Why is This Man Laughing?
‘Are Americans, Like, Stupid?’
The genius & menace of ‘Glorious Leader’
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2016 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
“Tommy, would you like to know how come I’m so goddamn rich?” asked the boss. Said I, of course, “Yes, Jack—“
Smack in the middle of nerve-jangling days at his bustling Madison Avenue agency, the late great John G. “Jack” Avrett would call me into his baronial sanctum sanctorum: a mahogany-paneled corner office with full bar, maroon leather club chairs, protective humidors for his Cuban stash, an impressive view of midtown Manhattan. Wunderkind of the New York advertising dodge from the 1950s until his death in 1997, Jack enjoyed creating interludes of philosophic calm while those beyond his closed door—save for lucky me, an apprentice of sorts—scurried about under neurotic convictions that whizbang products invented to combat bodily imperfections were as vital to humanity as polio vaccine and therefore worthy of expensive hullabaloo.
One day, Jack fired up the VCR (how I date myself) to run his favorite clip from “The Hucksters,” a 1947 motion picture spoof of the ad biz. The scene: Whippersnapper ad-man (Clark Gable) meets blustery Tycoon (Sydney Greenstreet), the owner of client firm Beautee Soap Company. At the head of a long table full of corporate sycophants, Tycoon pounds hammy fists and bellows, “Soap is just soap!” Tycoon then demands something fresh, grabby, and searingly memorable from his ad-man: a hard-sell campaign to hammer into consumers’ tiny heads the indelible notion of Beautee Soap as greater than anything God ever created in the cause of clean living. Tycoon proceeds to demonstrate what he means by memorable: he first upends a pitcher of ice water, sending the contents dribbling down the length of the table; next, he removes a set upper and lower dentures and slides them clear through the river he’s made; finally, he educates Whippersnapper with, “You have just seen me do a disgusting thing. You will never forget it.”
“—There are two kinds of people in the world,” Jack explained. “Smart people who know what smart people want, and geniuses who know what stupid people want.”
He added, “Tommy boy, do you have any idea how easy it is to sell Americans anything?”
Indeed, as the iconoclastic newspaperman and social critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) told us, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. No one has ever lost public office thereby.”
In this rambustious campaign season, I cannot help being reminded of the sensibilities of my old boss and friend Jack Avrett.
He would be horrified to see Donald J. Trump on the November ballot as the presidential nominee of his old-school Republican Party. Nevertheless, Jack would marvel at the salesmanship of a vacuous vulgarian—a faux billionaire, huckster of cheesy TV merchandise and snake-oil elixirs, and chancellor of a sham “university” currently defending itself in state and federal courts against charges of fraud. And: a man with absurd yellow hair enhanced with gold-leaf spray and micro-cylinder extensions who commandeered a once respectable political institution of mainstream conservatism—a man who would, at best, transform multicultural American democracy into a herrenvolk social order.
Consider this awful man: xenophobe, misogynist, racist, congenital liar, serial bankruptcy litigant—and war crimes enthusiast, viz. water-board torture and “much worse,” as he has sworn to institute. Torture—along with slaughtering the wives and children of men he suspects of being terrorists. Consider this darling of an American white supremacist coalition led by Andrew Anglin, publisher of a neo-Nazi website in homage to Der Stürmer, the Third Reich journal published by Bavarian anti-Semitic propagandist Jules Streicher. Herr Anglin refers to his pick for the U.S. presidency as “Glorious Leader”—à la Kim Jong-un, the North Korean despot who likewise says lovely things about Herr Trump.
“The Donald,” as the first of his three blonde wives dubbed him, is hell-bent on arousing The Stupid to become America’s nationalist strongman—a theoretical possibility. As an apostate scrivener, I prefer classifying the howling hordes that adore their Glorious Leader as “stupid” over the coy descriptive favored by corporate media—“low information.” The former term is honest, the latter a euphemism that insults the simply ignorant.
