Mencken Didn’t Go Far Enough

A quotation by H.L. Mencken has been a recurring favorite on my Facebook feed since 2016. Famously curmudgeonly (is that a word?), Mencken wrote 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 Trump Administration has fulfilled Mencken’s prophecy, but his prediction arguably didn’t go far enough. Those “plain folks” who elevated the “downright moron” have also saddled the other branches of government with a wide assortment of defective/dishonest incompetents.

There’s a tried-and-true assortment of ignorant racists in Congress. There’s Louie Gohmert, perfectly described by Charles Pierce as “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Steve King finally lost his seat, but Jim Jordan is still there. And of course, there’s Devin Nunes, who memorably sued a cow...There’s no dearth of candidates for the dubious honor of “dimmest lawmaker.”

The Washington Post recently ran a column by Dana Milbank that should have embarrassed newly elected Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. However, Tuberville and those who voted for him appear immune to embarrassment, since the emotion requires recognition of what constitutes an embarrassing defect.

Tuberville — or “Tubs,” from his college football coaching days — is the Republican senator-elect from Alabama, and he’s proposing to object to the election results in the Senate on Jan. 6. Trump exulted: “Great senator.

Problem is, Tubs, if he were a Democrat, is what Trump might call a “low-IQ individual.” In their wisdom, the voters of Alabama chose to replace Democrat Doug Jones, who prosecuted the Birmingham church bombing, with a man who recently announced his discovery that there are “three branches of government,” namely, “the House, the Senate and the executive.”
He further informed the newspaper that “in 2000 Al Gore was president, United States, president-elect, for 30 days.” (Actual number of days Gore spent as president-elect: zero.)

Evidently, “Tubs” was able to avoid debates and interviews during the campaign. He did, however, issue a few statements transmitting a variety of his less-than-well-founded beliefs. When asked about his denial of climate change, he explained that “only God can change climate.” In response to a question about the opiod epidemic, he responded that “it isn’t just opioids, it’s also heroin.”

There’s more:

On health care: “We don’t have the answer until we go back to open up being a capitalistic health-care system where we have more than one insurance company.” (There are 952 health insurers in the United States.)

On education: “We’ve taken God out of the schools and we’ve replaced the schools with metal detectors.”

 Tubs has declared his desire to serve on the Senate “banking finance” committee, apparently unaware that banking and finance are separate committees — and that he is ineligible to serve on banking because Alabama’s senior Republican senator already does.

Milbank characterized Tuberville’s Senate campaign as “a magical voyage of discovery.” Tuberville had been unaware of a little Senate prerogative called “advice and consent,” or the existence and purpose of the Voting Rights Act–despite its centrality to years of public debate. 

As Milbank notes, as long as there are mental giants like Tuberville, “Trumpism will remain.” Trumpism, in this iteration, contains equal amounts of ignorance and venality; 
 when his business partner in a hedge fund pled guilty to fraud, Tuberville claimed he didn’t know anything. (Given his general performance, the assertion was convincing.) He also set up a foundation purportedly to help veterans, but veterans got only a third of the money raised.

As a candidate, Tubs offered exotic views on why rural hospitals closed (“because we don’t have Internet”), on impeachment (“I’ve been trying to keep up with it but it’s so hard”) and on constitutional democracy (“We’d probably get more done with just the president running this country. So let the Democrats go home”).

Alabama voters–who twice made Roy Moore the Chief Justice of their state Supreme Court– evidently epitomize the “plain folks” of Mencken’s observation.

Actually, it may be time to amend that Mencken prediction. It should read “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and they will be governed  almost entirely by morons.”


  1. Was Mencken being kind when he used the term “plain” rather than the more fitting term “ignorant”?

    The referral to those in Congress as “ignorant racists” is redundant; and those who repeatedly elect to keep them in office include a few who just appear ignorant. In recent years this country has elected two known dead candidates to office. One was a well known brothel owner in Nevada whose death was widely publicized due to the popularity of his brothel. I have forgotten the second electee.

