There’s nothing like another round of elections in the U.S. to rekindle one’s nostalgia for the rough wisdom of Henry Louis Mencken.
Last night, after reading The New Republic’s “Year of the Nutjob,” which would be funny if it weren’t so appalling, I pulled a copy of Mencken’s Prejudices from the shelf and opened it to a random page. I long ago learned that this exercise—and it really doesn’t matter which Mencken collection you choose—virtually never fails to provide both uncannily up-to-date perspective and a queasy reminder of how little has changed in American politics in the last ninety or so years.
There are, of course, a lot of Mad Hatters at our current national Tea Party, but The New Republic spotlights nine especially brain-boggling candidates (including Minnesota’s own procreative gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer) for the Maddest Hatter crown.
As you peruse that scary bit of business, I’d encourage you to keep in mind these random observations on “the normal Americano” from Mencken’s 1922 essay “On Being An American”:
The mob-man cannot grasp ideas in their native nakedness. They must be dramatized and personalized for him, and provided with either white wings or forked tails.
He is a violent nationalist and a patriot, but he admires rogues in office and always beats the tax collector if he can.
He is intensely and cocksurely moral, but his morality and his self-interest are virtually identical.
He is violently jealous of what he conceives to be his rights, but brutally disregardful of the other fellow’s.
All of which can be boiled down to this: that the United States is essentially a commonwealth of third-rate men.
Extra credit: Here’s a typically strange, rambling portrait of Tom Emmer from The Awl.