Reading from a collection of H.L. Mencken’s writing recently, I almost found it possible to believe the caustic Baltimore newspaperman was writing about the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mencken died in 1956 after a half-century as a prominent satirist, scholar and cultural critic.
He made his reputation as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, applying his critical eye to such spectacles as the 1925 trial of John Scopes in Tennessee for teaching evolution in the public schools. Mencken called it the “monkey trial” of “the infidel Scopes.” Gene Kelly played him in “Inherit the Wind,” a movie inspired by the trial.
There’s a lot to dislike about Mencken – he was racist, anti-Semitic and resentful of change. He was also a keen observer of politics, contending that in such matters the cynic is right nine-tenths of the time.
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Here are a half-dozen Mencken quotes that could have been inspired by the duplicity, buffoonery and vulgarity of this year’s campaigns.
1. “The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”
2. “There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”
3. “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”
4. “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.”
5. “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.”
6. “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.”
Ed Williams retired in 2008 after 25 years as editor of The Observer’s editorial pages. He is the author of “Liberating Dixie: An Editor’s Life, from Ole Miss to Obama.”