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If you are looking for clues, historian and author Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1962) offers them because Trump’s crassness has a definite appeal to the ever-growing anti-intellectual strain in American culture. In so many ways Trump epitomizes this frightening aspect. His global-warming denials and appointments of so many second-class minds like that of Energy secretary Rick Perry, who insists that “the science is still out” on climate change, are just two indications of Trump’s attack on rationality. As conservative columnist David Brooks has written of Trump,
“He has no . . . capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out.”
It should come as no surprise that Trump’s popularity has been greatest among whites who are poorly educated, older, religiously evangelical, or from rural areas and small towns. Anti-intellectualism, as Hofstadter noted at some length regarding evangelicals, was more common among these groups than among most other religious believers and non-believers, younger voters, and big-city residents. We must also never forget Trump’s Fox News propaganda team, whose two most prominent personalities were its founder Roger Ailes (who advised the Trump campaign) and the feckless Bill O’Reilly, who was Trump’s on-air mouthpiece. Both men trafficked in anti-intellectualism and ultimately left Fox News amidst accusations of sexual harassment, which should surprise exactly not one person.
Whereas many Trump critics think him too crude, coarse, and vulgar, many of his slavish devotees interpret his language as being down-to-earth and contemptuous of political correctness, both a term and an action that is anathema to the masses. To their minds, the New York businessman and reality show star is a “straight shooter who speaks frank truths. He is the exact opposite of the intellectual or “egghead,” and that’s who they think represents them above all others.
It doesn’t matter that he is clueless when it comes to history, science, and technology or that he barks loud in protest of diplomacy, tact, and common sense. It doesn’t matter that he is a man who refuses the advice of those who know. He represents them after all. He is the mirror image, as they wander aimlessly in the dark world of ignorance.
They are the second class minds. They are the anti-intellectuals.
Discomfiture comes from Middle English desconfiture, discomfitoure, discomfiture (and many other spelling variants) “the fact of being defeated in battle; the act of defeating in battle.” One of the first occurrences of the word is in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (after 1387). The Middle English word comes from Old French desconfiture “a defeat, a rout.” The English sense “frustration of hopes or plans,” weakened to “confusion” or “embarrassment,” occurs at the beginning of the 15th century.