Anyhow, who needs smart people for this year’s Republican festivities? Behold the first genius candidate in U.S. presidential campaign history: Donald Trump, king of an American booboisie as originally identified by Mr. Mencken—bigoted, bible-thumping Babbitts, bubbas and bubbettes across the fruited plain. Though he knows little of consequence in the nuanced business of statecraft, Mr. Trump certainly knows his voter base. Having vanquished sixteen rivals for party nomination, he is, unquestionably, Der Führer of a new-school Republican Party—one whose éminences grises are of late seen groveling at Mr. Trump’s feet in as unashamed genuflection as that of the Glorious Leader’s benighted minions.
In following news reports of this deplorable election year—an era my grandchildren will one day study in school as a dark lesson in political indecency, whereas my generation studied the 1930s New Deal era as evidence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s noblesse oblige—I am likewise reminded of an article published in The Times of London, circa 1995. The topic was an onrushing degeneration of American English—such that millions of my countrymen might devolve (and sadly have devolved) to a quality of thought as shallow and shoddy as their speech. The headline: “Are Americans, like, Stupid?”
The British article was widely reprinted here in the U.S. and was embarrassing—to at least some of us. Perhaps Mr. Trump read the piece, and tucked it away for future consideration in the context of his incipient presidential ambitions.
In any case, today The Donald is laughing.
…Dear friends and colleagues abroad: Be assured, those of us Americans who remain relatively sane view the Glorious Leader and his Republican flunkies and fawners in a frame of mind best articulated in a German abjuration brought to my attention by the estimable Zöe Beck; a word requiring no translation to English or any other tongue—stinksauer.
During the merry month of May alone, here is some of what Republican voters accomplished in sending their party’s nincompoops to public office:
- The Alaskan ditz and (naturally) 2008 Republican candidate for vice-president Sarah Palin christened Mr. Trump the “golden wrecking ball” during a California address to her admirers. Ms. Palin said her man Trump was certain to gain overwhelming global respect for the U.S. should he take her advice on a foreign policy theme. The Palin doctrine, as she defined it: “You mess with our freedom, we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.”
- Television evangelist Mark Burns, of the Harvest Praise & Worship Center of South Carolina, is convinced that the Golden Wrecking Ball’s habit of emphasizing speeches by raising his rather short index finger upright is a secret fraternal signal to Christianists. “You see athletes do it all the time—point to the sky to thank God for their success,” said the pastor in a recent broadcast. “Trump does this all the time, too. Even with Mr. Trump’s billions of dollars, he submits himself to God.”
- Addressing colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas worried that a colonized distant planet, the necessary result of what he sees as an “imminent” asteroid collision that destroys Earth, probably should not include homosexuals. “You’re wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah,” he explained. “How many same-sex couples would you take from [the human species] to put on a spacecraft to perpetuate humanity?”
- Nevada State Assemblywoman Michele Fiore sells calendars with busty photos of herself, posed with guns, to raise money for her campaign to join Mr. Gohmert in Congress. In a radio interview, she employed a collective reference for Syrian refugees, endorsing their extermination. “I am not OK with terrorists,” she said. “I’m OK with putting them out—just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and end their miserable lives. I’m good with that. I’m about to fly [to Europe] and shoot ‘em in the head myself.”
The foregoing is no shortlist of anomalies. The Republicans cited, and the rank-and-file responsible for their election, are typical of what Jack Avrett’s old-school party has sadly become—the losing side of a cynical bargain with The Stupid, struck during the Nixon era “southern strategy” of whipping up the demented passions of white racists. The basic deal: Republican grandees will feign respect for the prejudices and resentments of The Stupid and put forth candidates accordingly; in exchange, The Stupid will accordingly flock to the party like red necks to white socks. Nobody stopped to think how The Stupid might sideline party leadership. Nobody but Donald Trump.
One needs look no further than Piyush “Bobby” Jindal to document the establishment Republican surrender. Mr. Jindal, the former Republican governor of Louisiana and one of The Donald’s rivals for the party’s presidential nomination, made a fiery speech in January 2013, chastising his comrades after the party lost the White House to a black man—for the second time. “We must stop being the stupid party,” said Mr. Jindal during the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We have had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments.”
