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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — If you’ve been paying any attention to the trial heats of the Republican presidential contest, you’ve noticed an alarming trend: the conflating of ignorance with authenticity. Herman Cain’s fans, for example, seem to believe that his profound lack of knowledge about most of the world is one reason to support him. It makes him a regular guy, more trustworthy than those hated “elites” and longtime Washington pols.

The trend isn’t new, of course. Sarah Palin’s admirers responded similarly to her woeful (and willful) lack of knowledge about many of the complex issues that would confront a presidential administration. Palin’s voters didn’t desert her when she showed her abysmal ineptitude about subjects that were routinely in the news. Instead, they blamed journalists who asked her questions she couldn’t answer.

Indeed, a suspicion of the well-educated is a long-standing strain in American politics. I remember the antics of the late George Wallace, who used to denounce “pointy-headed intellectuals.”

But this unfortunate proclivity seems to have reached its apex at just the wrong time: On a “flat” and interconnected planet, Americans need more knowledge, not less. We need to be better educated, not more ignorant. In other words, the nation needs all the pointy-headedness it can muster.

We certainly don’t need a president like Cain, who publicly disdained the president of “Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan” as someone he didn’t need to remember and who cannot recall why he disagrees with President Obama’s intervention in Libya. (Actually, Cain doesn’t know much about Libya, period.) Nor do we need a president like Rick Perry, who proposes to dismantle great swaths of the federal government, but doesn’t take his own plan seriously enough to recall its details.

At least Perry was contrite about his “oops” moment. More stunning is Cain’s attitude, which echoes Palin’s proud ignorance. Both behave as though their lack of knowledge is a selling point — and their supporters seem to agree.

While Republicans have been proudly showing off their anti-intellectualism of late, the strain is broadly bipartisan. I’ve known Democrats and Republicans, liberals, conservatives and independents who are dismissive of the benefits of expertise and suspicious about the well-educated.

During my Alabama childhood, for example, I knew lots of proud churchgoers who preferred a minister with little (if any) formal training in theology. Preachers weren’t expected to attend divinity school; it was more important that they claimed to be anointed by God. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young tells a great story about learning to speak without notes when he was a young preacher assigned to a rural church; the elders were skeptical of any minister who had to read from a text.

While that story is charming, it also speaks to a bygone era. When Young was a newly ordained minister, communist China was still an economic backwater, the euro didn’t exist and the United States was a manufacturing powerhouse, providing good jobs to workers without high school diplomas. Those days are so over.

Many college graduates are struggling to find decent jobs these days, but the unemployment rate for those with post-secondary degrees is still much lower than that of high school graduates. Cain, a retired businessman, may be stunningly ignorant of foreign affairs, but he did get an undergraduate degree in math and a graduate degree in computer science. That laid the foundation for his professional accomplishments.

Even Cain must know that much of the world has embraced the knowledge economy as the ticket to a prosperous future. South Korean parents shamelessly push their children into tutorial sessions that last until the wee hours of the morning. But here in the United States, there is still a clear strain of resentment toward the learned, the intellectually ambitious,
the highly educated.

And it is stoked by demagogues who dismiss the conclusions of experts on such issues as climate change, evolution and even the obesity epidemic. Why trust those “pointy-headed” intellectuals who win Nobel prizes in biology and chemistry? That resentment is further fueled by dilettantes such as Cain, who revel in their ignorance of public policy.

Last week, after his disastrous performance before the editorial board of a Milwaukee newspaper, Cain declared at a campaign event in New Hampshire that the nation needs “a leader, not a reader,” according to reporters following his campaign.

That’s simply appalling. It would be difficult for the nation to adapt to a knowledge economy with a president who is contemptuous of knowledge.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.