“What Liberal Academics Don’t Get” by Roland Merullo (Micronesia)

The current issue of The ChronicleReview, November 25, 2016, is devoted to the reaction on college campuses to the Trump win. One article by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80) I found particularly insightful and on target to “why Trump won.” Roland, as you may know, is the author of his Peace Corp novel, Leaving Losapas, published in 1992. He is also written twenty books of fiction, and non-fiction, and is a former faculty member at Bennington and Amherst Colleges, and now teaches in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Lesley University. He is also a great golfer, which as we know, covers all necessary qualifications. Just ask Trump. — jc

What Liberal Academics Don’t Get

roland-articleBy Roland Merullo 

NOVEMBER 20, 2016

All the election postmortems make me think of the disgraced former presidential candidate John Edwards, who famously talked about “the two Americas.”

There are different ways to delineate these two Americas: according to race, gender, political preference, religious feeling or the lack thereof, even by dietary choices. But this past week I’ve been thinking more about the dividing line between less educated and more educated Americans.

I straddle that line because, though I’m a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and have two degrees from Brown University, my roots are in Revere, Mass., a rough-edged, working-class city on Boston’s northern cuff. Many of my grammar-school classmates and both my siblings have gone through life without the benefit of undergraduate degrees. Of the 14 uncles and aunts on my father’s side, not one of them had more than a year of higher education. Six of my 36 first cousins went away to college.

When you spend a lot of time around people like that, as I do, and when you care about them enough to listen to them with respect, you come away with a much clearer appreciation for the emotions that propelled Donald Trump to victory than you do by listening to NPR, scanning your friends’ Twitter feeds, or sitting at a table in a university cafeteria with like-minded colleagues.

For those of us who see Trump as an appalling choice for the Oval Office it’s tempting to take the easy route and brand his supporters — overwhelmingly white men — as racist or misogynist. Hillary Clinton gave in to this temptation in her infamous — and politically damaging — “basket of deplorables” remark.

Certainly some of the people who voted for Trump are racists and bigots. Surely we’re within our rights to think of the white supremacists, KKK sympathizers, and woman-haters as deplorable characters, and to condemn Trump for the subtle and not-so-subtle signals he sends them.

Roland Merullo

Roland Merullo

But the Trump voters I know — and I know them well — don’t come close to fitting into that basket. The thought patterns that led them to support Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton had little to do with race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. They made their choice out of a deep-seated sense of humiliation, a feeling that they’ve been cheated out of their share of our national abundance.

I have a close friend who supports his family on a yearly salary of $48,000. In the past two decades, this man has not had a vacation that took him away from home. Every time he turns on the TV he sees advertisements with smiling men and women riding around in new cars, or drinking cocktails on a cruise ship, things and experiences he knows he will never have.

In his adult life, has there been a career politician he can point to, Republican or Democrat, who has made his situation easier?

Many people on college campuses are fond of using the term “white male privilege.” I understand what they mean, of course. But try to imagine what it feels like to be a white man who lives like my friend and hear someone call you “privileged.” Try, through the tightly woven curtain of intellect, to imagine that.

Try to imagine what emotions rise up when he hears a candidate say she supports the Black Lives Matter movement. What he hears is not what we in the educated half hear. He hears: “What! My life doesn’t matter?” And that message — of not mattering — is reinforced day in and day out by everything from snarky memes on Facebook, to smirks at his grammatical errors, to the kinds of looks he gets when he walks into the bank in paint-spattered work pants.

By some bizarre alchemy, Trump the billionaire knew how to speak to these people. “When I’m elected,” he said early in the campaign, “we’ll say Merry Christmas again.” To those of us in the better-educated America, this rings of divisiveness, perhaps even, like some of his other crude messages, of anti-Semitism. But to a lot of people in less-well-educated America, the comment sounds like this: “I know you’ve been made to feel self-conscious about everything you say, even the simplest things like a holiday greeting you’ve been using since you were 4 years old. I’m going to free you of those constraints.”

People take it personally when you mock their candidate — whether the mockery is face to face, on the cover of The New Yorker, on a bumper sticker, or in a political speech. And if you’re in the less-educated group, mockery hits home in a particularly painful way. From first grade, these people have been made to feel less because they couldn’t read as well, didn’t get A’s, weren’t the ones with a star on their papers to show Mom and Dad after school. And they didn’t go to college.

