Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Jonathan Chait is right when he says that conservatives don't trust education and expertise, and that conservatism began nurturing that distrust long before the days of Donald Trump (or even Sarah Palin):
The belief that the government should base its policy on neutral expertise dates back to the Progressive Era. The conservative movement has always recoiled at this model. Conservatives believed that elected officials ought to draw their guidance from the timeless limited-government values of the Constitution, which had been forgotten by the technocratic elites, but lived on in the simple values of ordinary people. A 1951 editorial in The Freeman, a conservative magazine, stated, “The truly appalling phenomenon is the irrationality of the college-educated mob that has descended upon Joseph R. McCarthy.” Ronald Reagan’s immortal “A Time for Choosing” speech declared the issue of the 1964 election to be “whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
So of course ignorance worked for Trump in the 2016 campaign:
Donald Trump was able to vanquish his rivals and capture the Republican nomination for many reasons, but one of them was his ability to win a race to the mental bottom. He dominated the many televised debates with crude bullying. No candidate before Trump had made such a mockery of the very idea of having facts to support his position; he would simply dismiss his adversaries as short, ugly, nerdy, or female. His inability to grasp complexity has forced Trump to fixate relentlessly on a simple themes, like the wall and the lack of gratitude displayed by minorities, that resonate with his supporters. Trump is the apotheosis of the anti-intellectual style, the perfect spokesman for the conservative agenda.
But I think Chait is a little off base when he writes this:
Trump himself does not play the pseudo-populist game. He brags incessantly about his brains and his academic pedigree, from his Ivy League status to his brainy uncle. Being seen as a regular Joe is his worst nightmare. He wishes to be seen as a brilliant mind. Yet Trump owes his success to his inability to carry it off.
It's not Trump's inability to carry off braininess that makes him appealing to right-wing voters -- or that's not exactly it. Trump says he's a genius, and conservative voters believe him. They like the fact that he went to fancy schools.

But they like it because he emerged from those schools talking like a person who didn't go to good schools. That tells them that true wisdom, true genius, is the belief that every problem has a simple, easily comprehended solution. Trump went to fine schools and, they believe, emerged knowing that nothing is really complicated, especially if you have a brain as terrific as his. (They probably think he didn't need to go to those schools to garner that wisdom, because he was already, like, really smart, and thus smart enough to understand it already.)

Conservative voters distrust Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton because Obama and Clinton don't talk in folksy or earthy platitudes. When Obama and Clinton talk, the discussion can get complicated -- which is a sign to conservative voters not that Obama and Clinton are complex thinkers but, rather, that they're trying to bamboozle everyone and conceal the fact that they're really stupid. Wisdom is simplicity. Ignorance is complexity.

These voters think Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin arrived at true wisdom without going to first-rate schools. Trump, on the other hand, went to first-rate schools to hone his genius. But all three arrived at the same place: believing that all the answers can be found in simple, satisfying slogans. If you were really smart, hippie, you'd understand that.

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