What would Mencken say about me­dia cov­er­age of Don­ald Trump?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Dawn Mo­rais Web­ster Dawn Mo­rais Web­ster is an ad­junct fac­ulty mem­ber in the Hon­ors Pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Hawaii, Manoa. Her email is dmoraisweb­ster@gmail.com.

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.

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