Learn from Mencken

It seems to me that people are too depressed by Trump.  Yes, he’s far and away the most appalling individual ever to achieve high political office in the US, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get some enjoyment out of the spectacle.  Think about the amusement that Trump provides in a typical day. Just yesterday he said (regarding Kim):

He really wants to do something I think terrific for their country. . .

I do trust him, yeah.

When Bush said something similar about Putin he could be forgiven on several grounds.  First, we hadn’t seen this sort of presidential naiveté toward a Russian leader since the days of FDR. And second, Putin wasn’t yet anywhere near the brutal dictator he is today.

With Trump there’s no such extenuating circumstances to prevent us from falling on the floor laughing.

Then we wake up this morning to find Trump proclaiming that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, and Sean Hannity believes him.  How is that not funny?

And this tweet is just to, to, to funny to pass up:

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 8.00.48 PMJust to be clear, I’m not one of those grammar snobs.  I think good grammar is overrated and of course I make lots of mistakes here. But while I occasionally mix up ‘to’ and ‘too’, I’ve never done so in a tweet accusing a Hollywood actor of having a low IQ.  Come on Trumpistas, even you guys have to find that a little bit amusing.

I don’t doubt for a moment that David Brooks is a far better person that HL Mencken.  But Mencken was funnier.  You can’t go through your entire life in just one mode, even a wholesome mode.  Sometimes you just have to indulge your inner cynic and enjoy the crazy spectacle.

Yes, it’s appalling to have an ignorant, bigoted, misogynistic president.  But tens of millions of women and Hispanics voted for him and if they can survive 8 years of Trump you should be able to as well.  For some reason that I cannot fathom, God has favored and protected this crazy country for more than 240 years, and I think he’ll do so for 6 more years.  Remember, as bad as Trump is, presidents just don’t have much influence over the course of events.

So relax and enjoy the spectacle.

PS.   And speaking of enjoying life, don’t get too upset about poor Anthony Bourdain.  I miss him as much as any of his other fans, but he packed more into his 61 years than you or I could do in 600 years. Tony would be appalled by all this handwringing in the media. He had a good run.

In a book on Korea, Simon Winchester made this observation:

A sixtieth birthday is a special thing in all those countries that have come under the maternal influence of old China, Korea very much included. The body is then deemed to have passed through the five twelve-year zodiacal cycles — the yukgap, as the sixty-year period is known — that constitute the proper life span of the human being.  Once someone has successfully completed the span — as old mother Hwang had done three years before — then all time beyond is regarded as a marvellous bonus: you retire from active life, take your respected ease as an elder, let your children make you as comfortable as they can, and let filial piety take over the reins of your life.

Don’t be like me, planning to do all sorts of wonderful things when you retire, and then finding out that past age 60 your body and mind are too broken down to do the things you planned to do.  Plan your life as if you will die at age 60.  That’s enough time.

PPS.  While I’m not a grammar snob, if I ever reach the point of my commenters who think that any sentence containing the word “insult” is ipso facto an insult, please tell me to just stop.

Update:  The North Korean state media is now more accurate than the White House:

North Korean state media lauded the summit as a resounding success, saying Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.

Yup, Kim won.



25 Responses to “Learn from Mencken”

  1. Gravatar of ChacoKevy ChacoKevy
    13. June 2018 at 07:06

    My favorite ESPN commercial was Mike Alstott’s induction into the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame. The joke was that Alstott’s statistics were bolstered by Warrick Dunn, the feature back, who would march Tampa down to the goal line only to have Alstott, the bruising fullback, punch it in for the score, reaping the fantasy points. It’s why he’s often referred to as a “touchdown vulture”.
    You’ve often made the point that the Trump economy is just the continuation of the Obama economy. I’ve taken to thinking about it as the Vulture economy.

  2. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    13. June 2018 at 07:39

    “Yes, it’s appalling to have an ignorant, bigoted, misogynistic president.” Well, I’m not appalled. I view this as a wonderful opportunity for the Congress to muster the gumption to take back a lot of the power that it has, over the years, ceded to the President. Congress is diverse, clumsy, indecisive, dilatory–exactly what I want from my government. Down with the presidency, up with the legislature!

    P.S.: Please give us a few more years before you retire!

  3. Gravatar of H_WASSHOI (Maekawa Miku-nyan lover) H_WASSHOI (Maekawa Miku-nyan lover)
    13. June 2018 at 08:47

    I can’t remember what was in the Ronin’s silver case.

  4. Gravatar of Liberal Roman Liberal Roman
    13. June 2018 at 09:25

    “But tens of millions of women and Hispanics voted for him and if they can survive 8 years of Trump you should be able to as well.”

    This is how I get through this. People are getting what they want. 53% of white women voted for this guy. FIFTY THREE PERCENT!!! Iternalize that feminists.

