lying in a bloody schoolhouse, movie theater, or smoking Japanese city. I guess we just hope it’s not our family? I don’t like the odds.

Me fucking neither (sad wave to Parkland, Florida).

I had bookmarks in nearly every chapter, but after winnowing them down and then accidentally allowing the ebook to expire from my Overdrive account, I was left with only a few (very) brief notes that I am going to share with you anyway:

Michael Pollan, lobbyists

George Nakashima, World War II, ending a war by being the biggest asshole, Manifest Destiny

Jeff Tweedy, people trying to figure out who they are by what products they consume

George Saunders on religion

Laurie Anderson on language

Conan O’Brien

Do with them what you will. If you decide to read this book—and I recommend that you do—maybe you’ll notice these passages and find them particularly meaningful, as I did.

I love the idea Nick Offerman had here, and very much enjoyed its execution. Beyond being hilarious and infinitely entertaining, he is also surprisingly smart, compassionate, thoughtful, and a pretty fucking decent human being. Frankly, I’d love to see a second volume of this in the future.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    I loved this book. I too would like to be friends with NO & MM. And yes to Jeff Tweedy, George Saunders and Conan O’Brien.


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