‘My microphone is broken. She broke it. Her and Obama. They took it to Kenya and they broke it.’
I hope there is some mute village Mencken finding his or her journalistic voice in the United States this horrendous election year. It calls for some Menckenesque scorn, although I suspect he would see, in Donald Trump, all his reservations about providing the vote to people he would regard as a sub normal intelligence – i.e. about half the human race – made flesh.
Mencken – H L Mencken, to use the byline he wrote under, from his Baltimore office, for much of the first half of the 20th century – had a fine line in scorn and invective and for the follies of political life.
His scorn wasn’t just for the polticians themselves – it was more for the people who voted for them, for all the wrong reasons. There was often more than a tinge of contempt, unfortunately, in his attitudes to those less intelligent than himself – a rather large group.
He was though, ahead of his time in some matters. It’s interesting to ponder what he would make of Donald Trump’s progress to head the party of Abraham Lincoln.
‘A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in’, he once wrote.
And Mencken was quite sympathetic to women’s fight for equality, writing that ‘women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.’
His scepticism – and his message that scepticism was a right and good thing, especially when applied to both those who hold formal political power and those who adopt the less accountable,but often more intrusive, power of moral certitude.
‘A Socialist who goes to jail for his opinions seems to me a much finer man than the judge who sends him there, though I disagree with all the ideas of the Socialist and agree with some of those of the judge. But though he is fine, the Socialist is nevertheless foolish, for he suffers for what is untrue. If I knew what was true, I’d probably be willing to sweat and strive for it, and maybe even to die for it to the tune of bugle-blasts. But so far I have not found it.’
..is a sentiment I find myself endorsing, with a small dose of scepticism (there are some things I feel are true, but in the main they belong to the private sphere).
‘The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic,’ is another of Mencken’s aphorisms.
‘The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.’
I suspect Mencken would add a rider to that today. Trump is a cynic – but a cynic without any tempering influence of empathy.
The effective cynic in fact has bags of empathy for other human beings – cynicism requires insight, a knowledge of, and instinct for, other humans, and that requires empathy. Trump seems to lack any of this.
Add to that the legions of religious fanatics who have, out of a combination of opportunism, convenience, venality and sheer stupidity, hitched their wagon to the Trump circus wagon, and you have potentially the worst of all governments in the making.