Reflections on H.L. Mencken in the Age of Trump

Last night I finished reading a terrific short story by my friend Connie Willis.  She is a wonderful writer, and also a terrific human being.  I’m not generally a reader of short fiction.  I love novels where I can wallow and spend a lot of time with the characters, but Connie is one of the masters of the short form.  Right now I’m reading a collection called The Best of Connie Willis, and I hit the story “Inside Job”.  It’s about a skeptic writer dealing with a “channeler”  and H.L. Mencken figures large in the story.

Which made me realize that we really need Mencken now.  Yes, there are clever people sounding the alarm and pointing out the absurd on numerous platforms, but in this age of scattered news it’s hard to have that one defining voice shouting at us not to be imbeciles and listen to “infernal gabble”.  But here we are where a president elect can stand on a stage uttering falsehood after falsehood.  Where idiotic conspiracy theories take hold — Jade Helm, where the governor of a state actually took seriously the idea that a military exercise was an attempt to conquer Texas, as if Texas wasn’t already part of the United States.  And Pizzagate that led to a moron ending up in a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. brandishing a gun because “think of the children”.  Or birtherism that pernicious, racist theory that the president of the United States was born in Kenya.

Mencken had a quick wit and a vicious tongue that could flay an opponent.  Not like the exchange of profane laced insults that one sees thrown about on social media.  He pointed up the absurd with laser-like precision that left his opponents bloodied and humiliated.  He is quoted frequently.  Here’s one that is especially relevant today:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

And this, which I think is going to become the new signature tag on my emails.  I had been quoting Craig Ferguson musing about Dr. Who, but I think this works better for the indefinite future.

“In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for.  As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.”

 

2 Responses to Reflections on H.L. Mencken in the Age of Trump

  • Roger Floyd says:

    You’re right. H.L. Mencken would be a logical force in the world right now. Or perhaps Will Rogers or Mark Twain.

  • Bonnie McDaniel says:

    I think this quote from Mencken is even more apropos.

    “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

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