Friday, April 6, 2018

Barnum and Dennison

[Catching up on podcasts.]

At Innovation Hub, Kara Miller talks about P.T. Barnum with Stephen Mihm, editor of a new edition of Barnum’s autobiography. The conversation touches briefly on similarities and differences between Barnum and Dunning K. Dennison. Thr IH website pointed me to Mihm’s 2017 New York Times opinion piece “No, Trump Is Not P.T. Barnum.” A sample:

Barnum would have recoiled from Mr. Trump, especially from his cynicism about principles and truth. In a widely read exposé of swindles, quack medicines and other “humbugs,” Barnum declared that the “greatest humbug of all” was the individual “who believes — or pretends to believe — that everything and everybody are humbugs.” This person, Barnum observed, “professes that there is no virtue; that every man has his price, and every woman hers; that any statement from anybody is just as likely to be false as true; and that the only way to decide which is to consider whether truth or a lie was likely to have paid best in that particular case.”

Barnum was a consummate American: a fast talker, a self-promoter and a relentless striver. He also exemplified many of the qualities that have long made America great in the eyes of the world: generosity, humor, optimism and a willingness, in the end, to do the right thing.

Mr. Trump represents something different. Indeed, if Barnum were alive today, he might be interested in exhibiting Mr. Trump: not as a paragon of business acumen, political prowess or any of the other main attractions in the circus of contemporary life, but as an extreme embodiment of humbug — worthy of a sideshow, perhaps, but nothing more.

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