“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.” — H. L. Mencken.


  1. says

    Unfortunately, no. I find myself firmly back in shock again, and wondering if I’ll be able to get out of here in 3 years.

  2. AlexanderZ says

    rq #1
    H. L. Mencken was a Nietzschean racist militarist with fascistic tendencies, so I don’t think he would have even wanted to climb out of this particular hole.

  3. says

    Mencken is long dead, his politics hardly matter. The point is the quote in particular is on point to the current situation.

  4. Saad says

    I love that quote, but many of these pictures going around are not accurate (your text part is the correct version). A while back I decided to research it a little bit because something about the “narcissistic” part didn’t feel right to me. It felt a little too applicable to Cheeto Benito. Turns out they have indeed been altered to add some words at the end.

    The quote comes from an article Mencken wrote in the Baltimore Sun in 1920 called Bayard vs Lionheart. It was later reprinted in his book On Politics. You can see the actual quote at the bottom of page 21 here.

    Here is the quote with the preceding paragraph for more context:

    The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

    The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. 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.

  5. says

    Saad, yep, I checked the quote before posting, Snopes has an entry on it, with the full text, and notes, of course, that Mencken wrote this long before the current ability of candidates to reach mass amounts of people. That’s the why the actual text is included.

  6. AlexanderZ says

    Caine #4
    The point of the quote, which is inseparable from Mencken’s ideology, was that democracy is fundamentally broken form of government. That the more you have of it the more foolish, narcissistic and moronic the elected leadership becomes.

    Think for a moment what that means in this time:
    1. You’re basically saying that Trump was democratically elected, despite the elections not being fully free due to voter suppression, and not fully lawful due to his electors not residing in their voting regions.
    2. That Trump represents the purest will of the people, despite the majority of the people voting against him.
    3. That his rise to power represents the “perfection of democracy” rather than its subversion by corporate interests through Citizens United, racist voter suppression, corrupt gerrymandering and a democratic system so archaic that almost no other modern democracy uses it.
    4. That Trump represents the will of the “plain folks of the land” when time and time again it is proven that his voter base is on average more wealthy than the median USian.

  7. rq says

    Well, it’s not just Mencken’s ideas I would like to hear, but thank you for the additional information. While the quote on its own doesn’t change relevancy, that does add a certain spin.

  8. AlexanderZ says

    Thanks, rq.

    I want to underline my problem with this quote: When democracy fails us and an asshole takes absolute power it’s very tempting to look for quotes of people who decried democracy in the first place. However, not only their “solutions” were identical to or even worse than the result of failed democracy, they were also very very wrong.
    Failures of democracies are rarely the result of a procedural failure, a type of logical conclusion to the democratic process, but rather because the democratic institutions and the democratic process were undermined to great extent.

    Whether that’s a problem integral to all democracies or that certain democratic societies are more prone to it than others is a rather large issue, and not one that many (certainly not me) could fully research.
    Regardless, the quote has it backwards -- the problem isn’t too much democracy, but too little!

Leave a Reply