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H. L. Mencken Predicted Donald Trump, the Enlightened Rabble-Rouser
Vox Populi ^ | June 1922 | H. L. Mencken

Posted on 07/26/2016 12:25:25 PM PDT by poconopundit

 

At last week's Republican convention, Trump proclaimed to the working people of America: "I am your voice".  It was an admission of something Trump supporters have known all along: Trump is the champion of WE THE PEOPLE.

Yet thirteen months and 10,000 media stories later, the journalist class is still in denial about what Trump is about.  Plus he's been called "vulgar" and "not Presidential" by elite pundits like Bill Kristol, George Will, and countless others.

Well, as usual, my good FRiend HarleyLady27 clears away smoke in order, as she explain in a recent comment:


    The man can be a brilliant speaker, but he needed to get to the "dumbed down" middle class people, where he lives, works, hires, listens.  This is how he had to talk at his rallies: he had to grab their attention span, which wasn't that long and zero in on his points...

    And the man walked away from the roll call vote with over 1,700 delegates...  Call the man anything you want, but don't call this man stupid, far from it, he already is a year into his Presidency and we haven't even gotten to November yet...

This vanity will take the notion of "voice of middle class people" to a whole new level thanks to the commentary of maybe the greatest pundit America has ever seen: H. L. Mencken.

Back in the days of the Great Depression, Mencken wrote a short essay entitled, Vox Populi, a highly insightful and devilishly-fun-to-read analysis of the American political scene — as you'll soon see.

Now a very interesting point her is that Vox Populi seems to presage the arrival of a Trump, a man with a good sense of how the society should be led, and someone who is also a master in the arts of persuasion and influencing the masses.

What I've done here is extract and lightly edit the best parts the text.  Hopefully this will excite you enough to read the full essay or even get yourself a copy of the book I found it in: H.  L.  Mencken's Smart Set Criticismwhich holds a special place on my library shelf. 

Vox Populi
H. L. Mencken
June 1922

The Key Political Question:

How, in spite of the incurable imbecility of the great masses of men, are we to get a reasonable measure of sense and decency into the conduct of the world?

The Traditional Answer is to Educate the Masses..

By spreading enlightenment, by democratising information, by combating what is false with what is true.

But Educating the Masses doesn't Work...

Why? Because that scheme, however persuasively it is tried, invariably gets shipwrecked by two or three immovable facts:

  • One is the fact that a safe majority of the men and women in every modern society cannot be educated, save within very narrow limits.  It is no more possible to teach them what every voter theoretically should know than it is teach a chimpanzee to play the viola de gamba.

  • Second, the safe majority, far from having any natural yearning to acquire this body of truth, has a natural and apparently incurable distrust of it. 

  • And third, no body of teachers in Christendom is capable of teaching the truth.  The teacher, almost ex officio, seems to corrupt it and put it down, so the inevitable tendency is to preserve and spread the lies that are respectable to the current masters of the mob.

Now, I Don't Deny that People can Learn Things...

The great masses of men can take in certain sorts of knowledge, at least within narrow limits:

  • Fully 80 percent of the inhabitants of the United States, within our own time, have absorbed a number of solid facts, before unknown to them — for example, that beer is easy to make in the kitchen, that wood alcohol has various unpleasant physiological effects, and that it is dangerous to crank a Ford.

  • Probably half as many have taken in information of a somewhat wider and more philosophical kind — for example, that the guarantees in the Bill of Rights are merely rhetorical, that saving the world for democracy costs a great deal of money, that feeding a human infant on fried liver will not make it flourish, and every old woman who mumbles as she shuffles along is not a witch.

  • Go back a thousand years, and you will be able to show even greater accretions of knowledge, much of it sound. 

  • The average member of the American Legion, though the professors may report him a moron, knows more, I am convinced, than the average legionary of Caesar's Gallic army, and what he knows is better organized.

  • The average American farmer, though he voted for Bryan, is more intelligent than the peasant of Charlemagne's time.

  • Even the average American Congressman, at least in matters that do not concern the business of lawmaking, probably has more useful information in him than the average member of a Tenth Century Witenagemot.

