A lofty ideal

Like many people around the world, I’ve seen photographs — lots and lots of photographs — of Saturday’s marches; I was watching. So was the new Liar-in-Chief. Said he:

He was right, of course; we did just have an election, but I’m guessing that most of the people in the US marches did indeed vote; in fact, 65,844,610 Americans voted for his opponent, 2,864,974 more than voted for him (one of those un-alternative facts that neither he, his lackeys, nor his supporters have yet acknowledged). If it weren’t for the baffling Electoral College system in these 50 states, he’d be stewing at Mar-a-Lago today. And he’s right about celebrities too, as he should know — he is one.

A number of rationales have been put forward to justify the continued existence of the Electoral College, none of them convincing. The original theory for the College was that an East Coast elite would be prevented from saddling the nation with a President unsympathetic to the yeo-men and -women of this great land; now that the White House can advertise itself as a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, however, this seems a flawed proposition at best. But that’s not all. “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” Founding-father-du-jour Alexander Hamilton wrote in support of the Electoral College in No. 68 of the Federalist Papers. “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.” That it has turned around and bitten us in the ass we can assign, once again, to the omnipotent Law of Unintended Consequences.

Reichsmarschalls Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway spent the weekend propping up their Führer‘s fragile ego, and those of his footsoldiers, with smoke, mirrors, and lies, and it’s likely that they’ll go on doing so. Which means it is not what happened on Saturday that will be important (as impressive as it was), but what happens today and through the next few years, once the adrenaline has drained from the body politic. The below comment has been making the rounds of social media, and it’s laudable, but I’m not sure that it will be entirely enough:

Remember this date: November 6, 2018. That’s the date on which 33 senate seats, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 14 governorship’s will be up for re-election. Put it on your calendar now and be prepared to be an informed voter. If you are worried, concerned, angry, disappointed about the direction the government is going this is the most effective way to make a change, stop complaining and start planning. Remember the president is only one cog in the government machine, and you can make effective change through voting for your local and state representatives, this is the check that can balance this situation.

Well, the last election proves that sometimes voting isn’t sufficient. Most worrisome is that there are few Democratic or even independent politicos who seem to be able to grab the attention of the electorate. Bernie Sanders was as much a demagogue as the Orange One, though more intelligent; few are able to engage the attention and affection of the progressive or even moderate left, which is in even more of a shambles than the Democratic Party.

Another option, on the other end of the spectrum, is to follow the lead of Trump supporters and do nothing — to wait and see, to allow the leader to lead, to give him a chance to prove himself, grow in the office, and unify the nation. This is just nonsense. If his inauguration speech didn’t make this impossible with its references to carnage and violence (it’s certainly the most bloodthirsty speech appealing for unity I’ve heard in years), there was his entire campaign, which he launched on July 16, 2015 — nearly a year and a half in which to convince me he was fit for the office, and with every day and his every utterance I became more and more convinced of just the opposite. Stick a fork in it; it’s done.

While there must be more than laughter, there must be laughter — at Trump, at his minions (who are public officials, after all), at the grotesqueries of gullibility and stupidity in American culture that led us to the pass in the first place. First, a sense of humor is a sign of sanity (and Trump seems to have absolutely nothing of either). Second, lampoon, ridicule, and satire have been an essential part of American political life ever since Benjamin Franklin first inked up his press in Philadelphia — hell, it’s patriotic to make fun of your leaders. As that ur-American Mark Twain once wrote, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” If true facts won’t shame Trump supporters into silence, maybe ridicule can.

It may of course be a losing battle; but to go down laughing is a victory too, and a damn sight better than going down in tears. If you believe in freedom and liberty at all, for all, there’ll be plenty to laugh at in the next four years. The odds may be against us, but when H.L. Mencken can put it like this, there’s always hope for light:

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily 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.

2 thoughts on “A lofty ideal”

  1. “Most worrisome is that there are few Democratic or even independent politicos who seem to be able to grab the attention of the electorate.” I keep asking myself when these politicians will drop the old playbook of hammering home 3 points with a vocabulary of 20 words for 2 years until your head is about to explode (see Bernie). Not doing that is what got orange boy the attention. They tend to act like they’re literally still on a stump and like TV doesn’t exist.

  2. True, that. Those who blame a certain urban elitism for the results of the election have a point. Not, as I point out, that rich, white, and male Morgan Stanley and real-estate moguls don’t represent an elite as well. But their spin has proven more effective. Changing that rhetoric may prove to be as difficult as moving a skyscraper a few feet to the right.

Comments are closed.