The Rise of Anti-Intellectualism
Apparently, education and intelligence do matter.
The changing demographics of the Republican party are interesting and perhaps explanatory of some voter behavior, especially in regard to the nature of die-hard Trump supporters. Generalizing, of course (because there are always exceptions), today's Republican party is older, whiter, and less educated than it has been in the past -- and compared to the demographic makeup of the opposition party.
The education level is especially telling. According to a Public Opinion Strategies report (based on NBC/Wall St. Journal data), in 2012, 40% of Republicans were college educated whites. In 2018, that demographic in the Trump-dominated Republican party slipped to just 29%. It is evident that the Republican party is losing college-educated voters and, perhaps, attracting more voters who are less educated.
The appeal of Donald Trump to the less educated among us was hammered home last week by a caller to Chris Cuomo's Let's Get After Itshow on SiriusXM's POTUS channel. A woman, a self-professed Trump supporter had called in. Cuomo asked why she supported Trump, and the woman said it was because he was just like her and her friends. Cuomo challenged this, saying that Trump wasn't at all like the woman, unless she had her own private jet and gold-plated bathroom. The woman then amended her comment to say that Trump talkedlike she and her friends did, especially when compared to the CNN commentators who used fancy language and sounded like they were better than her.
This is the AHA! moment. Trump may be a billionaire and a certified member of the .001%, but he talks just like common folk. More precisely, he talks like uneducated folk. He doesn't use big words, he doesn't use complex sentences, he uses language (like calling someone "dummy") that more educated and aware people shy away from. In other words, some people like Trump because he doesn't seem that smart. He is joyfully anti-intellectual, which appeals to much of our population who are not themselves intellectuals, and who may, in fact, resent and dislike intellectuals.
This is not new; there is an historical anti-intellectual strain in the American psyche. The late writer Isaac Asimov commented on this almost forty years ago, saying "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"
Historian and self-professed intellectual Richard Hofstadter wrote a book about this topic, 1974's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. In it he noted that anti-intellectualism "made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality." In other words, we don't want anyone to be better than us, and in fact distrust those who are or act better than ourselves.
There is a distrust and dislike and outright hatred of smart people by many less-educated people. In a world that increasingly demands a command of knowledge and logic, there is a class of citizens left behind. President Trump exemplifies this anti-intellectualism; he speaks to the less educated and less intelligent in their own language, using small, repetitive words and phrases. Trump is playing to the less educated by stoking their resentment of those "elites" who are more educated and more intelligent than the average citizen.
As extreme as Trump is in this regard, he is just the latest in a long line of anti-intellectual politicians. It's been said that Americans tend to vote for the candidate that they'd be most comfortable having a beer with. This is, perhaps, just another way of saying that most Americans want a president they can relate to, intellectually. If all of life is a bell curve, then those on the left side of the curve, in terms of intellect or education, will gravitate to someone equally uneducated or less intelligent.
That said, many less educated Americans do resent the more educated or more intelligent and view them as thinking of themselves as somehow superior or elitist. That is, perhaps, as unavoidable as it is disheartening. There should be nothing wrong in being educated. Society shouldn't view it as somehow wrong for wanting smart people in important positions. Yes, smart people can do dumb things, too, but they stand a better chance of getting it right than people who don't know or care what they are doing.