Saturday, October 27, 2012

Quote of the Day (Ralph Waldo Emerson, on the ‘Imbecility of Men’)

“The imbecility of men is always inviting the impudence of power. It is the delight of vulgar talent to dazzle and to blind the beholder.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uses of Great Men,” in Representative Men (1850)

The “imbecility of men” castigated by Emerson is still in evidence in 2012—only it doesn’t reside in officeholders so much as in the electorate. It’s not that government officials don’t say the most idiotic things—it’s that so much of it is for public consumption, in the belief (mistaken or not) that quite a lot of people will buy what they’re selling.

The voting public’s massive gullibility may have manifested itself nowhere so much as in the intrusion of Donald Trump into this Presidential campaign. Nobody has ever associated Trump with the word “talent,” but “impudence” and “vulgar”? It’s practically part of his brand. (Indeed, the late lamented Spy Magazine referred to him so much as a "short-fingered vulgarian" that for awhile, I thought it was part of his name.)

Trump’s recent forays into politics started with his flirtation with running for our nation’s highest office, proceeded to his loud push for Barack Obama to release his birth certificate, and now has reached yet another low with his statement that the incumbent is “the least transparent president in the history of this country.” If the President would only release his college and passport records—along with the proper paperwork, and before Election Day, of course—Trump is prepared to write a $5 million check to a charity of the President’s choosing.

The Today Show’s Matt Lauer, chuckling, calls Trump a “provocateur.” Trump protests that he’s a “smart businessman” worth $8 billion. Barbara Walters clucks that he is making a fool of himself.

All of them are wrong. Trump is neither a provocateur nor a fool. He is a modern-day P.T. Barnum, a con artist and master creator of circus sideshows. As for him being a “smart businessman,” he has never declared personal bankruptcy, but that’s because much of his own wealth is not at risk. Now, his companies—that’s another matter. Four times, Trump has declared corporate bankruptcy for his various units in the last two decades. At one point, he had incurred $4 billion in debt.

Americans might think twice about listening to advice on the national budget from such a financial huckster. So far, they show no signs of doing so. That’s the only possible explanation of how Trump has become a walking, talking Human Tweet Machine, offering opinions on everything from Robert Pattinson’s love life to Alex Rodriguez’s diminished baseball skills.

But in butting into Presidential politics, Trump is showing that he really doesn’t have enough to do. Somebody help this poor man!

A quarter century ago, a teacher friend of mine observed that Trump was a hero to many of his students. All of this simply goes to show how devalued such a concept has become. Those students are now well into middle age, and eligible voters. These are the people who grew up listening to him. Talk about a lost generation!

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