While this will seem to some to be a weakness, I couldn’t help but shake my head while listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Wouldn’t anyone listening to this eloquent and generous speech recognize that Obama is the exact opposite of Donald Trump in every way? The fact that millions of Americans have gone crazy about The Donald represents, if not simple racism, a massive coarsening of American education. Where is Mr. Rogers when we need him?
Recently, I received a series of right-wing “jokes” that are flooding the internet, among which was a list of “Things I Trust More than Hillary Clinton,” including “an elevator ride with Ray Rice,” “taking pills offered by Bill Cosby,” “a Pakistani on a motorcycle,” etc. — but the most amazing thing about them is that they’re sent and believed by people eager to vote for Trump, whose lies are so large and numerous, no one keeps track anymore, not even Politifact. (I’m reminded of Mary McCarthy’s remark about Lillian Hellman: “Every word’s a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”)
I’m hoping that this is a temporary triumph (or “trumph”). Theoretically, our schools are geared to produce citizens who choose leaders for their civility, dignity, political skills, and intellectual distinction; Trump’s a stand-up comic (timing is everything) whose values mirror the bombast of popular radio and TV bloviators.
This says more about us than it does about him. He’s found his audience, and it’s a large one: the Republican party, whose values have spread from the Deep South to seep like lint into the mass of unappreciated, undereducated and underpaid pockets throughout the country. They believe Trump’s continual braying about “political correctness.” Political correctness is of course silly, but its practice is greatly overblown by people like Trump, who use this — Tell it like it is! — as a cover to spout racist, misogynistic, and primitive prejudices.
A while back, actor Richard Dreyfuss was in town, talking about his six years studying at Oxford University in England. From there, he said, he could clearly see how America’s lack of civic education has produced a badly prepared electorate. A new Times/CBS poll shows Trump backed by 43% of Republicans with at most a high school education, by 28% with bachelor degrees, and by 21% with some graduate study. Our high schools used to be terrific, but this is a worrying trend: the less educated they are, the more likely they’ll choose candidates like Trump.
Trump’s not only still around but, by recognizing the sullen resentment sprouting like mushrooms in the GOP’s back yard, has bent the whole party’s direction. He’s not just a “jerk,” as Jeb Bush called him, but the man on a very white horse that the party’s been waiting for. He’ll save them from those funny-looking newcomers whose children are winning all the prizes in school and then taking the best-paying jobs away from them.
The longing for this kind of hero has been building for decades, gathering speed with the embrace of George W. Bush, always proud of pronouncing “nuclear” as “nucular”: In your face, pointy-headed intellectuals! A clearer warning flag was hoisted in 2008 with the party’s jubilant embrace of Sarah Palin, a non-reader who flaunted her ignorance — and they loved her for it.
Well, Welcome Donald! I’ve great confidence in the wisdom of the American majority. Bring him on! He’s BIG, patriotic and conservative, a combination of Archie Bunker and John Wayne (both lovable!), keeping women, gays and blacks in their proper places. Let’s nominate the rascal and bring on the debate!
I’m not really worried — but occasionally I wake up at night thinking, Who’d have believed an educated Christian country would ever elect a failed artist who was a high school dropout with a bona fide inferiority complex?
(Peter Meinke will be reading his poetry at Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise Conference on Thurs., Jan. 21, in Miller Auditorium, 7:30 pm.)