April Fool

Trumpery is defined as “showy but worthless”, “delusive or shallow”. The word comes from the French tromper, meaning “to deceive”.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, the eminent physicist was forthright:

“Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools – guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus – THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible!”

Feynman was echoing a long line of individuals who did not suffer fools gladly. Shakespeare takes up the theme in As You Like It:

“A fool, a fool! I met a fool in the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask’d him in the sun,
And rail’d on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and, yet, a motley fool.”

April Fools’ Day is a time for hoaxes, but sometimes they risk going too far. In “No, Not Trump, Not Ever” (The New York Times, 18 March 2016) David Brooks lamented the narcissism and ignorance that make Donald Trump an insult to “the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.” He concluded:

“Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all. As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.”

The question, on a day like this, is whether there is enough time left to make people see sense and to curtail what seems to be unstoppable folly before it gets totally out of hand.



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