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Anti-Intellectualism

To understand the appeal of Donald Trump, you cannot just look at his racism and xenophobia, as important as those are. You also have to look at his anti-intellectualism, his contempt for science and expertise.

Unfortunately, this anti-intellectualism has as deep roots in American history and culture as racism. The great Richard Hofstadter wrote a book about this, published in the mid 1960's, called Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, but it was also something I experienced first hand as the child of school teachers in a tough working class neighborhood. Because I did well in my classes, and was forced by my parents to skip a grade, I had to fight off bullies in and out of school almost every day of my life during my youth.

I had to fight off bullies in and out of school almost every day of my life during my youth.

And I was not the only one. Consider the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, someone half my age, in the great song of the Hamilton Mixtable "I wrote my way out."

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Y'all, I caught my first beatin' from the other kids when I was caught readin'
"Oh, you think you smart? Blah! Start bleedin'"
My pops tried in vain to get me to fight back
Sister tapped my brains, said, pssh, you'll get 'em right back

Oversensitive, defenseless, I made sense of it, I pencil in
The lengths to which I'd go to learn my strengths and knock 'em senseless
These sentences are endless, so what if they leave me friendless?

The main difference between Lin Manuel and me was that I was bigger and stronger than most of the kids who tried to bully me, but the scars still remain to this day. I find myself crying when I listen to the Hamilton Mixtape or read books like Junot Diaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao where the main character is tortured by bullies and can't fight back.

Another book in the making, Pat McNamara's memoir about growing up in a white working class Queens neighborhood, highlights a similar experience. Pat not only describes the depth of anti-black racism in his family and neighborhood, he talks about how he was mocked in his own family for doing well in school and liking reading as much as sports. Pat, like me, was pretty big, and could defend himself, but the scars from that ridicule still remain.

The point is this. When Donald Trump mocks scientists and experts, whether talking about the pandemic or climate issues, he touches a chord with a large part of his following who took out their resentments on the "smart kids" during their youth, and are delighted to see a President doing something similar on the world's largest stage

mark naison

Only this time, the damage is not just to the people being bullied, it is to the nation itself, which desperately needs to heed the voices of experts in confronting multiple challenges.

Mark Naison