“I love the poorly educated!” – Donald Trump
“Think! It ain’t illegal yet.” – Funkadelic
It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country.
That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.
This gap has been empirically proven. A 2015 Pew Research Center study, for instance, found that only 24 percent of Americans with post-graduate degrees and 29 percent of those with college degrees identify as consistently or mostly conservative. The corresponding numbers for liberals were 54 and 44, with the rest not identifying strongly with either ideology.
But empirical proof is superfluous. The truth has been obvious since the knowledge-starved likes of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Louie Gohmert first became stars of the political right. It has been obvious since talk show host Stephen Colbert found it necessary to coin the word “truthiness.”
Now, however, that ignorance has reached the highest levels of American governance.
Did The Great Trumpkin really sign an executive order without knowing what was in it? Did he really reportedly have to ask what Vladimir Putin was talking about when the Russian president brought up an arms-control treaty in a phone call? Is his Twitter feed really a blizzard of embarrassing misspellings? Was there really a misspelling in his official inauguration poster? Did his Education Department – repeat: his Education Department – really misspell “W.E.B. Du Bois” and then, misspell its apology? Did he really praise Frederick Douglass, stone cold dead since 1895, as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more?”
Sigh. Yes, all of it.
As he has already legitimized coarseness, misogyny and bigotry, the so-called president now legitimizes ignorance.
I’m aware of the potential for coming off like a snob or a bully in appearing to score people for lack of education. For what it’s worth, my mother lacked education; she had about seven years of formal schooling – par for the course for a black girl in 1930s Mississippi. The woman had a reverence for knowledge, though. She was never book smart, but she was one of the wisest people I’ve ever known.
So I’m here not to mock those who lack information, but to lament those who fail to value it. We are asked, implicitly, repeatedly, to believe that failure equals authenticity.
Meantime, a new poll says that a third of us don’t know that the Affordable Care Act and “Obamacare” are one and the same. And Jennifer Williams, an editor at Vox.com, recently received a note from a reader who was “dissapointed with your facts,” and advised “teaching people the correct history” – all while talking about how we went to war “with Saudi Arabia” after Sept. 11, 2001.
That’s not “authentic” – or funny. No, it’s frightening. See, those people vote. They make decisions. Indeed, one of their decisions is in the White House.
The need to fix American education could not be more stark or urgent. We must wrench our local school boards free of partisan political hackery and re-double our efforts to teach our children not what, but how to think. The world is not growing less complex or challenging while we dither about, literally pretending ignorance is bliss.
With apologies to The United Negro College Fund: A country is also a terrible thing to waste.
Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, appears in Opinion on Mondays.