HL Mencken on the Impeachment of Donald J Trump


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A  couple of days after the 2016 election, I posted on Facebook this bit of prophecy from HL Mencken, the acerbic early 20th Century journalist who covered Scopes trial for the Baltimore Sun:

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.

Since “brevity is the soul of wit,” as long-winded Polonius put it in Hamlet, I’ll choose only three pebbles from mountainous evidence of Trump’s moronosity™ to underscore my claim:

  1. Trump speaks on a 4th grade level according to the Flesch-Kincaid scale.[1]
  2. Trump thinks an American invented the wheel.

“Well, you have to give [Elon Musk] credit,” the president said. “He’s also doing the rockets. He likes rockets, and he does good at rockets[2] too, by the way.”

Expressing awe over the fact that Musk’s rockets don’t have wings, Trump explained that the United States needs to “protect our geniuses” like Musk.

“We have to protect Thomas Edison—we have to protect all of these people that came up with originally the light bulb, and the wheel, and all of these things, and he’s one of our very smart people,” Trump added. “We want to cherish those people. That’s very important. He’s done a very good job.”

via The Daily Beast

  1. (On Puerto Rico) “This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”


What brought Mencken and the Scopes Trial to mind is the so-called witness-free, evidence-free impeachment trial that is rumbling on as I type.

(By the way, the comportment of the senators — their stunted attention spans that have them reading books, fleeing the chamber, snoozing, and staring zombie-like at their Fidget Spinners — makes them ideal representatives of “the inner soul of the people.”  Furthermore, I would add that most first-year teachers have better control of their study halls than Chief Justice Roberts has over the “jurors” of the chamber.)

Anyway, I just read Mencken’s account of the Scopes’ trial and noted several similarities between that travesty and the current one transpiring in the Senate.[3]

First, the ultimate outcome in both trials was predetermined because of the prejudice of the jurors, who could not and will not be dissuaded no matter how compelling the evidence. Mencken noted “[it] was obvious after a few rounds that the jury would be unanimously hot for Genesis. The most that Mr. Darrow could hope for was to sneak in a few bold enough to declare publicly that they would have to hear the evidence against Scopes before condemning him.”  We can liken “the few bold enough to declare publicly that they would have to hear the evidence” to Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, but at this point, despite the Bolton revelations, it’s not certain that any other Republican Senator will join them.

Another similarity in the two trials is that wide gulf separating the quality of the House Managers’ case and the ineptitude and mendacity of Trump’s lawyers – and the deaf ears that both Clarence Darrow and Adam Schiff addressed.

Mencken: “The net effect of Clarence Darrow’s great speech yesterday seems to be preciously the same as if he had bawled it up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan [. . .] The clangtint[4] of it was as important as the logic. It rose like a wind and ended like a flourish of bugles. The very judge on the bench, toward the end of it, began to look uneasy. But the morons in the audience, when it was over, simply hissed it.”

The same goes with Schiff’s performance.  While Republican Senator James M. Inhofe was not moved enough to change his predetermined vote for acquittal, he did admit that “Schiff is very, very effective.”  Senator Inhofe’s was a minority opinion, however.  “I don’t trust Adam Schiff,” Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin,” shot back [NY Times].

More typical was Tucker Carlson who mocked Schiff as a “wild-eyed conspiracy nut” as Fox’s TV monitors proclaimed, “Amateur Thespian Schiff Tries Out Some New Lines.”

Of course, many of Trump supporters, (64% of whom aren’t college graduates, compared to 28% non-graduates for Hillary Clinton) share with the gallery of the Scopes trial, not only an animus to science, but also substandard critical thinking skills. As Mencken pointed out in another context, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  What is more galling, however, is the contempt  many of the senators have for their own constituents, complaining that there’s no new evidence in the trial when they voted ten times to block evidence and witnesses.

Of course, after the Bolton revelations, there’s an outside chance he might testify, but I wouldn’t bet even a beer on it. I would, though, wager my house that, no matter what, the Senate will not remove Trump from office, or censure him for that matter.  I am confident, however, that the truth will come to light eventually, and if I were Lamar Alexander, say, at the end of my term and nearing the end of my life, I’d consider my place in history.

As Mencken said of Williams Jennings Bryan– which certainly applies to Lindsey Graham as well  – “It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.”

[1] The analysis assessed the first 30,000 words each president spoke in office and ranked them on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and more than two dozen other common tests analyzing English-language difficulty levels. Trump clocked in around mid-fourth grade, the worst since Harry Truman, who spoke at nearly a sixth-grade level.

[2] Does the statement, “He does good at rockets” actually rise to the 4th grade level?

[3] Of course, the Scopes trial, also known as “the Scopes Monkey Trial, which took place in July of 1925, prosecuted John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution to Tennessee public school students.  The prosecution, led by William Jennings Bryan, prevailed over the defense, led by Clarence Darrow.

[4] The quality of a complex sound, timbre

3 thoughts on “HL Mencken on the Impeachment of Donald J Trump

  1. Moronosity™ abounds in US politics and government today. The Democrat(ic) Party is the best representation. Due to their “substandard critical thinking skills” they have failed to select a candidate or come up with a strategy to beat probably the worst President of all time. The smug liberal elitists and their media puppets are causing us to have to suffer through another four years of the orange clown.

    Prime example:


    Nice work boneheads…

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