by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The great American humorists have something in common: hatred.
H. L. Mencken and Mark Twain both could be uproariously funny and charming — and Twain could be tender from time to time, though Mencken could not or would not — but at the bottom of each man’s deep well of humor was a brackish and sour reserve of hatred, for this country, for its institutions, and for its people. Neither man could forgive Americans for being provincial, backward, bigoted, anti-intellectual, floridly religious, or for any of the other real or imagined defects located in the American character. …
… The debunking mentality is prevalent in both men’s writing, a genuine fervor to knock the United States and its people down a peg or two. For Twain, America was slavery and the oppression of African Americans. For Mencken, the representative American experience was the Scopes trial, with its greasy Christian fundamentalists and arguments designed to appeal to the “prehensile moron,” his description of the typical American farmer. The debunking mind is typical of the American Left, which feels itself compelled to rewrite every episode in history in such a way as to put black hats on the heads of any and all American heroes: Jefferson? Slave-owning rapist. Lincoln? Not really all that enlightened on race. Saving the world from the Nazis? Sure, but what about the internment of the Japanese? Etc. “It was wonderful to find America,” Twain wrote. “But it would have been more wonderful to miss it.” …
… A nation needs its Twains and Menckens. (We could have got by without Molly Ivins.) The excrement and sentimentality piles up high and thick in a democratic society, and it’s sometimes easier to burn it away rather than try to shovel it. But they are only counterpoints: They cannot be the leading voice, or the dominant spirit of the age. That is because this is a republic, and in a republic, a politics based on one half of the population hating the other half is a politics that loses even if it wins. The same holds true for one that relies on half of us seeing the other half as useless, wicked, moronic, deluded, or “prehensile morons.” (I know, I know, and you can save your keystrokes: I myself am not running for office.) If you happen to be Mark Twain, that sort of thing is good for a laugh, and maybe for more than a laugh. But it isn’t enough. “We must not be enemies,” President Lincoln declared, and he saw the republic through a good deal worse than weak GDP growth and the sack of a Libyan consulate.
The better angels of our nature have not deserted us. It is closer to the truth that we have failed them, and the impossible situation of 2016 — a choice between two kinds of corrupt, self-serving megalomaniacs — is only the lesion that denotes a deeper infection. There is no national vice-principal’s office or confessional into which we can drag ourselves and shame-facedly admit that we messed up, say that we’re very sorry, and promise to do better next time. But we must nonetheless admit that we messed up, say that we’re very sorry, and promise to do better next time. And there will be a next time, irrespective of the hysterical ninnies who insist that if this election does not go their way, then this is the end of the nation.