Since the disaster that is the United States’ 2016 presidential election, I’ve become certain that the revulsion on the Left toward The President Who Shall Not Be Named is based nearly as much on disgust at his utter stupidity as in horror over his politics, policies, and actions and those of his cronies and handlers. Of course, they’re all of a piece – ignorance and complete disregard for human life and the planet’s well-being go hand in hand. But I think it’s particularly difficult for those of us with education at the four-year college level or beyond, or the equivalent in reading and other self-education, to stomach having an idiot in the White House.
I’ve heard the sentiment that the holder of the highest (s)elected office in the land should be “relatable” (to use current, cringe-inducing parlance) from members of my own family whose post-high-school education includes trade school or adult-ed courses, but nothing in the liberal arts. My mother and stepfather, who were raised in working-class families in Western New York, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and were clearly supporters. She and my dad (her first husband) had done their best to avoid their parents’ racism, raising us in the liberal manner of the day, and I’ve no doubt she thought it great progress that U.S. voters finally put a Black man into the White House, twice.
But my mom told me at some point during Obama’s presidency that she found him a bit off-putting – “I don’t know, it’s almost as if he’s too smart for us or something.” I was taken aback, but then later recalled the phone conversation when I was working on my master’s degree in creative writing years ago, when she told me, “J. and I don’t even understand what you’re saying in your letters sometimes.” She meant the structure, not the content – I used correct grammar, which confused her.
My mother’s reaction to Barack Obama raises the question of whether we should be able to “relate to” the president of our nation because he is like us. I’m sure this is a debate that began with George Washington, but it took its current form in the television era – arguably beginning during the 1960 presidential debates, when Richard Nixon’s sweaty, shifty, tense demeanor didn’t stand a chance against John F. Kennedy’s handsome, youthful poise. My own question: why in the world would we want a president who’s as ignorant – or as stupid – as we are? I’m sure that at this point, six weeks after the coronation of Emperor Agent Orange, clever people have created thousands of online memes like the social media comments I’ve seen recently: “T-rump’s experience in business qualifies him to be president! Gosh, I’ve studied literature – I think I’ll go perform some brain surgery now!”
Our city’s newspaper, which serves a small but mostly highly educated slice of New England, recently sent a reporter out to the local diners to find and interview supporters of Velveeta Mussolini about their opinions on his first month in office. Those who spoke on the record uttered the usual ignorant platitudes. “I think that Mr. Trump has done well because he is so different,” one said. “He is a different animal from the political animals that have come in and having just a background in politics, politics, politics. He’s been a businessman.”
It’s true that having a state governorship and a Rhodes Scholarship (Bill Clinton) or a seat in the U.S. Senate and term as president of the Harvard Law Review (Barack Obama) on one’s résumé doesn’t necessarily qualify one for the presidency of the United States. But surely having been secretary of state, a senator, and a president’s spouse (Hillary Clinton) makes one more qualified than, oh, just about anyone who’s ever run for the office. (For the record, I was and am more of a supporter of Bernie Sanders than anyone else who ran.)
I certainly agree that having a wider variety of occupations represented among our representatives wouldn’t hurt, whether we’re talking about the local school board or the U.S. Congress. But Humpty Trumpty a successful business owner? His failures in this realm are legion, as are his declared bankruptcies and the small-business owners he’s stiffed. And let’s not forget the people in Scotland who’ve had their land and water supply stolen so Hair Furor can suck up hundreds of millions of gallons of water to irrigate his golf courses, and the ex-wife (wives?) he’s raped.
I could go on all day, but other journalists and writers have covered this territory effectively. I’ll cut to a small realization I had this week about arts events which is related to what I want in the president of the United States. When I first moved to my current city, I was thrilled that the local colleges and arts organizations brought so many offerings to the area. On any given night between September and April, I had to choose between attending a talk, a concert, a play, a reading, a gallery exhibit opening, or several of each. Now, more than a decade later, I feel less like trekking across town or across the river to another town to see and hear a performer who may appeal more to post-adolescents than to someone my age. A few days ago I got it: I want to devote my limited time and energy to artists who are much better than I am, to those who are doing something that I can never do, who are being someone and something I can never be.
That is what I want in the president of my country, and I’m appalled that millions of other voters either don’t care that this guy is a moron, or are too ignorant to understand that he is. If this makes me a “social justice warrior,” as the Right seems to be calling us now, fine. Tragically, with billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, it’s highly unlikely that the public schools of this nation will be teaching critical thinking skills anytime soon – in fact, it’s far more likely that global climate change will flatten every school in out-of-season tornados.