President Obama delivered a powerful commencement address at Rutgers University over the weekend, taking some time to celebrate knowledge and intellectual pursuits. “Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science – these are good things,” the president said, implicitly reminding those who may have forgotten. “These are qualities you want in people making policy.”
He added, “Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not challenging ‘political correctness.’ That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”
Donald Trump heard this and apparently took it personally. The presumptive Republican nominee responded last night with arguably the most important tweet of the 2016 presidential campaign to date:
“ ‘In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.’ This is a primary reason that President Obama is the worst president in U.S. history!”
I assumed someone would eventually tell the GOP candidate why this was unintentionally hilarious, prompting him to take it down, but as of this morning, Trump’s message remains online.
In case it’s not blisteringly obvious, candidates for national office generally don’t argue publicly that ignorance is a virtue. But Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate, offering an enthusiastic, albeit unconventional, embrace of ignorance.
Don’t vote for Trump despite his obliviousness, support him because of it. The Know-Nothing Party may have faded into obscurity 150 years ago, but it’s apparently making a comeback with a new standard bearer.
There’s been a strain of anti-intellectualism in Republican politics for far too long, and it comes up far too often. House Speaker Paul Ryan last month dismissed the role of “experts” in policy debates; former President George W. Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have publicly mocked those who earn post-graduate degrees; Jeb Bush last year complained about Democrats using too many “big-syllable words.”
As a rule, prominent GOP voices prefer to exploit conservative skepticism about intellectual elites to advance their own agenda or ambitions. They don’t celebrate stupidity just for the sake of doing so; anti-intellectualism is generally seen as a tool to guide voters who don’t know better.
Trump, however, has come to embody an alarming attitude: ignorance is a virtue. If the president believes otherwise, it must be seen as proof of his awfulness. The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee intends to lead a movement of those who revel in their lack of knowledge.
History will not be kind.