Cicero's 'great appealer', or Mencken's 'moron', or Both?
Two pertinent observations provided centuries apart.
From Marcus Tullius Cicero:
"A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city. But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victim, and he wears their face and their garments and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the plague."
From H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956), a journalist, satirist, critic, and a registered Democrat.
He wrote this editorial while working for the Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920
“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre -- the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.
The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Those quotes are roughly 2000 years apart. Yet, the reveal here is clearly that there are those of every generation that wish to subvert that which exists, rather than as Edmund Burke might have it, build upon and improve that which has come before.
What we are witnessing today is subversion within the gates as Cicero might say, and by a mediocre and devious weaver of imagery as H. L. might say. Mencken’s moron perhaps, but the crafters lay one level down.