All that Glitters by Jamie Kirkpatrick


It may have been Aesop or Chaucer, certainly Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, but whoever first noticed that all that glitters is not gold was onto something. Appearances can be deceiving. There is plenty of pyrite—fool’s gold—in the world that looks like the real thing, but the authentic stuff is a lot harder to find. Pyrite is bright and shiny—it reflects light—whereas real gold in its raw form has a duller aspect that definitely does not glitter.

Even the Romans knew that non omne quod nitet aurum est. Still, despite all that ancient wisdom and learning, it’s surprisingly easy these days to mistake fiction for fact and vice versa. News, for example, is either fake or real depending on one’s political perspective. There are facts, and there are alternative facts, but where is the truth? Apparently, as Mark Twain knew, the truth is still at home putting on its shoes while a lie has already traveled half-way around the world. Sad!

The word “fact” is derived from the Latin word “factum” which means an event or occurrence—something actually done. Fiction, on the other hand, comes from the word “fictio” which means the act of shaping or feigning something; in other words, it is rooted in invention and imagination—it is a product of the mind. For those of us not given to turning over the rocksof Latin derivations, “factum” and “fictio” are the direct ancestors of gold and pyrite. The problem, of course, is that in these post-Roman times, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two.

Take tax reform, for example. Some members of Congress would have us believe that cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% will grow our economy at such a fast pace that more jobs, higher wages, and a spring wheat crop of new businesses (not to mention a big reduction in the trade deficit) will more than offset a whopping increase—as much as a few trillion dollars—to our national debt. Fact or fiction?

To my mind, trickle-down has never been much of a “factum;” it looks much more like a “fictio” to me, shiny pyrite meant to dazzle us into believing that the proverbial 1% really want to redistribute their wealth to the rest of us. And what about simplifying the tax codes and cutting individual tax rates to leave more disposable income in middle-class pockets? More and more it appears that may be a “factum” in the short-term, but much more of a “fictio” in the longer run—a little short-term gain for a lot of longer term pain. And yet, Congress—at least those members who are feeling the pinch to finally get something (anything!) done—would have us believe that the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the real deal…gold that glitters. If that’s true, then why was it drafted in the legislative dark, not subject to much, if any, public scrutiny or debate? Maybe some things just look shinier in the dark.

I don’t know about you, but I’m highly dubious about this version of tax reform. To my mind, it has all the flashy characteristics of pyrite without any of the substance of real gold. In the end, my bet is that it will be just as worthless as pyrite. What’s the big rush? Go back to work and dig a little deeper, Congress. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find the real stuff.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is







Letters to Editor

  1. George Gorayeb says:

    Jamie Kirklpatrick’s article in which he aptly compares the stealthily drafted tax reform bills now competing in the Senate and the House to just illusory flashes in the pan are really just that: shiny but shameless. Not to overburden the gold metaphor, but this Republican held majority in Congress has not exactly had the Midas touch when it comes to legislative achievement thus far.
    Mr. Kirkpatrick has correctly assayed the lack of value in this “never say die” fantasy ideology of the benefits of trickle down tax reform. It was foisted on the American taxpayer back in the eighties with much hoopla and bravado. But the empirical record is blistering clear: the theory benefits the wealthy far more than those in the middle or working classes.
    Only those with short memories or shorter life spans can allow themselves to be fleeced by this same old economist’s
    myth that has been so soundly disproven before. And if you don’t realize that, I have got a famous bridge over San Francisco Bay that I’d like to sell you.

    George Gorayeb
    Arnold, Md

  2. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    The “big rush” is the Republicans see this as the only time to squeeze this tax cut through. The only thing that really excites them; their raison d’etre. Their reason…to live. So, a mentally unfit man in the White House? Look the other way ‘cos our donors are demanding tax cuts! In the meantime, it sucks to be us!

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