“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. 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 Sun, July 26 1920
Category Archives: Mencken
The Best Books About Donald Trump’s Ascendance Were Written 50 Years Ago
If you want to understand how it is that Donald Trump has managed to rise to political prominence then you need to read three books, two written more than 50 years ago and one in 2005.
The first is C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow. In Jim Crow Woodward tells the story of the emergence of the increasingly severe laws enforcing segregation in the South following the end of Reconstruction. (In the North we were more De Facto than De Jure about segregation.) They grew harsher as the economic status of the Whites and Blacks narrowed; the Whites seeking to hold on to privilege even as their economic status worsened. In the US today wages have been at best stagnant for the last 40 years. In the wake of Financial Crisis and the Great Non-Recovery Americans again find their economic status diminishing at the same time that groups of people – Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, etc. etc. – are demanding and sometimes even receiving equal treatment under the law. White Americans feel their privileged position slipping away and they are lashing out, this time without the legal mechanisms of Jim Crow. This is one of the reasons behind the rise to the Tea Party and other extreme Rightist movements.
The second is Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics. It is a collection of essays and the title essay has understandably received a lot of attention in the last eight years. However I think it is the second essay in the collection, The Pseudo Conservative Revolt – 1954, which truly captures what Charlie Pierce calls “the prion disease afflicting the Republican party.” Here is a relevant quote:
The ideology of pseudo-conservatism can be characterized but not defined, because the pseudo-conservative tends to be more than ordinarily incoherent about politics. The lady who, when General Eisenhower’s victory over Senator Taft had finally become official in 1952, stalked out of the Hilton Hotel declaiming “This means eight more years of socialism,” was probably a fairly good representative of pseudo-conservative mentality. … The general who spoke to the [Freedom Congress] demanding “an Air Force capable of wiping out the Russian Air Force and industry in one sweep,” but also “a material reduction in military expenditures”; the people who a few years ago believed simultaneously that we had no business fighting communism in Korea and that the war should immediately be extended to an all-Asia crusade against communism.
A perfect example of this today is the reaction to Operation Jade Helm, a military training exercise that had been held many times prior to this year in various Southern and Western states. This year however a number of citizens came to believe that this was either a precursor to the Federal government taking over or the actual take over. In Texas “a survey of registered Republicans by Public Policy Polling in May 2015, found that 32% thought that “the Government is trying to take over Texas”, and that half of all Tea Party supporters are concerned with an imminent Texas invasion.” The governor of Texas, a human paper weight named Greg Abbott, met with representatives of these people and ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation, declaring, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” This trend of course has reached its apogee and perfect mouthpiece in Trump. However, had Trump not run this insanity would have had no trouble with any other of this year’s crop of GOP contenders for the Presidential nomination.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about Trump’s followers is their devotion to him no matter what he says or does. They so thoroughly identify with him that it does not matter if he says something that is an easily proven lie. (Go here or here for collections of those lies.)
It does not matter that he has offered no policy or course for how he intends to “make America great again.” It does not matter that he has at various times rejected some or all of the Conservative ideas his followers appear to hold. Conservative evangelicals, who used to require candidates be able to answer a lengthy catechism, now do not care that Trump is entirely uninterested in religion. He has made himself immune to the charge of flip-flopping, which used to be able to derail entire campaigns. Indeed his followers appear to assume anything he says comes with a wink-and-a-nudge. They all “know what he really means” so anything he says is in automatic agreement with whatever that particular person believes. His ability to get people to support things that are against their own self-interest is without parallel in American history.
How is this possible? Consider this:
“The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides…is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. … The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.”
That is from Harry G. Frankfurter’s remarkable book On Bullshit, a philisophical examination of why facts are of less and less importance in public discourse. (Don’t let the phrase “philisophical examination” scare you, it is both readable and short.)
Trump’s campaign only makes sense once you apply Frankfurt’s theory of bullshit: It was never supposed to have any connection to reality. It exists soley to aggrandize Trump himself and nothing else.