    Ah, Louie Gohmert; those who keep electing him need to be identified publicly and watched closely for other signs of mental incompetence. My favorite Louie quote was when he announced his reason for not joining the crowd of presidential nominee wannabes in 2015; “I will not run for the presidency because the Kennedy/Nixon debates forever changed America’s view of the presidency. They will never again elect a bald president.” Does this help explain Trump’s nomination was at lease in part due to his great wave of bright yellow hair?

    Someone please refresh my memory of why Devin Nunes sued that cow and what was the outcome of that suit?

  2. Well, Tuberville is the natural result of decades of pandering the dumbest among us by the Republican party. They’ve never really intended to govern, so putting up another whore to big money is just another day’s work for this collection of truly fascist and fundamentally corrupt political operatives.

    We have a Republic – so far – but Republicans at every level are doing their best to turn our government and our nation into one run by the money people. So, Happy New Year to the spawns of Satan, the Koch brothers and the sea of demons they’ve put on Earth to destroy the best experiment in democratic governance. The Kochs aren’t alone, of course, but they funded this orgy of idiocy, and now the results are upon us.

    Could Karl Marx have seen this coming when he wrote “Das Kapital”?

  3. On account of the fact I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the profoundly ignorant things these folks have said or think (likely cry), I’m just going to commit the line about Caligula’s horse to memory and call it a day. That’s some good humor right there.

  4. You can’t make this stuff up .
    JoAnn Green , I humbly suggest one more word to add to “plain” and “ignorant “ , and that word is “ base”.

  5. If I may, I’d like to take umbrage at Mr. Pierce’s comment about Representative Gohmert, as I believe it does a great disservice to Caligula’s horse.

  6. Tuberville was a college football coach, so everyone in Alabama knew of him and and liked him. How could anyone who spoke English at above the third grade level ever hope to defeat him in an election.

  7. Sheila – fact check – Steve King was the less than bright Congressman; Stephen King is a respected writer.

    Speaking of 3rd grade (math, in this case)…politics of all stripes attracts such attainment. In this case, we are talking about the arch “Progressive” DEMS Colonel Sanders holding up the Senate to pass the extra stimulus passed by the House under which a family of five would get at least some stimulus money if they earned up to $350,000. Haven’t you run into those folks as they get evicted and line up at the food bank. Sheer…..hypocrisy.

  8. Has the Tea Party lost their sugar to Banana Republicans? Get ready for drama, January 6th.

  9. Tuberville, King, Gohmert, Cotton, Gaetz, DeSantis, Kemp, McConnell, McCarthy, Nunes, Collins, Lee, and so many others show how short the Republican bench is for statesman. Did I mention the lovely and charming Lindsey Graham? Texas Republican morons are too many to list here, but they have the same moral vacancy as virtually every Republican in Congress or state governments. And who can forget the steely-eyed idiot and Putin lapdog, Ron Johnson, or the lip-strumming of Rand Paul?

    And if you’re white and live in one the states these intellectually bankrupt whores of big business reside, you’re sayin’ “Well, at least they ain’t Democrats.” Yep. That’s the extent of Republican logic.

    Is it any wonder that Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and Tim Miller bolted to retain at least a small segment of what’s left for brains among conservatives. Today’s Republicans are NOT conservative. There is no there, there. They are just tools of the power brokers behind the scenes pulling happily on their strings.

    And they came so cheaply… They were good business decisions by the wealthy: High return on a very small investment. Democracy for sale. And the Republicans lined up at the trough.

  10. My hypothesis is that Republicans have gone the way of many businesses in finding that it’s easier and cheaper to sell whatever you have by advertising than to develop better.

  11. The Republican oligarchs got what they wanted: an education system that performs like a factory for producing worker bees who have no capacity for critical thinking. If they could get away with allowing them to check out in fifth grade, they would do it.

    The most evil phrase in the American lexicon is, “It’s only business.” It gives them permission to commit all kinds of horrors. Including buying politicians, refusing health, and cutting off people in need.

  12. Perhaps Alabama was a state where the “one political party” found out how to “rig” elections which they then accused the “others party” of doing. Do all the citizens of Alabama have their votes counted? We do not know.