The Progress of Enlightenment Doesn't Reach the Great Masses of People

  • Enlightenment is a matter which concerns exclusively a small minority of men.  The size of that minority is always grossly overestimated.

  • Because a man is a Ph.D. and licensed to teach Latin grammar it is assumed that he is generally intelligent — that he shares, to some extent at least, in the stupendous miscellaneous knowledge of a Virchow or Huxley.  The assumption is often false.  He may be, in fact, practically an imbecile, and not infrequently he actually is.

  • I do not here argue, of course, that the intelligence of a man is to be determined by subjected him to an examination like that recently proposed by Thomas A.  Edison.  Edison himself, indeed, though he could pass his own examination, must be thick-witted at bottom, for when he goes on a holiday he chooses such men as Harding and Henry Ford as his companions.

  • But what I do argue is that no man can be said to share fully in the progress of human knowledge who is ignorant of any of its basic facts — for example, the facts that ghosts do not actually haunt graveyards, that printing money cannot make a nation rich, and that men cannot be made virtuous by law.

The Human Race is actually split into Two Distinct Species

  • The one species is characterized by an incurable thirst for knowledge, and an extraordinary capacity for recognizing and taking in facts and evidences.

  • The other is just as brilliantly marked by a chronic appetite for whatever is most palpably false and a chronic distrust for whatever is palpably true.

  • To the second species being the overwhelming majority of individuals under democracy, including all the favorite politicians, philosophers, theologians, star-gazers, and diviners.  These half-wits now run the world.

The People in Power Today are Mob-Masters

  • The great nations of the world are run today, not by their first-rate men, nor even by their second-rate or third-rate men, but by groups of professional mob-masters, all of them ignorant and most of them corrupt. 

  • Well, how is it that such men reach so high an estate in a great nation — and in every other great nation, under democracy, there are scoundrels to match him?

  • It comes very simply.  The mob-master is imprimis, so near to the mob in his natural ways of thought — his gross self-seeking and lack of sensitiveness, his tendency to reduce all ideas to hollow formulae, his feeling of kinship with the ignorant and degraded men — that is is easy for him to put himself into their collective mind.

  • He is so lacking in ordinary professional pride and conscientiousness that he is willing to submit with alacrity to the mob's mandates, even when he dissents from them and regards them as dangerous and wrong. 

  • In brief, he is a demogogue, and his power rests wholly upon his talent for that role.  What keeps him in office is simply his tremendous capacity for evoking the emotions of the mob.

The Problem of Democratic Government Narrows Down to...

  • How is the relatively enlightened and reputable minority to break the hold of such mountebanks upon the votes of the anthropoid majority?

  • At first glance, the thing seems insoluble, but there is one consolation: The man of education and self-respect may not run with the mob, and he may not yield to it supinely, but what is prevent him deliberately pulling its nose?

  • What is to prevent him from playing on its fears and credulities to good ends as a physician plays upon them by giving its members bread bills, or as a holy clerk, seeing to bring it up to relative decency, scares it with tales of mythical hell?

  • In brief, what is to prevent him swallowing his political prejudices in order to channel and guide the prejudices of his inferiors?

  • It may be, at first blush, an unsavory job — but so is delivering a fat woman of twins an unsavory job.  Yet obstetricians of the first skill and repute do it — if the fee be large enough.  So is hearing the confessions of Freudian old maids.  Yet priests do it.  So is going to war.  Yet the chivalry of the world has just done it.

What I propose, in truth, has been done already

  • Men of very considerable intelligence have done so to brilliant effect.  I allude to the boob-bumping that was undertaken during the late war by certain members of the intelligentsia.

  • Some of the most potent raids upon the boob emotions made during those days were planned and executed, in fact, by men who were normally too sniffish to engage in any such enterprise.

  • If they devote themselves to the arts of the demogogue in peace times as ardently and ingeniously as they did in war times, they would present a very formidable opposition to the Bryans, Roosevelts, Hardings, Cabot Lodges, Cal Coolidges and other professionals, and perhaps debauch the booboisie into accepting ideas of relatively high soundness.  Not, of course, as ideas, but as emotions. 