There is quite a bit of the sociopath about Trump. Publicly he shows little empathy and absolutely no remorse for anything. People appear to be of interest to him only to the extent that they can get him something. He shows no loyalty — if you once were useful but now dare to offer even the mildest criticism you are cast off and attacked with the same vengeance used for his bitterest enemies. Should he be elected president he will easily eclipse Woodrow Wilson and Nixon, the current benchmarks for presedential vindictiveness. He will also make Nero and the most recent President Bush look like amateurs when it comes to destroying their own nations.
It’s somehow fitting that the best description of Trump I have found was written 91 years ago by H.L. Mencken in his blistering essay In Memoriam: W.J.B.
“A vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He is ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. … A poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He is a peasant come home to the dung-pile.”
Facebook worth more than $XX billion, say people with a vested interest in Facebook
Quiz time: Facebook is worth how many billions of dollars?
Different people have given all of the above answers and a lot of other places have published them as fact, even though these numbers are are self-serving and cannot be verified. The first two are by Facebook itself, in February and November of last year. The third is from Forbes and the last one is from the Financial Times – and all of them are totally, completely untrustworthy. Why? Well, let’s look at how Forbes’ Steve Bertoni put it: “Recent private equity investments in Facebook valued the firm at around $23 billion–more than triple its 2009 value of $7 billion.” Now why would anyone who had invested in a company possibly say that company is worth far more than previously reported? Hmmmmm.
Facebook is a private company, so no one outside of a select few really know how much money – if any – Facebook is making. But even it’s self-reported numbers don’t sustain valuations that give it a market cap of between $23B and $33B. By way of comparison, eBay’s market cap is $32B. As Mashable so ably puts it
Facebook is still a private company that hasn’t completely figured out the profit equation. While it should surpass $1 billion in revenue this year, its infrastructure costs are also high. eBay, while not as sexy, brought in $2.215 billion in revenue during just the second quarter of this year.
What is appalling is that how many business publications are willing collaborators in this absurd deception. I am glad to see that the Wall Street Journal seems to have learned its lesson about this (see Twitter valued at $1 Billion say people with a vested interest in Twitter). H.L. Mencken had a simple rule of thumb for reporting a story like this: “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.”
AIG claims it is paying bonuses to retain “best and brightest talent”
“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” — Edward M. Liddy, government-appointed chairman of A.I.G.
Congrats to Mr. Liddy for calling the people in question “the best and the brightest” – a description famously applied to the folks who got us into Vietnam.
And what would these folks be talented at? While getting someone else to pay for bankrupting a company is quite a talent it’s not one to reward.
Lawyers at both the Treasury Department and AIG have concluded that the firm would risk a lawsuit if it scrapped the retention payments at the AIG Financial Products subsidiary, whose troublesome derivative trading nearly sank AIG. The company promised before the government started bailing out the firm in September that employees would be awarded more than $400 million in retention pay this year and next.
Which is worse – losing a lawsuit or needing around-the-clock security for all your senior executives? I’m pretty sure the phrase “hanging is too good for them” is echoing around a lot of people’s minds right now.
BTW, the $165M in bonuses is in addition to a previously scheduled $121M:
The payments to A.I.G.’s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company’s senior executives and 6,400 employees across the sprawling corporation. Mr. Geithner last week pressured A.I.G. to cut the $9.6 million going to the top 50 executives in half and tie the rest to performance.
Yep, more than a quarter of a billion bucks being paid to the folks who put the I in incompetent.
To quote Mr. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
In New Terror Video, AIG Demands Huge Ransom from U.S.
Shadowy Group Seeks Bonuses, Golf Retreats
Jesse Helms, good by and good riddance
It may be impossible to speak too poorly of the late and unlamented bigot. The only one who can do him justice is Mencken. His obituary for William Jennings Bryan is a thing of venomous beauty and nails Helms and his ilk for all time.
But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice. … In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.
Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton*, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
In the obituaries much was made of Helms’ late-life conversion on several issues. Further proof, “the issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice.”
*Bryan testified against evolution and against the idea that man was a mammal at the famed Scopes Monkey Trial held in Dayton. Mencken’s coverage of the trial is some of the best reporting/commentary ever written and can be found in several of the collections of his writing.