    As a relatively well off white man, I am not going to sweat this. As Dave Chappele said when it comes to Trump and working class people, “He is not fighting for you. He is fighting for ME!”

  5. Gravatar of sean sean
    13. June 2018 at 09:29

    Trump has done more for the economy than obama by a long-shot.
    The only thing that really matters to the economy is whose running the federal reserve. When we were at the height of the financial crisis obama left multiple seats open on the reserve. Trump nominated a reasonable person like powell (though a little bit of a light-weight he’s also been fairly good).

  6. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    13. June 2018 at 11:29

    “53% of white women voted for this guy. FIFTY THREE PERCENT!!!”

    My wife who is very, very black, the mother of my children, voted for Trump. BTW, almost all of my wife’s friends and colleagues hate Trump and she would never admit to being a closeted fan. I’m an open, non-closeted, Trump fan, although, I don’t talk politics in most of my normal life. We love Trump. He’s doing better than expected. He is the greatest President of all time.

    “He is not fighting for you. He is fighting for ME!”

    The tax cut absolutely benefits the non-rich, regular working class. The tiny tax hike on elite universities helps. Lowering immigration helps the existing working class but limits opportunity for foreigners. Trump’s regulation reforms help the working class. Trump’s rhetoric including his adversarial relationship with legacy media is a huge status boost and motivator for the working class. Trump has broken stagnant orthodox thinking and injected quality fresh ideas.

  7. Gravatar of Student Student
    13. June 2018 at 12:20

    Trump deserves so credit here for relying on unusual tactics that just might work.

    “… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will by no means produce fruit”. Sometimes you win by losing. Let’s just hope Trump doesn’t get so upset by having lost a negotiation that he throws it all away out of spite.

  8. Gravatar of kevin kevin
    13. June 2018 at 13:55

    Scott, I get the impression that both China and North Korea have played their hands very well against Trump. They both get their respective sanctions dropped (ZTE for China) and its not clear what the US gets for itself, although it is very clear that Jarvanka got theirs in China. This is quite sad as Trump is supposedly wonderful at dealmaking. I rewatched a couple seasons of the Apprentice and I can’t say that his abilities were all that great. In season 1 finale, he gave into crowd/peer pressure and fired the more competent contestant. In other words, he will relent to his audience over what is prudent. He’s entertaining I’ll give him that but I wouldn’t want him negotiating my cable bill.

  9. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    13. June 2018 at 14:43

    Amazing times we live in. I suspect that Donald is sealing the Republicans fate on a national level. He is their Pete Wilson. What will Republicans look like in 10 years?

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. June 2018 at 14:49

    Sean, In fairness, when Yellen and Powell served on the board at the same time, Yellen was the better decision-maker. Powell supported her a bit reluctantly, preferring a more hawkish policy. We now know that Yellen was right.

    Having said that, I think Powell will be fine–maybe excellent.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. June 2018 at 14:51

    Everyone, Most people missed the point of this post. Why would anyone leave a comment discussing whether Trump is doing a good job? Go to a post where that comment would be relevant.

    It’s comments like these that make me think I’m wasting my time blogging.

  12. Gravatar of Student Student
    13. June 2018 at 15:26

    I agree with a lot of what you said… but at least 50% of it was about Trump so I am not sure what you are talking about when you say go comment somewhere else.

  13. Gravatar of Zamba Zamba
    13. June 2018 at 15:52

    I’m having some fun with Trump here in Brazil. I never thought the US would have a clown/dictator/lunatic type of president. That seemed to be more particular of an underdeveloped country with a fragile democracy. I actually thought for a long time that education was one of the things that prevents developed countries from going into this kind of bumper car ride. Now that Americans and Europeans are voting for simpletons, I’m actually confused about what are the causes. Is it the weak economy? The new facebook/youtube based media? Is it fear from immigrants?

    In Brazil there is a good chance Jair Bolsonaro will win this year. He is basically some ex-military Captain who has been a congressman since 1991. His platform for those 25+ years has been to take care of military people pensions. He gained the attention of the public via facebook/youtube by yelling against gays, criminals and corruption. He was against the “gay kit” that the Education Ministry was distributing to young students (basically books which say it’s fine to be gay). He is also in favor of anything that gives the police and people more power to fight crime, like more hardcore patrolling, reducing the age of criminal responsibility, gun free laws. He also yells about corruption everytime. And, unsurprisinly, he is always defending the 1964-85 military rule. In his pro-impeachment of Dilma speech, he honored the name of her torturer during the military dictatorship.

    And what is funny is that he has gained traction with some neoliberals, just because he is talking to Paulo Guedes (a PhD economist from Chicago. Do you know him Scott?), and I’m afraid the mainstream media will accept Bolsonaro in the second round if it’s against the left. Now, he hasn’t show any comittment whatsoever to free markets in his entire life. Actually, being from the military is generally not a good sign of your economics views in Brazil. But many right-wing people now despise the PSDB party, responsible for the neoliberal reforms on the 90s just because they are too much mainstream and involved with corruption (cough…Hillary…cough).