  • As a matter of bald sense or decency, I believe, it is a sheer impossibility to induce the mob to do or believe anything.  But as a matter of fact it is possible to make it do or believe almost everything.  The demagogue is a man who is privy to this fact.

  • There will come a change in the conduct of the world when men of intelligence and integrity also become privy to it, and being privy to it, act upon it boldly and vigorously. 



TOPICS: Government; Politics
KEYWORDS: mencken; trump
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1 posted on 07/26/2016 12:25:26 PM PDT by poconopundit
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To: poconopundit

So are you telegraphing that it’s time to hoist the black flag and spit upon our hands...? just curious... /h


2 posted on 07/26/2016 12:27:48 PM PDT by IllumiNaughtyByNature (HTTP 500 - Internal Server Error)
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To: HarleyLady27; Be Careful; Fiddlstix; JoSixChip; kanawa; Yaelle; SubMareener; Vision Thing; ...
FRiends, an essay by H. L. Mencken that will enlighten and make you laugh.  Trump is the living embodiment of the political leader Mencken was advocating for...


3 posted on 07/26/2016 12:29:06 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: IllumiNaughtyByNature
Yes, it is definitely time to do that!


4 posted on 07/26/2016 12:31:42 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: poconopundit

Today’s political rulers have drowned in their own corruption. But beware the man who is given the power to ‘fix’ things by his power; you may get what you wanted and more.


5 posted on 07/26/2016 12:39:17 PM PDT by lurk (T)
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To: poconopundit

Idiotic headline.

Mencken was stating what he thought was the default position of ALL our leaders.

If you want to channel H L Mencken, he would place the Clintons and Obama and all the democrats light years ahead of Trump for demagoguery.

Looks like somebody still can’t accept Trump’s appeal, which is his collective campaign stands, plus a solid record of unusual accomplishments. Actual accomplishments, ones not based on empty rhetoric.


6 posted on 07/26/2016 12:41:21 PM PDT by odawg
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To: poconopundit

How country club Republican of you.


7 posted on 07/26/2016 12:43:50 PM PDT by WMarshal (Trump 2016)
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To: poconopundit

Sounds like a liberal/socialist/fabian society kinda guy. His contempt for humanity is palpable.


8 posted on 07/26/2016 12:43:58 PM PDT by gspurlock (http://www.backyardfence.wordpress.com)
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To: poconopundit

What has Obama or Cointons taught us


9 posted on 07/26/2016 12:51:54 PM PDT by stocksthatgoup (Don't argue with a Liberal. Ask him simple questions and listen to him stutter)
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To: poconopundit

i never thought i would see a guy who had worse hair than donald trump.


10 posted on 07/26/2016 12:53:45 PM PDT by teeman8r (Armageddon won't be pretty, but it's not like it's the end of the world.)
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To: odawg
It's demagoguery, but used for the good of the country.

I'm not denying Trump's great accomplishments -- I'm one of his biggest fans -- but I agree with Mencken that he's also succeeding because he knows how to influence all the voters, not just the political elite and intelligentsia.

11 posted on 07/26/2016 12:54:24 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: gspurlock
Sounds like a liberal/socialist/fabian society kinda guy.

Quite the opposite, H.L. Mencken was an old-school conservative (basically libertarian) opponent of FDR and the New Deal. He certainly wouldn't have had any use for Clinton or Obama, being an enemy of both political cronyism and the welfare state. I doubt Mencken would like any contemporary politicians very much either, including Trump, since he disliked demagogues and was wary of mass movements in general, for better or for worse.

His contempt for humanity is palpable.

That much is true. Mencken saw himself as America's version of Friedrich Nietzsche.

12 posted on 07/26/2016 12:55:16 PM PDT by ek_hornbeck
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To: poconopundit

from dictionary.com:

Demagoguery is an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people.

Explain what is irrational about Trump’s campaign issues.


13 posted on 07/26/2016 1:04:59 PM PDT by odawg
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To: poconopundit
Let me offer an interesting piece by Mencken on the Conservative Democrat of the same era--the one politician whom Mencken truly admired--who was also the first Senator to rise against Wilson's League of Nations, and one whom I, as a student of his oratory since college, feel absolutely certain would be all in for Donald Trump, today.