Briefly, the Mr. Jindal’s confrères listened. Then came June of 2015 and The Donald’s announcement that, at long last, he would campaign for the presidency—as the champion of an aggrieved booboisie, the very people Mr. Jindal forswore. The Glorious Leader’s announcement was made in the garish lobby of his eponymous Trump Tower, the shiny chrome and steel monstrosity on Manhattan’s swanky Fifth Avenue. Ever the snake-oil showman, Mr. Trump employed out-of-work actors to impersonate a cheering audience. And ever the lying impresario of American bigotry, he fixated on one of The Stupid’s favorite fantasies: Mexican “drug dealers” and “rapists”—and “some, I assume, are good people”—pouring across the Rio Grande, determined to take over El Norte. (In point of fact, Mexican émigrés in the U.S. have substantially reversed course. More than half have returned to their home country since 2008 according to census tracking by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.)
The genius of Donald Trump was out of the bottle. The Glorious Leader is not known to be a great reader, but he surely scanned the following statistics about the mindset and worldview of self-identified Republicans, released last year by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina:
- Forty-nine percent do not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and thirteen percent are not sure about it;
- Sixty-six percent believe climate change is either unreal or a hoax, ten percent are not sure;
- Fifty-seven percent believe that Christianity should be established by law as the official American religion—never mind that the nation’s founders established a revolutionary separation of church and state; never mind that Thomas Jefferson, author of the U.S. Constitution, once declared, “Question, with boldness, even the existence of God”—and another thirteen percent are not sure.
On June 2nd, Hillary Clinton—The Donald’s counterpart as presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party—delivered a stunning speech in San Diego, though she is hardly famous for being a stunner of a candidate. The ammunition for her attack on Mr. Trump was the Glorious Leader’s own pronouncements—at turns every bit as foolish, contradictory, bellicose, and ignorant as Sarah Palin’s mindless word salads. One Clinton line in particular did what none of Mr. Trump’s competitors for Republican nomination could do: As one political pundit expressed it, she “unmanned” him.
“Donald Trump is dangerously incoherent,” said Ms. Clinton.
So, too, are The Stupid—the millions who will vote for Mr. Trump this November, regardless of his odious utterances; the millions who will remain with us should their Glorious Leader become what in his mind is the un-manliest creature of all—a “yooge loser,” as he routinely labels those he perceives as inferior to his own magnificence.
Adam Gopnik, erudite staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, has written of the menace suggested by Ms. Clinton. In a splendidly frightening essay, Mr. Gopnik described the Trumpian seduction of the Republican Party’s craven establishment. And worse, participation by media and the greater public in “a process by which the gross becomes the taken-for-granted.” From the essay:
One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before…[who] were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar are suddenly getting on board. …One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States…He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of non-combatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition.
He’s not Hitler, as his wife recently said? Well, of course he isn’t. But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was.
…The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power.
Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right. Not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos of Lenins—or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. …The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile, and their ability to resist a dictator that weak.
In composing his essay, Mr. Gopnik drew on schoolboy days when he and millions more (myself included) were made to memorize cautionary verses from the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744):
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated, needs to be seen.
Yet seen too oft, familiar with [his] face
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
Fools! who from hence into the notion fall
That vice or virtue there is none at all.
Is there no black or white?
Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain.
‘Tis to mistake them, costs time and pain.
Unfortunately, any hope that The Donald might remember something of his own writing—something of at least one instance of his expressing comme il faut humility—is impossible, for the Glorious Leader is crippled by a firm belief in his glory. But we do have record of his better angels, if only one. In a 1985 letter to the late Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (1926-2012), then publisher of the New York Times, Mr. Trump admitted, “I am nothing more than a frustrated writer of little talent.”
Shades of a frustrated Austrian painter of little talent?
We have seen and heard Donald Trump do many disgusting things. We must never forget them.
Thomas Adcock is the America correspondent for CulturMag