H.L. Mencken had it wrong when he wrote in 1920:
“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. 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.”
Donald Trump is no moron, contrary to the alleged quote attributed to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson whom the current president both hired and fired.
Trump may be accurately called a narcissist with a self-centered need for admiration and adoration. His disregard of the truth is so prevalent that he frequently contradicts himself from one tweet to another. His moral compass may not pass a strict biblical test, although that doesn’t seem to hurt his popularity with many Christians.
But he isn’t a moron.
Neither was any other president in this country’s history, and I don’t expect any in the future to be so mentally challenged.
But Mencken’s somewhat jaded view of democracy is worth noting in an era of voting rights for every adult citizen above 18 with the exception of some people convicted of certain felonies, and there are movements afoot to allow them to vote. There also are suggestions by some that the voting age be lowered to 16.
Mencken (1880-1956), a Baltimore journalist, satirist and cultural critic, generally took a dim view of democracy and politics. Another one of his quotes:
“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.”
That assessment may be more attuned to today’s political environment than the moron reference.
Our current politicians, with some exceptions, aren’t mentally deficient. The successful ones are smart enough to figure out what it takes to get elected and to stay in office.
These days that involves raising money from special interest groups and too often playing to the fears and prejudices of voters.
Some do stupid things that get them in trouble, not because of a lack of intelligence but due to character flaws and what they call “bad decisions.”
I suspect the average politician probably is reflective of the average voter. So, upgrading the intelligence of the average voter would improve the quality of elected officials.
Back in Mencken’s heyday, when he viewed the dangers of too much democracy, there was less of it than there is now.
Nationwide women’s suffrage came to pass in 1920, the same year Mencken wrote the moron piece. Eighteen-year-olds got the right to vote in 1971.
There was a time, in the early history of this country, when men had to own property in order to vote in most states, and literacy tests, usually administered unfairly, were applied in the South to disenfranchise African-Americans up until the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
I’m of the age where I had to take the literacy test to vote when I turned 21 as a resident of Forrest County. All I had to do was copy a few lines of the Mississippi Constitution. No interpretation necessary. I was free, white, 21 and eligible to vote.
That same circuit clerk’s office, though, was failing African-Americans, some with college degrees, because they couldn’t pass muster with the clerk administering the tests.
Too bad literacy tests were so abused that they were outlawed, never to be reinstated.
But fairly requiring a person to be able to read and write in order to vote surely wouldn’t damage the country; it might even improve it.
After most elections, especially at local levels, editorial writers bemoan the low turnout of registered voters. I’ve written those myself on occasion.
But at some point I came to the conclusion that if some people are so uninformed or so disinterested in voting, why worry about it. Maybe we’re just as well off that they don’t vote.
A bigger danger are the misinformed who do vote.