“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.” – H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920
This prognostication from the Sage of Baltimore was fulfilled upon the inauguration of George W. Bush, who was arguably the worst president the country has ever endured. And yet Donald J. Trump is about to give the clownishly incurious W and his disastrous presidency a serious run for their money.
One might object that most of those comprising “the masses” did not in fact vote for Trump, and that is true. But that the popular vote differential amounted to a mere two points is intensely troubling. Besides, there were millions of voters who stayed home on election day, either too stupid or too ignorant to bother to cast a ballot against a common bully to prevent him from assuming such uncanny power.
If that assessment seems overly harsh consider that we have just elected the most unqualified major party nominee to ever run for president in 228 years of presidential elections. He is a man who plainly has no ideology aside from doing that which will massage his ego and aggrandize his image. In the coming years we will define ‘Trumpism’ as the adherence to any policy which appeals to the id of Der Orangenfuhrer. Super-ego-based policies need not be considered.
Much discussion has been had as to the reasons for Trump’s ascension to the White House: Lost jobs in the Rust Belt. Political Correctness run amok. The hollow messaging of the Clinton campaign. Fundamentally, Trump’s victory comes down to the fact that Americans are dolts. And those who aren’t dolts are ignoramuses. And those who are neither dolts nor ignoramuses are privileged elitists who feel they haven’t made enough money recently, so they forgo basic human decency in the White House in the hopes of receiving lower capital gains rates and a tax repatriation holiday.
Mencken was able to predict the rise of Trump thanks in large part to his dim view of “the people,” which made academic the consequent degeneration of American politics into the travesty we see today:
“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
This remark is commonly paraphrased as, “No one ever went broke underestimating the American public.” It is doubtful Mencken would object to this more concise interpretation considering that most of his broadsides against “the plain people” were directed at his compatriots. He studied Nietzsche and it is Mencken’s translation of The Antichrist that is the most commonly read English language version. It therefore comes as no surprise that Mencken was able to foresee that American democracy would elevate to the presidency the sort of bizarro Übermensch we now have in Trump. And if you thought 2016 was a bad year — and that it surely was — just wait until you see what President Trump has in store for us.
John Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for country.” In the next four years and perhaps beyond, Donald Trump will try to dictate what our country can do for him.