Among the many mangled sayings of George W. Bush one of the most infamous was his butchering of this aphorism:
“There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”
It was an almost endless source of surprise to me and many that a man so inarticulate could occupy the Oval Office. And yet he did for 8 long years, and in the aftermath of the nuclear detonation under the American body politic last night there are some who look wistfully back at a time when the debasement of politics at least had its recognised limits.
In 2008 the world was treated to Barack Obama's vaulting rhetoric and responded by recognising and endorsing the audacity of his hope. It is obvious now, however, that there were many millions at home that did not recognise themselves in his dreams; that saw reflected in his success only their failure.
Ever since Hillary Clinton made her presidential ambitions known there has been the lurking doubt, now agonisingly realised, that she did not share Obama's ability to achieve the highest office through the vanquishing of history by the unstoppable force of destiny.
She lost to Obama because he had hope on his side and now she has lost to Donald Trump because he had anger on his. But what new republic do the millions of Trump voters now really expect him to deliver? A basic rule of politics is never insult the voters and with her 'basket of deplorables' lapse Clinton betrayed, however fleetingly, the contempt she felt for those supporting her ogreish opponent.
Voters don't like being insulted to their face and nor will they tolerate implied slights regarding their intelligence. Traumatic though the events of 2016 have been 2017 will be the test of whether stupidity and ignorance lies behind the coronation of Trump over there and Brexit over here or whether this ascendancy has a more nuanced source.
WE know that the Brexiteers lied before the referendum and WE know that Trump lied his way to the White House. The question is do THEY know? How many Brexit voters truly believed that £350 million per week would be reallocated to the NHS? How many Trump voters truly believed that the wall will be built, Muslims banished and Clinton jailed?
I suspect the answer is surprisingly few. The common thread is the emotional willingness of people to be lied to. Clinton could not win the presidency through reason and appeal to the intellect because what genuine solace could she offer to the millions suffering declining living standards in the Rust Belt and elsewhere? It is to her credit that neither could she lie in such a bare-faced way as her monstrous adversary, who had the temerity to brand her as the crooked one.
There are rarely easy answers to hard questions and I believe that the vast majority understand that in their heads, that does not mean they wish it were not so in their hearts. Mrs May and Mr Trump both know that they can't undo globalism. Rank opportunism has propelled them to suggest that they can. The question that awaits an answer is what reckoning there will be when their impotence is made manifest.