Feb 27, 2017, 05:59AM

Who Is America?

Americans are barkers, touts, entrepreneurs, secessionists, gamblers, anarchists, patriots, daredevils, gropers, demagogues, and populists.

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This is not who we are as Americans—common observation on the American left since the Trump era dawned.

I'm not sure who we are as Americans, or indeed who I am, but I'm pretty sure that Donald Trump is a very, very American American. He vividly embodies the America celebrated by H.L. Mencken, the land of "Teddy Roosevelt, Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, the I.W.W., Palm Beach, the University of Chicago, Chicago itself—the whole gross, glittering, excessively dynamic, infinitely grotesque, incredibly stupendous drama of American life."

America’s produced amazing barkers, salesmen, spielers, and touts at every phase of our development: extremely American people such as P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody, Don King, Ron Popeil, Soapy Smith, Lou Pearlman, Billy Mays, Mary Kay Ash, and the makers of Wizard Oil ("no pain it will not subdue").

We've produced many creative liars and tellers of tall tales: Charles Ponzi, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Bernie Madoff, Aimee Semple McPherson, Christopher and Clark Rockefeller, James Frey, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind.

We regularly generate robber barons, takeover artists, entrepreneurs, wheeler-dealers, inside traders, tax evaders, and world-creators: Commodore Vanderbilt, Martha Stuart, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, Huggy Bear, Ray Kroc, Leona Helmsley, Madam C.J. Walker, Michael Milken, Mitt Romney, Al Capone, Steven Spielberg.

Self-interested and public-spirited power-grabbers, secessionists, and nation builders: Aaron Burr, Alexander Haig, David Koresh, Jefferson Davis, Philemon Thomas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, William Randolph Hearst, Charles Manson, Donald Rumsfeld, Malcolm X, Sam Houston.

Gamblers, sharpers, bottom-dealers, and advantage players: George H. Devol, S.W. Erdnase, Minnesota Fats, Sante Kimes, Wild Bill Hickok, Richard Nixon, Amarillo Slim, Bertha Heyman, The Phantom of the Card Table, Earthquake McReady.

Pugilists and grapplers: John L. Sullivan, Gorgeous George, Nature Boy Rick Flair, Jack Johnson, Ronda Rousey, Harry Reid, Rodney King, Charles Oakley.

Anarchists, totalitarians, and gratuitous political provocateurs: Abbie Hoffman, Emma Goldman, George Lincoln Rockwell, Oprah Winfrey, Bugs Bunny, Gus Hall, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Lindbergh, Ralph Nader.

Know-Nothings, patriots, invaders, and ethnic warriors: James Knox Polk, Dick Cheney, Andrew Jackson, George Armstrong Custer, Crazy Horse, Robert E. Lee, John Brown, Millard Fillmore, William Tecumseh Sherman, Douglas MacArthur.

Mischievous children: Calvin, Stewy, The Little Rascals, Gary Coleman, Lindsay Lohan, Lizzie Borden, Honey Boo-Boo, Warren G. Harding, Young Americans for Freedom.

Domestic aliens and agents of foreign powers: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Benedict Arnold, Jonathan Pollard, Anwar al-Awlaki, Tokyo Rose, Bill Belichick.

Deporters and interners: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dr. Walter Freeman, Barack Obama, Roger Taney, Davy Crockett, Arne Duncan.

Daredevils, adrenaline junkies, and speed merchants: Evel Knievel, Spanky Spangler, Richard Petty, Dr. Danger, Annie Taylor, Yvon Chouinard, Mabel Stark, Nik Wallenda, Shirley Muldowney, RuPaul.

Magnificent ego trippers and self-promoters: Kanye West, Charlie Sheen, The Greatest of All Times, Joan Crawford, Father Divine, Meta World Peace, Bill Maher, Krishna Venta, Chad Ochocinco.

Gropers and indiscriminate connoisseurs of the fair sex: Bill Clinton, Larry Flynt, John F. Kennedy, Bob Packwood, Wilt Chamberlain, Wilbur Mills, Strom Thurmond, Bill Cosby.

Demagogues, spellbinders, and populists: Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, Louis Farrakhan, James B. Weaver, the Kingfish.

Role-players, fancy dancers, and creators of grand spectacle: Lady Gaga, Joe Zambelli, Meryl Streep, Jim Bakker, Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson, Gary Gygax, John Wilkes Booth.

Politically questionable humorists and stand-ups: Dave Chappelle, Cheech and Chong, Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman, Andrew Dice Clay, Margaret Cho, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Junior Samples, Don Rickles, Seba Smith, Miss Peaches, Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Amazing illusionists and escape artists: Box Brown, Kate and Margaret Fox, Ira and William Davenport, Bonnie and Clyde, David Blaine, Frank Abagnale, Dorothy Dietrich, John Dillinger, Matt and Sweat, Houdini.

As you gaze in befuddlement into the mirror, wondering who you are as an American, you might contemplate this excessively dynamic group of gods, monsters, mediocrities, geniuses, and clowns. That may be who you are. Whether Donald Trump is any of these things, or all, or which, I'll leave to your contemplation. But there's no denying that he fits beautifully, just after Dr. Danger and just before Earthquake McReady, into the gross, glittering, incredibly stupendous pantheon of quintessential America.

—Follow Crispin Sartwell on Twitter: @CrispinSartwell


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