Famed scientist Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980 that in the United States, there is a “cult of ignorance in the United States” and that the “strain of anti-intellectualism” boils down to the idea that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” While so many have rightfully pointed out the sexist and misogynistic overtones of Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journal article suggesting Dr. Jill Biden drop the title of “Dr.” from her name, the other major issue that merits our attention is how it highlights how deeply many in this country resent intellectual thought and critical thinking and this notion has been spearheaded by President Donald Trump.
We live in a world today where we no longer watch the news or search the Internet looking for information, but for affirmation. We surround ourselves with people who think like us and then expand that into our social media spaces. It’s the mentality that would lead a voter to say that everyone she knows voted for Trump, so he must have won. Maybe it started in 1987 with the end of the Fairness Doctrine; the policy implemented in 1949 mandating that networks provide a balance of opinion in their broadcasting. The end of this policy led to the rise of “infotainment” spearheaded by talk personalities like Rush Limbaugh. Fast forward to today and most of us have a strong roster of podcasts, audiobooks, social media people we like, and news networks that all enforce what we already want to hear. What too many of us have heard over the last thirty years is a decreasing disrespect towards education and intellectual thought.
I remember when President Obama ran for his first term. One of the main knocks against him from some critics was that he was too “professorial.” Yes. A former college professor was criticized for sounding like a college professor. Critics prepared his style with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who was someone you could just sit down and have a beer with. I recall thinking that I never want to just have a beer with the President of the United States and it has nothing to with the fact that I don’t drink. I want to have a leader who I believe is smarter than me on issues related to leading my country. Fast forward to the 2016 election and we have President Trump boasting that he was the same person he was since he was in the first grade. Little did we know that he was just getting started.
Over the course of four years, President Trump questioned or outright demeaned the credibility of every institution we had because he was smarter than them all. He said he knew more about the military than the generals. He said he knew more about viruses than experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and knew more about everything than anyone else including taxes, visas, infrastructure, renewable energy, borders, and even more about Senator Cory Booker than Booker knew about himself. Add to this the creation of “alternative facts” spearheaded by multimillion dollar book deal recipient Kellyanne Conway, and you have a society where someone’s real educational achievement means nothing and is therefore constantly undermined. On a weekly basis I endure comments on social media from people whose first line of attack is asking how someone like me was “given” a PhD or stating that someone with a PhD wouldn’t be as stupid as I am. It’s literally their opening move.
As we prepare to usher in a new president, we need to also usher in a period where intellectualism is respected again. I may actually be more excited about Dr. Jill Biden than I am about Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is not just someone who values education, but is an educator herself who has always supported teachers. Contrast that with First Lady Melania Trump’s plagiaristic shadowingof former First Lady Michelle Obama and this country could be on track to becoming a respected intellectual giant once again. Finally, we must look deeply at our educational system from elementary school and beyond to ensure that we are teaching civics once again in addition to providing a curriculum that allows students to think intellectually and critically as opposed to checking the right answer on a multiple-choice exam. These steps will aid us in creating a world where the term “doctor”, regardless of the specialty it covers, will forever be celebrated and not just tolerated or outright disrespected.