If you haven’t taken the time to seriously consider your ineptitude, to truly face your ignorance and your failings, especially those which can be addressed and fixed, do that now. Then embrace the hell out it and join the American political process.
It shouldn’t be surprising to me at this point, having watched the slipping quality of dialogue and participation when it comes to the life of the community, which is what politics is at its core, for the last decade. I’ve seen the progression. My elders have noted it before me, often stamping a start date on Nixon’s forehead. Some say it’s been happening a lot longer than that. Today, we nervously joke about the decline by drawing parallels to Idiocracy, by feeding the “entertainment” that is laughing at bumbling public figures. But we don’t turn the channel. We feed it. We make reality stars of the dumbest among us, and chortle, and feel smart as we become stupid.
The celebration of ignorance isn’t new. I’m not unique in calling it out. It’s just frustrating as hell, is all, and sometimes one has to speak their frustrations to give them form and better understand them. I didn’t grow up with much money, but I was always taught that supreme value existed in my education. Anything I learned was mine, something earned which could not be taken away. I lived out this philosophy by gathering every bit of knowledge I could, parlaying the hunt into good grades which I then used as a basis for my identity. My parents never shamed me for a bad grade alone, but they did rain down the guilt when they felt that bad grade was associated with a lack of effort to learn. They were upfront with me that all knowledge, whether little or great, was power. Schoolhouse Rock wasn’t lying.
Academia and the ranks of the educated liberal elite, the stereotypical yuppies and college professors, are in some ways to blame for their own reputation among the uneducated masses typically found in the lower class. If you sneer down at someone, they generally don’t like you. However, the vilification of these privileged ranks has been, at least in parts, misplaced. The uneducated often blame the educated for their judging gaze, both sects resenting the other for classist ills which get represented by false social narratives. Yet the blame on an unbalanced and underfunded education system goes unplaced, which is mightily convenient for politicians (themselves usually educated and elite) who rely on the poorly educated voting against their own self-interests in order to stay in office. Cultivating this dichotomy has bred a desire among the ignorant to shun knowledge itself as the forbidden fruit; take a bite and you might find yourself “livin’ above your raisin’,” as we Alabama folks say. And in a room of have-nots, no one wants to be accused of thinking themselves better-than.
This toxic mix of shame, jealousy, and foolish pride has settled on the split between ignorance and information like a blanketing pesticide, clouding the actual issue with poisonous misinformation. Cable news feeds people opinion in lieu of facts, and when actual facts are presented as counter-evidence, the knee-jerk reaction is to angrily disbelieve. Intelligence and novel thought are no longer trusted, leaving us a culture of hearing what we want to hear and nothing else. This is precisely why presidential candidates can say whatever they want, beholden to no truth, and amass unthinkable voter numbers. Donald Trump doesn’t have to actually answer a question; he can just spew nonsense and feel superior. And his supporters will see him that way. Any attempt to highlight his idiocy will be met with vitriol aimed at the “elites” trying to inject factual knowledge into a situation where gut feelings reign supreme.
I wish there were some positive spin I could put on this, but the unfortunate reality is this isn’t going away. Even if the smartest, most honest person in the race wins the White House, the ignorant hordes who lift up liars and morons like Trump aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be around in four years. They’ll be around in twenty. We’ve made an idol of ignorance in this country, one supported by classist columns and draped in fear of the other, and until we truly confront it, we’ll just stand around in horror as millions of our friends, neighbors, and family members bask in the glory of their own unknowing, pleased as pigs in shit.