Monday, December 5, 2016

MY COUNTRY 'TIS...MY CRAZY AUNT HELEN


Let us start with a couple of trenchant observations from the Sage of Baltimore, Henry Louis Mencken:

Giving every man the vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

We all have a Crazy Aunt Helen. She might be your Aunt Sadie or Uncle Harry or Cousin Mike or your mother, Corinne. The name doesn't matter. The gender and precise relationship doesn't matter much either. He or she is the crazy relative who just has a bunch of loopy shit in his or her head which no amount of sanitizing can remove.

My Crazy Aunt Helen was born in March, 1911. She grew up in a semi-privileged home in Cheshire, Connecticut and, as she would do throughout her life, adopted wholeheartedly the image of the 1920s "modern girl" that we now call a "flapper". She went off to Crosby High School in Waterbury in 1922 and at some point got shipped off to Southern Seminary in Bowling Green, Virginia "because she was too interested in boys". That's the sole bit of information about her change of schools that ever escaped anyone's lips during the lifetimes of those who knew more. She came back north about the time that Lindbergh landed in Paris prepared with good manners, social skills and some secretarial training. What no finishing school or any amount of education could infuse into my Crazy Aunt Helen was taste. She had some but all of it was bad and not just red wine with Dover sole bad taste but day-glow orange and black fake leopard skin with plaid bad taste. That last skill, secretarial training, was probably her entree to the widower executive of a Waterbury manufacturing firm. My Uncle George was almost exactly the same age as Helen's father. He was a late-Victorian gentleman who's done well for himself, owned a fine home in a neighborhood that included public officials as neighbors and had enough good taste to, in most things, restrain the excesses of my Crazy Aunt Helen. His main failing of taste appears to have been in marrying my aunt.

When my Uncle George died in 1956 the restraints on my Crazy Aunt Helen's bad taste disappeared at just the point at which she came into a modest fortune left by my Uncle George.

I don't need to enumerate all the horrors into which a woman with no taste and substantial money can descend. Suffice it to say that she could never see the beauty in anything old other than husbands or potential husbands. The only things that attracted her were the new, the shiny, the hyped. Old things were trash to be thrown away. New things were treasures no matter how shoddy or misrepresented they were. She frittered away what money there was on an alcoholic second husband and, when he died in a fire he set when he passed out while smoking, a con man former contractor boyfriend who fleeced her on kickbacks on the new home he convinced her to build.

So let me suggest that a majority of American's eligible voters are millions and millions of my Crazy Aunt Helens. I include in that group even those who failed to get off their asses and actually vote in November, 2016. I would suggest that we should have seen this outcome coming in 1998 when the utterly unqualified Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota.

Earlier this year I ran into a woman who was an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter largely because he was "not part of the establishment". She was confident that either Bernie or Trump would make the change that the nation needed just like Jesse Ventura had done fifteen years earlier when she was a resident of Minnesota. At the time the linking of Bernie and Trump was a commonplace but a mystery to me. Tossing Jesse Ventura into the mix seemed even more deranged. Yet the more I thought about it the more it seemed in keeping with the ambient stupidity of most people.

More recently I bought a book from a used book dealer in Kentucky. A bit of right-wing propaganda he included with the book. I sent an e-mail that sparked several days of relatively pleasant exchanges in which he revealed himself increasingly insane. He was able to enumerate every real or imagined Hillary conspiracy but confessed to having little or no knowledge of Donald Trump's multiple verified frauds and criminality.

There had to be some point on the Venn Diagram of Bernie, Trump, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwartzenegger supporters that included that woman and the bookseller. I think that the catalyst was Dubya Bush.

Look back at the last seven presidential elections, please. After twelve years of Reagan-Bush, voters threw out the old and moved in the new Clintons. After eight years of the Clintons voters almost rejected their vice-president, Al Gore, for the new Bush Administration. And, yes, the voters did not reject Al Gore but the vote was close enough that a right-wing Supreme Court could make a semi-plausible decision in favor of Dubya. In 2008, preaching Hope and Change, voters threw out the Republiscum and brought in Barack Obama and now many of those same voters have brought in Donald Trump who's claimed that he's going to "drain the swamp" even as he populates the swamp with more poisonous reptiles than we've seen in many a year.

Just as my Crazy Aunt Helen would throw out a gorgeous 1930s modern bedroom set in bird's-eye maple as "old and ugly" to replace it with a cheap bit of pseudo-colonial crap in painted pine, American voters, angry and stupid, keep throwing out perfectly good politicians and policies in favor of people who provide a nebulous promise of change. There's no thought or study. No facts penetrate the desire to throw out the old and replace it with the new and shiny despite the fact that the glitz covers rot and criminal behavior.

So I would suggest that a corollary to Mencken's dictum about American's intelligence is that no one ever lost a presidential election by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Though she's been dead these twenty year, my Crazy Aunt Helen's spirit  bad taste, bed decisions and all, is alive and well circulating throughout the land in search of something new and shiny regardless of whether it's good for the nation or not.

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