Charles Pierce (in the introduction to his book, Idiot America) writes:
This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank. Never has a nation so dedicated itself to the proposition that not only should people hold nutty ideas, but they should cultivate them, treasure them, shine them up, and put them right up there on the mantelpiece. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy. In fact, it’s the only country to enshrine that right in its founding documents.
In America…the founders were trying to raise a nation of educated people. And they were not trying to do so by establishing an orthodoxy of their own to replace the one at which they were chipping away. They believed they were creating a culture within which the mind could roam to its wildest limits because the government they had devised included sufficient safeguards to keep the experiment from running amok.
In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, November 25, 1820, James Madison had this to say: “We have, it is true, occasional fevers; but they are of the transient kind, flying off through the surface, without preying on the vitals. A Government like ours has so many safety valves (safeguards)… that it carries within itself a relief against the infirmities from which the best of human institutions can not be exempt.”
In fact the founders may have created the best country ever in which an individual could pretty much do as he or she liked. And Pierce’s point is that this gave rise to an endless succession of cranks, —Donald Trump being one of them?
Charles Pierce calls it a great country in which to be a public crank. But just what is a public crank, or just a crank? I’ve always thought of a crank as being an old man who is easily irritated by things of little importance to the rest of us. But Trump doesn’t come across in this way. He does often get angry, but he laughs a lot, and would probably be fun, like Reagan, to have a beer with. And in any case, a crank meaning being a bad-tempered individual is mostly confined to North America.
A more general dictionary definition tells me that a crank is an eccentric, especially one who is irrationally fixated, much like the crank of the barrel organ, playing the same tune over and over again. A crank is obsessed by a particular subject or theory. In Trump’s case he’s clearly obsessed by his own wealth and success. Maybe not yet a crackpot, but he is an oddity, a bit loony, and on occasion even a nutjob or a head case…
In his letter to Lafayette, Madison said that we may very well encounter occasional fevers (nutcases); but they are “of the transient kind, flying off through the surface, without preying on the vitals.” Do Donald Trump as well as the whole lineup of this year’s Republican presidential candidates only represent “occasional fevers,” disturbing but the surface of our lives, but not reaching our country’s “vitals.” Or are Trump and the others real threats to our freedoms, to our vitals, to our way of life? That which many are starting to believe.