Marketers keep stumbling over that other N-word, part 2
Leaders of India’s Jewish community expressed outrage Sunday over a new line of bedspreads called “The Nazi Collection” from a Mumbai-based home furnishing company that used swastikas in its promotional material. The furnishing dealer said the name stands for “New Arrival Zone for India” and was not meant to be anti-Semitic.
“It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. ” — Mencken
School Supt. “Candidate says bulletproof books could save lives in school shootings”
Because nothing beats fear-mongering when it comes to pandering for votes, that’s why.
A retired veteran and candidate for Oklahoma State School Superintendent says he wants to make schools safer by creating bulletproof textbooks. Bill Crozier says the books could give students and teachers a fighting chance if there’s a shooting at their school. “Our experiment was as scientific as we could make it, just two or three people who had been in the military,? says Crozier. (Link via TechDirt)
Y’know the more of this there is the harder it is to remember that BulletProofBaby.Net is satire.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. ” — Mencken.
Falwell, or only the good die young
The only person who could do justice to the demise of this mountebank is Mencken. His obituary for William Jennings Bryan obviated any need for a crematorium.
Two samples, slightly edited:
What was behind that consuming hatred? At first I thought that it was mere evangelical passion. Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love. But even evangelical Christians occasionally loose their belts and belch amicably; I have known some who, off duty, were very benignant. In that very courtroom, indeed, were some of them — for example, old Ben McKenzie, Nestor of the Dayton bar, who sat beside Falwell. Ben was full of good humor. He made jokes with Darrow. But Falwell only glared.
Falwell was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
I would read the obituary at length if I were you. No one else will do justice to the life and death of a such a stupid, stupid man.
Pat Robertson spreads the Good News: No Nukes — maybe — in 2007
“I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear. The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that.” — Pat Robertson, predicting some sort of attack on the US in the coming year.
I’m just relieved The Lord didn’t say nu-cu-lear.
Robertson has previously predeicted that President Bush would win the 2004 election by a landslide and “that Bush would have victory after victory in his second term.”
- Superbowl winner: Detroit Lions
- World Series: Cubs
- Brittany and K-Fed get back together
Best quote in the story: “I have a relatively good track record,” he said. “Sometimes I miss.”
But you claimed God is your inside source. This means either God isn’t quite as omnipotent and omniscient as you claim or maybe the Supreme Being just likes messing with you.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Are Muslims the new Irish?
The wonderfully named Virgil Goode — a GOP state rep. in Virginia — has declined to retract a letter in which he warns that unless immigration is tightened, “many more Muslims will be elected” and use the Quran to take the oath of office.
They said the same thing about those damn Papists. And they were right. Democracy’s a bitch, aint it Virgil?
Goode also told Fox News he wants to limit legal immigration and do away with “diversity visas,” which he said let in people “not from European countries” and “some terrorist states.”
Goode’s concerns stem from the election of Keith Ellison to the US Congress from Minnessota. Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to that august group of unidicted co-conspirators, has said he will use the Quran when he is sworn in.
“I will not be putting my hand on the Quran,” Goode said at a news conference yesterday.
I’m sure I speak for many Muslims when I say, “Thank God.”
“It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.” — Mencken.
Jury duty shakes my faith in humanity
As even a casual observer can tell I am not all that impressed by humanity en masse. Singularly, we shows signs of brilliance. Collectively I’m not sure how we ever made out of the swamps, let alone down from the trees. So you can imagine my feelings of dread as I and 13 others chosen pretty much at random from the Boston-area gene pool sat down to come up with a verdict after 10 days of a trial on the scintilating topic of the rights to run a golf course. Simply put, the high-bidder for a contract to run a city course charged favoritism after he didn’t get said contract. The city of course denied this. Although very ably represented the city had the drawback of having to put on the stand several people who are among the veracity challenged, or so I thought. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought this and within an hour we had reached a verdict. I was deeply impressed at the insight of my fellow jurors who were about as much of a demographic cross-section as you could want. By the end of the entire process I would have to say it was cynical preconceptions 0, actual experience 1.