    Political parties have used certain states as testing sites for many varieties of political maneuvering over time. Kinda like clinical trials in the medical field. Anyone from Indiana should know this first hand.

    May the New Year bring all more interesting times……as well as allowing all to find peace in and with what is.

  13. What is scary is that Gohmert is an attorney and was a Texas judge, even briefly serving as an appellate judge. He is dumber than a box of rocks. But it’s hard to make a list of dumb Republicans in the house and leave off the list Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. Sadly, also an attorney.

    Oh, and let’s not forget Paul Gosar of Arizona, who is a dentist. Dumb.

    I think Jordan and Nunes are smarter than those three. They are just two incredibly dishonest, immoral individuals. They know what they’re doing. Gohmert, Gaetz and Gosar I’m not so sure about.

    You left off what I thought was most telling about Sen. Tuberville. He thinks the three branches of government is the House, Senate and executive.

  14. Tubs may be the iconic spokesman for the 50% of Americans who are convinced that QAnon – purveyor of inane filth in the form of conspiracy theories – is seen as on the right track. How did we get to this point with so many knowing so little about so much?

    There is a peculiar thought system that rules much of the world. It is called “religion”. Religion holds that virtue arises from believing what you are told in the complete absence of evidence. Believers call that attitude “faith”, and the more of it you possess the more righteous you are seen to be by millions of members of a mutual admiration society called “believers”. Such a widely accepted weltanschaung is bound to affect other aspects of life – it’s much easier to believe what Hannity or your neighbor or QAnon or your Senator tells you than to find out for yourself. If you have a book in which everything you believe is codified, that makes it even simpler. But if you think you will go to Hell for not accepting the scribbled writings of primitive men recently emerged from caves, that is the clincher.

    Mencken (a hero to almost every native-born Marylander) also observed 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.” And there is no denying that since 1994, the beginning of the Gingrich era, the politicians have done a more than competent job of meeting this goal.

    I don’t doubt the determination of Biden and Harris to obliterate the consequences of our long national nightmare called “The Trump Administration.” However, given the large numbers of QAnoners, anti-vaxers, anti-democracy kooks, racists, evangelists, McConnell lovers, gun worshipers, militias, good old boys, domestic terrorists, anti-government anarchists, the willfully ignorant, Trumpists, and far right wing conservatives whose philosophy is “I got mine, what’s wrong with you?”, and the assistance they will get from Putin and Xi, I will keep my expectations low and hope for the best.

  15. Voters in Alabama are apparently not exposed to civics but are exposed to Fox, preachers, and the glory of the Crimson Tide. All of them Yankees is elitist socialists – yesiree- so let’s all vote for good ol’ Tub. As thus stated and to be as charitable as possible, I suppose the coach can be said to be truly representative of their interests. They have much in common.

    Trouble is, their interests and those of Piketty, Silicon Valley and the rest of us whose neurons are still firing are eons apart. To coin a phrase, you can’t abolish stupidity, but you can teach it, both by osmosis and with the help of those who profit by its spread. (See Fox, Koch, ALEC, racism etc.)

    To do: Keep on keepin’ on agitating for the common good with the tools such as Keynes and Locke have provided us in the hope that Jones will somehow win in a recount (since questioning electoral results are big these days – even if one loses by over seven million votes) – or perhaps serving as the nation’s AG (which would amount to an unexpected blessing if his investigation of the vote in Kentucky prompted an indictment of Mitch, say). Far out thinking? No further out than a pending suit which asks the court to declare that Pence may choose a president. Duh. . .

  16. Well Rosemary; hope he didn’t file these law suits on “company time” and has used our tax dollars to pay legal fees. Thanks for posting this site; he makes Indiana members of Congress appear almost intelligent in comparison.

  17. “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
    – Mark Twain, a Biography

  18. To Sheila Kennedy’s blog today……I’m happy to read your inclusion of H.L. Mencken ( and a personal hero of mine )….and I particularly like your other reader’s inputs ….. There is no shortage of self-serving, idiot jackasses in our congress….not to mention the moron-in-the-oval office……most are unspeakable self serving morons in congress….and those must be voted out….to effect a needed improvement in our congress.

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