October 20, 2018

Professor, you’re fired! Or, the education of a Trump voter

“@marty kaplan Let me guess Marty you believe in global warming too Doctoral degree holder here”

There it was, captured in a single sad, hilarious tweet: the whole maddening trainwreck of American democracy, 2016. 

Two days before that taunt from someone I don’t know was launched into the twitterverse, I had posted a piece about a psychological disorder I called ““>laid out the evidence of a “Trump gap” in education. “Even in a sprawling field of 15 candidates,” he wrote, “Trump has opened a wide lead among Republicans without a college education almost everywhere,” a point he documented with polling data from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. ““>Jade Helm, a Navy Seal/Green Beret training exercise, was a false flag operation – a cover for imposing federal martial law, seizing citizens’ guns and transporting political prisoners to FEMA camps secretly set up in West Texas Wal-Marts.

I’m not making this up. Republicans are “>loons and cranks in every other democracy on the planet.  Another PhD, an associate professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, until recently was telling his students that the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Charleston, S.C. and San Bernardino, Calif., were Obama administration hoaxes concocted to boost support for gun control; a few days ago, that tenured professor “>told Anderson

Cooper that Jade Helm paranoia and other “conspiracy theories floating around the Internet these days all the time” were wrapped up in the opposition to gun control.   What followed was revealing about journalism, about politics and about the epistemological toxin poisoning democracy. 

COOPER: Now, let me just jump in here, is it fair to call it a conspiracy –

OBAMA: Well, yeah –

COOPER: – because a lot of people really believe this deeply, that they just don't –


COOPER: – they just don't trust you.

OBAMA: I'm sorry, Cooper. Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody's guns away so that we can impose martial law –

COOPER: – not everybody, but there's certainly a lot of –

OBAMA: Is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy! I would hope that you would agree with that. (APPLAUSE) Is that controversial, except on some websites around the country? 

Follow the reasoning: Cooper says that it’s unfair to suggest that Jade Helm conspiracy theorists are conspiracy theorists, that it’s unfair to fault them for claiming that Jade Helm is part of an Obama plot to take everyone’s guns away, because “a lot of people really believe this deeply.” In other words, whether a claim is true or false doesn’t hinge on facts; it turns instead on the sincerity of pubic feeling.

I love how Obama nailed Cooper for that.  Way worse than the so-called political correctness that Trump assails is the learned helplessness of journalists, public intellectuals and anyone else with half a brain and access to a media platform. Why be disingenuous about knowledge and learning? Why be defensive about objective criteria for true and false? Elites making cultural excuses for the popular appeal of proto-fascism: that’s what George W. Bush, who knew whereof he spoke, called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

There is a social institution called education, and there is a faculty called critical thinking that education is designed to hone. It is not a statistical fluke that, on average, the more education Republican primary voters have, the less they support Donald Trump. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.