Fortunately, before this could sink in and change my outlook of the world I came across the following about the George Bush Desert Classic:
Half of US still believes Iraq had WMD
According to a Harris Poll taken last month, a full 50% of U.S. respondents said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003. What makes this even better: That’s up 14% since last year. The interesting question that this raises for me is, oddly enough, not given this level of credibility how is it the nation is not awash in deeds to the Golden Gate Bridge (housing bubble? what housing bubble?). No, what I want to know is how it is that the president’s approval ratings are so low if half of us think that the invasion of Iraq actually made sense? Furthermore, what has happened in the last year to give this idea more — not less — plausibility? Y’know the White House keeps complaining that the press is only reporting the bad news out of Iraq. Well, if this is the result they ought to be cheering each time another bombing is reported.
Or, in the words of one of my beloved Texas aphorisims: “You keep giving them books and giving them books and they keep chewing on the covers.”
While this might lead some to despair, I choose to follow the advice of Mencken: “Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband’s clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible.”
Big Oil’s latest staggeringly dumb PR move
Top executives at oil giant Shell have begun a 50-city tour across the United States this summer in hopes of persuading angry consumers that Big Oil is not ripping them off.
John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., and other company execs “plan to meet with everyone from average Americans struggling to pay rising prices at the pump to city officials and governors on their tour.” What exactly to call this tour … Gasapalooza? Monsters of Capitalism? Nasty As They Wanna Be? And who’s the opening act? Maybe the CEO of Merk trying to persuade angry consumers that Big Pharma is not ripping them off?
How rampant is the insecurity over there at Shell HQ? I don’t see any other possible explanation as to why these guys feel it so important to be liked? This is like a crack dealer wanting hugs from his customers.
Speaking as a consumer of oil-products, I find this whole idea more than a little insulting. We’re not stupid, Mr. Hofmeister. There’s no part of the phrase “record profits” that we don’t understand. We all know where those profits are coming from because we all fill up our cars. We all remember when the idea of $3 a gallon gas was impossible to imagine. Not to long ago, gas at that price was supposed to be one of the signs of economic apocalypse.
Hofmeister explained the trip by saying: “These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented responses.” Yes, how about some nice unprecedented silence? Remember your PR strategy: Speak very softly and carry a big profit margin.
My sympathies to whomever is stuck doing Shell’s PR work … I do not think they are responsible for this. Ideas this bad have to come straight from the CEO because otherwise it would have never got off the whiteboard.
There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong. — Mencken
Quote of the day: Bush wants Americans to have “a command of the English language.”
"What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language." — Tony Snow, new White House Press guy on Friday.
"The president has never supported making English the national language." — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later on Friday.
"The attorney general got caught in a linguistic snare. He took 'national' language to mean what we describe as 'official' language." –White House spokeswoman Dana Perino even later on Friday.
Remember, having a command of English should be a requirement to become a citizen but not to become president or attorney general. Irony hasn't had this much fun since Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Also on Friday, the Senate has voted to make English the nation's "common and unifying language." OK, all in favor of a rule stating that members of the Senate must be able to write a simple declarative sentence, say AYE. That will work much better than term limits.
"The only man woman, or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead." — HL Mencken on the death of Warren Harding.
Bush to deploy Guard to improve gas mileage
"They will push cars," said the President, who has decided the solution to any problem is to throw the Guard at it. Next up: He will deploy the Guard as head of the CIA. Following that the Guard will be deployed to solve the looming Social Security problem and then to deal with global warming.
George clearly believes just because he spent four years in the Guard doing nothing is no reason anyone else should.
Back in the early 1980s, when Gary Hart had a political future, the then-senator from Colorado actually said something memorable. Just after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon he said, "What is the president going to do for a foriegn policy when he runs out of Marines?"
(And, really I promise to get around to Hillary's "kid's these days" speech/idiocy, but I am operating in what the Pentagon describes as a "target rich environment" and only have so much time in the day. I will say that I am not surprised by Mrs. C's shameless pandering, but I am very disappointed in McCain doing the same thing.)
It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man. — Mencken