    So basically we will vote for a nationalistic buffoon because people like proposals on the basis of decibels rather than reason, or because they believe someone with an anti free market ideology will change his mind because he talks with 1(!) smart economist.

    See you Americans next year in the 2019 Axis of Evil Summit…

  14. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    13. June 2018 at 17:09

    Your update is quite right. Trump got played and got nothing, but PR that only his base will buy. Unfortunately, this summit was perhaps the first step to total capitulation. Trump wants to pull out of South Korea anyway.

    On the bright side, Pyongyang may be getting a new hotel soon.

  15. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    13. June 2018 at 18:01

    The entertainment value is unprecedented: Why is Cohen changing lawyers. Will Manafort bring his toothbrush to the courthouse on June 15. What is the meaning behind Putin’s smirk besides the obvious meaning. Summer barbeques, Veep re-runs, and the NHL finals just do not rank.

  16. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    13. June 2018 at 19:30

    Scott, defense stocks fell after the meeting. I expect your post explaining that our best guess is that Trump is paving the path for peace, by COB Thursday.

  17. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    13. June 2018 at 20:39

    Scott – I must object to your point about optimizing life to get to 60 years old. There can be just as many great experiences after 60 as before – you certainly don’t want to miss out on the joys of being a grandparent, and more crucially being there for your kids when they have problems as young adults. Being young, fit, adventurous, good looking and sexually attractive is absolutely a thing worth being, but it is narcissistic to think you can’t enjoy your life without these things. I mention this because I had a brother who committed suicide when his children were fairly young, possibly this belief that his best years were behind him was part of this. Tony Bourdain also had a fairly young child – 11 I think. Imagine life for her without her father.

  18. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    14. June 2018 at 05:59

    Trump Wins Again™

    Game. Set. Match. Scotty my boy!


    So much in her report Scott, says you need to take a few deep breathes, come back to reality:

    “I am fascinated by this documentary because the North Korean propagandists showed so much of the impressive city of Singapore — the skyline, number of planes at the airport and containers at the port, the luxurious settings, the electricity. All unimaginable in North Korea.”


    There are certainly tons of caveats, Econ sanctions all kept up… but if not having some fall war games is the give, to see IF, JUST IF, we can get progress from Kim

    What idiot Scott, doesn’t say, well let give it a shot?


    Best article you’ll read on Trump, this is what I spent 2015-2016 talking about…


  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. June 2018 at 10:04

    Student, You said:

    “but at least 50% of it was about Trump”

    But it was not about whether Trump is doing a good job.

    Zamba, Yes, the clowns are all over.

    Bob, Aren’t you missing the point of the post?

    BTW, my “peace” post on Singapore is at Econlog.

    ChrisA, I didn’t say people couldn’t enjoy life past 60, however anything good at that point is a bonus. Some old people do have good health. But certainly don’t count on it. Don’t figure “I’ll go hike in the Himalayas when I retire at 65.” Or “I’ll live the life of Tony Bourdain.”

  20. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    14. June 2018 at 10:10

    “Everyone, Most people missed the point of this post.”

    I read the OP, and didn’t have a comment on that. I did reply to other commenters, and follow them off on a tangent for which I am guilty of just devolving into another generalized argument thread. I will refrain.

  21. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    14. June 2018 at 13:58

    “Yup, Kim won.”

    Kim hasn’t won. He’s in the exact same position he was a year ago. The world is on its way to winning. Saying anything else is asinine.

    “And second, Putin wasn’t yet anywhere near the brutal dictator he is today.”

    Putin isn’t a dictator, and is far less brutal than George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump.

  22. Gravatar of DanielJ DanielJ
    14. June 2018 at 16:04

    And what if it means peace on the Korean Peninsula?
    Did he do something a far-left candidate could try but fail?
    If it means millions get to enter prosperity then activate your inner-utilitarian Scott.

    What if the fool ushers the Golden Age?

  23. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    14. June 2018 at 18:26

    I do find myself laughing at times, but not sure whether to laugh or cry about this promotional video Trump showed Kim during their summit.


    The NK government must think Trump is the stupidest leader they’ve ever met.

  24. Gravatar of Charlie Charlie
    15. June 2018 at 05:34

    Couldn’t agree more Scott. Sometimes it’s really helpful just to laugh, and you help with that this morning!

  25. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    15. June 2018 at 15:13

    Most farcical, ignorant, dishonest? Sure? Most appalling, in a moral sense? Not even close. Andrew Jackson, Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon were all morally far worse people and more bigoted than Trump. Some people it seems are more willing to forgive more articulate brutality to relatively impotent buffoonery.

    I think it’s certainly accurate to say Trump is the most clownish president in American history. But one would have to be delusional to believe him to be the worst.

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