Mencken's Tribute To James A. Reed.

Note, Reed rejected Wilson's League a full week before any Republican joined him (Borah, was the first); and as the Mencken piece makes clear, was really the master debater who more than any other destroyed the Wilsonian fallacy.

Reed was also an advocate of a strong Navy, and predicted the course of the Japanese attack in the Pacific in 1922, in opposing the Naval disarmament treaty.

14 posted on 07/26/2016 1:10:26 PM PDT by Ohioan
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To: poconopundit

1922 was not during the Great Depression. It was during the postwar boom. Liberals used to love Menken for his contempt for the common man, until his diaries were released in the 80’s, and he was revealed to be a racist, anti-Semetic fascist. Then they dropped him like a hot rock.


15 posted on 07/26/2016 1:16:15 PM PDT by ozzymandus
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To: odawg
Maybe demagoguery is too strong a term for our use today. We would call it the art of persuasion. One hundred years ago when Mencken wrote this, the term probably had different connotations.

Today we would say "clever marketing" and "creating a powerful image" -- Trump is a master at that.

Now as far as issues are concerned, I think he's overstated the ability to keep American companies competitive across the board. Yes, in the near term, he can take steps to keep jobs and money in the country, but international product/service quality has improved to the point that you can't keep all industries through protectionist policies.

The Trump ties, for example, are made in Asia and if you did not source from low cost suppliers in Asia (and elsewhere) then retail stores would dry up because you could not afford to hire the people who stock the shelves and work the cash registers.

So this is an example of where Trump is overstating the case, I think. OK, so why do I think Trump is doing this? Because he needs blue collar votes to win -- and winning will save the country. We can't afford to let Hillary win: she would destroy the Republic.

16 posted on 07/26/2016 1:23:24 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: ozzymandus
Thank you, I stand corrected. Yes, the Depression was in the 1930s.

What did he say that was racist? It's true that his words today sometimes offend our ears. But given his time in writing this was 1922, he was probably reflecting the prejudices and biases of his era.

Even if you concede that he was racist in certain respects, the was a great thinker across a very wide writing career. For example, at one point he was the foremost literary critic of his time.

17 posted on 07/26/2016 1:30:10 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: ozzymandus
Liberals used to love Menken for his contempt for the common man, until his diaries were released in the 80’s, and he was revealed to be a racist, anti-Semetic fascist

Mencken was many things, but a fascist wasn't one of them. He despised Hitler and Mussolini as he despised all demagogues, cults of personality, and power grabs by the government. He opposed Roosevelt and the New Deal because he detected shades of the same tendencies, though not as extreme, in his policies.

As for his "racism" and "anti-Semitism," Mencken made plenty of politically incorrect remarks about blacks and about Jews, often tongue in cheek, the most famous being "An anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews more than necessary". However, Mencken hated the Ku Klux Klan and crude race/Jew-baiting much more than he ever disliked blacks or Jews (one of the reasons Mencken detested Henry Ford was because of Ford's credulous peddling of "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion"). If anything, Mencken was probably less "racist" than the average white American in the 1920's.

18 posted on 07/26/2016 1:39:50 PM PDT by ek_hornbeck
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To: Ohioan
Brilliant!  Loved it.  Thanks for posting.  And glad to find another Mencken fan on this thread. Reading this piece about James A. Reed, you certainly get the sense that Trump would receive high praise from the Terror of Baltimore. 

The last lines could have been written about today's Congress:


19 posted on 07/26/2016 1:42:51 PM PDT by poconopundit (When the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government. Franklin, Const. Conv.)
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To: poconopundit
On the same link, you will find links to three of Reed's speeches, including the speech that Mencken heard in the Senate gallery on the eve of the Harding inauguration, as well as an article that Reed wrote for Mencken in the mid-1920s, etc..

Reed was an absolute terror to phonies in the Senate, even as Mencken describes.

20 posted on 07/26/2016 1:47:20 PM PDT by Ohioan
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