It’s difficult to identify exactly when the GOP provided their full-throated funding of the open glorification of anti-intellectualism, but there are moments in contemporary history recognizable as particularly fertile in the hot-bed of ignorance that cultivated the rise of Donald Trump.
Ronald Reagan’s disingenuous pursuit of the evangelical vote, Jerry Falwell’s counterrevolutionary war on secularity, Sarah Palin’s torrent of verbal inanity and our politico’s wholesale disdain for the “educated elite” have collectively contributed to America’s multi-decade distrust for the life of the mind.
The “folksy” façade once used by statesmen to earn favor with ordinary Americans has made purchase in the ethos of the masses, taking the shape of climate denial, creationism, conspiracy theories and the universal flat-Earthing of experts and education. Selfsame climate deniers, creationists, conspiracy theorists and flat-Earthers seem not to recognize hypocrisy in the modern-day definition of “American exceptionalism” that belies our Founder’s reverence for progress, liberty and intellectual pursuits born of The Enlightenment.
In deep indifference to the wisdom of our forefathers, contemporary cravings for image over substance and personality over intellect has produced an avaricious appetite for the carefully-crafted populist message that elitist intellectuals are to blame for problems of the poverty class.
Donald Trump is only the latest – though quite likely the loudest – to take advantage of this long standing belief among the lesser-educated, his core constituency, and to espouse that he alone can provide the solution.
While Trump’s nativist, isolationist agenda is considered reckless, and his economic plans ruinous, by most serious scholars, his recent call to ‘shred‘ funding to the U.S. Department of Education reveals an equally indecent truth; those to whom Trump makes his appeal—the very slice of society he makes pretense to represent—are those who will be most wronged by this proposal.
In an interview along the campaign trail in Florida last month, Trump expressed his intent to cut the department of education “bigly” due to “so much waste.” In the context of the relentless bombast that is the Trump campaign, the proposal failed to raise eyebrows in conservative circles, but analysis from The Center for American Progress Action Fund — a non-partisan policy institute ‘dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas’ — confirms the proposal’s potential to widen society’s already deep divides in privilege and class.
Using official budget funding figures from the Department of Education (methodologies can be found here) the CAPAF analysis evokes a bleak at look the condition of education and health of the economy as impacted by Trump’s proposal. According to the analysis:
8 million students every year would lose Pell grant funding
490,000 or more teacher positions could be eliminated
$1.3 trillion in student loans would be at risk
750,000 or more students from military families, Native American students, students living in U.S. territories, and students living on federal property or Native American lands would lose $1.1 billion per year for their schools
Though education is predominantly funded by the individual states, the federal government has relied upon the Department of Education to provide legal protections for disadvantaged students through the pursuit of an “equal access mission” for all Americans.
Yet, among the visionary objectives of conservative think tanks, such as denying social services, health care and contraceptive services to the poor, inveighing against federal involvement in education is routine. Clarion calls to defund education are elements in the broader Reaganesque belief that the federal government must be downsized… and done so disproportionately, at the expense of those most in need.
In the full-flower of conservative post-intellect politic, it’s abundantly clear that knee-capping the Department of Education assures that society’s most vulnerable ever remain society’s most vulnerable.
So much so, it’s practically textbook.
To be sure, Trump is the product of the very same national nose dive of public intellect that twice deposited George W. Bush into the oval office. His sound-bite demagoguery, bumper sticker sloganing, and populist appeal assures, at least for now, his political survival. His very willingness to cater to the most basic impulses of an electorate hungry for exactly what he’s serving tacitly reinforces the cycle of anti-intellectualism that underpins class division.
Is it of little wonder, then, how a man who routinely incorporates the use of the word “bigly” into his vocabulary has surged to power and could be but months away from holding sway over the didactic foundations of the world’s most powerful nation?
Is it of little wonder that the world questions whether we have lost our collective mind?
It seems far longer than eight years ago that a brilliant, skinny kid from Hawaii proffered a healthy dose of hope onto our nation’s collective psyche, but that objective truth does not preclude me from considering what a Hillary Clinton presidency might do in effecting our nation’s troubling drift toward intellectual fecklessness.
After all, the only thing she has to offer is experience, knowledge and intelligence.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons