“There are more fools in the world than there are people.” – Heinrich Heine
I lied. I said I would talk about the fools in my grandfather’s children’s books in Part Three. It is going to have to wait until Part Four. So many fools want to get into the club that even the ones with reservations have to wait on line:
Look at the fools who actually think our new president-elect will make America great again.
The fools who think America used to be great, but isn’t now.
The fools who do not acknowledge he ran a racist and a misogynistic and anti-Semitic campaign.
The fools who acknowledge this, but do not think that matters.
The fools who say, “Give him a chance” (though his unfitness and malevolence are clear, and though they never gave the current president a chance).
The fools who say, “It’s time to unite for the good of the country” (though their party even now continues to block our president’s supreme court nominee, and so to deprive all who voted for him of their votes after the fact).
The fools who see his flaws, but think the office of the president will somehow temper his personality problems, rather than exacerbating them.
The fools who think he is good for Israel.
And those are only the Republican fools.
There are fools who still think that there is not much difference between him and Clinton.
There are the fools who still think Bernie Sanders would have beaten him.
Fools who figure he can’t do that much harm, because our free press and our courts and our other democratic institutions are strong.
Fools who think Obama was a superb president, who did nothing to bring on this disaster, and fools who think he was a terrible president and this is all his fault.
Fools who think it’s not about racism, and fools who think it’s only about racism.
Fools who took to the streets to protest a legal election outcome, but who never protested when the groundwork was laid: When our country tortured people, when the financial industry was bailed out but people who lost their life savings got nothing, when people were stripped of their voting rights, when people were gunned down with impunity by the police.
Fools who know for certain the only way forward is to reshape the Democratic party according to their own specific ideas.
Here are the fools who voted for a third party and are still proud of themselves, and do not feel responsible for Trump’s victory, and even if they are responsible, are not concerned.
There are the fools who did not vote.
Next are the pundit fools, who were utterly wrong about who would win the election, but are still somehow convinced they know exactly why Clinton lost. This is a story they seem to like: “The regular (white) working people feel that the elites don’t work for them. They are sick of being left out of the thinking of the governing classes, who (they say) are biased against them in favor of people of color, or gay people, or anyone who isn’t them. They are sick of having decisions made in far-off places by rich people who went to fancy schools. In this version, ‘East Coast liberal elites’, is not code for Jews, but merely reflects the regular people’s conviction that the deck is stacked against them. That those who decide what should appear on television have contempt for the South, for people who live in the country, in the Midwest, or in the rust belt. Contempt for believing Christians, and indifference to people whose parents used to work those good jobs that have since gone overseas. Call this populist argument ‘the contempt theory’.
My own version of this argument, based on a couple of guys who grew up in my town, is that some people never got over being below average in Junior High. Similarly, many Americans grew up in a world where intellectual strength mattered, but physical strength, character, and relationships mattered, too. Now, if you don’t have a degree you don’t have a chance. In short, Hillary Clinton was the perfect focus for everyone who resents those who were better than them at school. The revenge of the fools.
I overestimated America’s intelligence. I watched people’s resentments played for profit, saw the weak-minded assert their right to simple answers, and saw them pandered to. I saw, too how tribal identity became more important than ideas or policies or the common good, saw the universal need for dignity salved by putting groups of other people down.
And now here to take our bows are we fools who make fun of other people for being fools, but who do not expect to be resented for it. Sholem Aleichem plays this both ways with the readers of his story, as Shimon-Eli the pseudo intellectual gets his comeuppance. We can feel simultaneously superior and sympathetic to both the self-important Talmud-quoting fool and to his illiterate tormentor.
Face it, we live in a world of fools, and if we think we’re the exception then we are, but only because we’re even bigger fools than the rest. The human brain is soggy and can scarcely travel farther than its skull. Fools got us where we are now. If we are to be saved, it seems we will have to be saved by fools as well.