For months there have been rumors circulating about the establishment of a set of annual prizes, commemorating two great American geniuses, H.L. Mencken and P.T. Barnum. The prizes are inspired by a single sentence from each genius:
Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”
Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
While Mencken has the merit of correctly evaluating the character and taste of the American people, it was Barnum who got rich by acting on this insight.
Because of the richness and variety of the American knavery and boobery, the sponsors of the awards have devised seven categories: Movies, pop music, sports, literature, the fine arts, scholarship, and politics. In addition, special awards will be given to recognize the lifetime achievements of both living and dead cultural and political entrepreneurs who lived up to the high standards set by Barnum.
Successful candidates will not merely have got rich by peddling junk—anyone, even James Cameron, Roger Ailes, and Jackie Suzann can do that. But could they do anything else? Our winners must have sufficient talent and intelligence to know what they are doing. They must positively revel in the degradation they are inspiring in the American character.
Winners will be announced at a star-studded gala event in Las Vegas. The good news for Chronicles and its readers is that our editors have been contracted to oversee the nomination and election.
Then let the contest begin, and may the worst man (or woman) win! Nominations are now being received.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.