Like much of the American electorate, I have been horrified that a buffoon is to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency. As far as I am concerned, the problem does not lie with Trump — who until recently was a minor player on the gambling, hotel and celebrity scenes — but with the pathetic performance of the Republican Party’s broken leadership, which has been overwhelmed by the frustrations and incomprehension of large numbers of its members. Indeed, how was it possible that such a dunce could trounce the 16 other self-appointed personalities?
My interpretation of this phenomenon is that a large number of Trump’s Republican supporters suffer from second-rate educations and feel themselves cheated and deceived by an elitist and out-of-touch Republican leadership, corrupted by money and Wall Street. The perception of Trump by the less-educated is more than just naïve — it goes against their own economic interests. Alas, all too many adults do follow paths which are against their own well-being: Despite all the warnings by doctors, experts, and the media, they smoke, take drugs, and consume alcohol at levels which can seriously affect their health. So warning them that an unstable leader could bring on disaster is unlikely to change their emotional inclinations. I do recognize that one of the failures of modern education is that in some ways it fails in its role of protecting us from ourselves.
There have been previous revolutions which have been driven by large numbers at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, desperate for a way out, but who have been unable to appreciate that a second-rate leader could not help to improve their status. In 1932 the Germans democratically endorsed an unstable leader who temporarily restored their confidence and provided them with jobs. The ultimate results were WWII and the Holocaust.
In the United States the “education” of those at the bottom has not been in schools (generally not up to the job) nor through the rapidly vanishing press (which they don’t read and don’t trust) but via radio, television, and the internet. Trump proudly declared that he loved voters with little education. They were the ones who most acclaimed him! To be sure, only a quarter of Americans have a college degree or its equivalent, while 15% of the population never finished high school. This poorly educated minority view Trump as an un-coached celebrity whose success they admire and whose simplicity they embrace. That he is not concerned about facts, religion, or even “the truth” make him seem “familiar.” Such supporters have had little exposure to either ethics or psychology. Over the years of watching screens, they have developed seriously restricted attention spans. This enables them to be responsive to such simply repeated phraseology as: “Make America Great Again.” There is no need, as far as they are concerned, to provide any details of a program which could lead this to fruition. All too many are finding it increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Educating the electorate is not a short-term proposition. The Social Media, such as Facebook, appear to be transforming people’s outlook and their political responses.1 The formats of the media do not engage the electorate to ask questions. Curiosity is no longer regarded as necessary and has also suffered from social media over-exposure. Even reporters on television are finding “follow-ups” increasingly difficult. The media have become focused on getting ratings as opposed to passing on information. Hardly anyone has asked Trump, for example, in what ways he is a Republican or believes in “Conservatism.” Nobody asked him if he would regret the possible destruction of the Republican Party!
By way of contrast, I do believe the Obama Presidency set an awesomely high profile for the less-educated. Unwittingly, Obama has made the uneducated feel inferior and has contributed to their anger. The President’s ability to communicate, to control his emotions, and to display his intelligence, all combined to turn unemployed middle-aged males toward someone who exhibited none of these qualities. The poorly-educated but highly-resentful express their discontent by validating a leader with whom they could somehow associate. Not only did the less-educated find they could understand Trump’s language, but he also “played dumb“ to appeal to them in particular. He understood that their anger is directed not only at the bankers or Wall Street but also at the educated elite who have never genuinely considered their social predicaments.
To prevent a repetition of this situation for the next generation, I believe one of the few things we can do nationally is to place much greater emphasis on education at the primary and secondary school levels. This means shifting federal funds directly into teaching and apprenticeship. Education should aim at sustaining and promoting, not only the life of the individual, but also enhancing that of the community. Education should encompass the concern of every citizen with the common good and thereby embody this as the principal hope of improving our future. In contemporary USA and the UK, few people believe education is our highest purpose and, as computers and the social media play an ever larger role, we have little idea about how the minds of our young are being shaped. Most children are taught in bureaucratically run academic institutions which fail to develop their potentialities, their talents or their aspirations. They are mostly taught according to the demands of a market economy, that is, getting a job or making money. A broader education focused on promoting curiosity, understanding, and communication is essential but will not be created until education becomes an absolute priority — along with sustainable food, water, shelter, health-care and survival.2
Teaching needed skills is essential if a whole group of young workers are to regain the pride which their parents once possessed. Even the current formal education can make a difference in increasing the levels of sophistication of the electorate. Perhaps this might persuade Trump to campaign against it! Curiously, church attendance for people without high school diplomas is much lower than for those with college degrees.3 Evidently, every added year of education considerably increases the attendance of religious services.
The celebrity culture, however, which the media continues to promote, is hardly compatible with the future of electoral democracy. How to make this understood to future generations will not be easy on a planet so manipulated by biased and greedy media moguls. However, the challenge ultimately is above and beyond grade-school education: it encompasses our entire social system which is now being uprooted not only by globalization, but by the advances of automation, robotics and fast changing technological developments. Given such instability, even the less capable must begin to recognize that candidates, such as the intellectually vacuous Trump, could never improve their long-term prospects of moving out of poverty.
1“Facebook and Politics,” The Economist, May 21, 2016, p.35
2See: Yorick Blumenfeld, Towards the Millennium — Optimistic Visions for Change, (1997) pp.226-245
3Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic, (2016)