What would Mencken say about media coverage of Donald Trump?
In recent times some journalists, belatedly stricken by their role in the rise of the creature they helped elevate in the public imagination, have spent energy wrestling with the faux moral dilemma of whether it was OK to call Donald Trump a liar when he is clearly lying. He stands unembarrassed in the face of being convicted by his own words, yet the media have long tiptoed around him as if he is to be taken seriously.
Media would not cover the deranged man who stands on the street corner proclaiming that the end of the world is imminent. Yet Donald Trump has received billions in free media coverage for doing the equivalent. His lies, his racist taunts, his continued disrespect toward the first African-American president and his manipulation of “the less educated voters” he professes to love are treated by the media with less seriousness that one would give to the nasty, misbehaving child he approximates.
He has internalized and profited from the insight articulated by a more astute media voice than any we have today: H.L. Mencken.
Mencken said: “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”
He might just as well have been describing exactly what Mr. Trump did and continues to do with the birther racism — yes, racism, not just “nonsense” — that fueled his omnipresence in the media. In this he had the support of the great masses, and over-the-top coverage from a timid and compliant media, along with the silence of Republican leaders.
Why today are we heralding Mr. Trump’s concession that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. instead of pillorying him for embarking on that deplorable white supremacist journey of asking for the president’s papers?
There was such shock at Hillary Clinton’s description of the “basket of deplorables.” Yes, her turn of phrase and tone were regrettable. But her observations were spot on. How else does one explain the closeness in the polls suggesting millions of Americans would have no trouble voting in as president of the United States a man who parades his ignorance, his racism, his misogyny, his dishonesty and acumen for cutting a deal that benefits him and hurts others?
H. L. Mencken said of his own work analyzing both literature and political polemic: “I am strong in favor of liberty, and I hate fraud.”
In the name of both liberty and integrity and at the very least in honor of one of your own, journalists need to address more forcefully the assault on American values that is Donald Trump.
I, a new American from Malaysia, along with millions of people around the world, desperately need to see an affirmation of the capacity of the fourth estate to speak truth to self-serving demagoguery.
If Mencken were with us today, he would have good reason to observe, as he did in his own time, that “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.”
The recent pictures of Mr. Trump surrounded by veterans and several winners of the Medal of Honor as he belatedly acknowledged President Obama’s birth, suggest that he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He has even hoodwinked some of those charged with protecting us from real enemies into believing in his hobgoblins — and worse into trusting this thin-skinned draft-dodger to lead them in battle. This is the man who would start a war and blow perceived enemies out of the water if they so much as gave Americans the finger.
Is it any wonder that Mencken also predicted that “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?”
The media could do a far better job of saving us from ourselves — and from Mr. Trump.