And highly educated liberals thought it furthered their candidate’s cause to post Facebook memes calling Trump an idiot, a monster, a fool?

After winning the Nevada Republican caucuses, Trump said, “I love the poorly educated.” We laughed and made fun. But poorly educated whites were listening. And they vote, too. For decades those people have felt ignored and belittled. During the campaign they heard a great deal about the concerns of African-Americans, gay and transgendered people, immigrants, refugees. For us, those concerns are part and parcel of a necessary compassion; they dovetail with our sense of being American. For many white voters in the other America, though, stuck in dead-end jobs and low-rent neighborhoods, those comments make them want to say, “But what about me?”

The educated elite — professors, artists, journalists, “expert” commentators — can judge the emotions behind that question as stupid and unfair, even brand them as racist or homophobic. But those feelings of exclusion are very real and not unfounded. As the saying goes, and as last week’s depressing election result clearly demonstrates, we have ignored them at our peril.




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  • Are you saying being school educated makes you kinder?
    Fences, Gates, Locks, Keys. Immigrate / Emigrate. Bad weather. Good water. Fouled food. Devalued property. Many stories cannot be told because of Company-agreement-required-silence. Who will pay you for being hated because of loudmouths? Well no one pays you for being liked, do they. The Constitution doesn’t require you be liked or hated and doesn’t protect you from the money-makers stirring the pots . Or does it? You can get a gun to protect your self. So can your neighbor. The friend of my friend is my friend unless that friend is a friend of the friend of my enemy? The feud of my family is a breach in the friendship of my blood. My blood is my enemy? Is this the edge of our / my world? Where is a pulse for peace? It’s not a round world after all. When do we fall off? Can the one percent owner people hand on?
    © Copyright Edward Mycue 26/XI/2016

  • This was a very interesting article and the second one from academia in two days that I have read. Academia has evidently decided that it is time for them to express concern about what they label “the dividing line between less educated and more educated Americans.” Academia, and its bubble cohorts on MSNBC have declared the groups mutually exclusive and they, of course, belong to the latter. This all demands a response. Here is mine.

    I am going to explain what happened in this election, how and why. These are the critical factors; the inability of President Obama to relate to Americans, the collapse of the Democratic Party organization beginning in 2008; the power of talk radio; and its destruction of the so-called mainstream media. I will conclude by suggesting what I believe is the real problem for academia.

    1) President Obama addressed the nation on important events; but he never consistently explained his policies to citizens. He did not explain how terrorism works or what his strategy was. He did not monitor ACA and explain its structure to Americans and alert them to unforeseen problems. He ignored, in his public addresses, the nightmare that was the gang war in Chicago and other urban cities. He never visited the states with a Town Hall listening tour, so his policies did not address problems. He never consistently publicly addressed his difficulties with Congress. He never talked about the benefits of multinational trade and its costs. He left it to others to explain all of these issues. Conservative talk radio did. The Democrats did not.
    2) After the 2008 the local Democratic Parties were in disarray, still divided over Clinton v. Obama won with Organizing for America, his personal arm. It was national, powerful, and bypassed the local parties. There was little presidential interest in rebuilding the parties and they withered. The Republicans won big in the midterms in 2010 as well as 2014. Republicans controlled 33 state legislatures, and 30 governorships. Obama won with OFA in 2012. The OFA then became a 501c(3), a lobbying group for Obama with no political power. It died. Democrats were centered in Washington and nowhere else. The Democrats have no base, no bench, and no local feed back, and no way back.
    3) Conservative talk radio dominates the public airwaves with hosts both local and national. In Front Range Colorado, the three talk radio stations together broadcast about 300-400 hours of Republican talking points a week. Talk Radio creates an on air community, engaged and active. It is the voice of those who are frustrated and looking for answers, for those who would listen. Trump listened. Democrats did not. Here are just three political strategic successes of talk radio.
    -2002 Minnesota Senate Race- Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash days before the election in which he was favored. Democratic Walter Mondale stepped forward and was initially favored. Two days later, his sons held a Memorial Service. All Senators attended, and Senator Trent Lott was booed when he entered the service. Early the next morning and relentlessly until the Election, Talk Radio was on the attack. It blamed the Democrats for turning a “funeral” into a political rally. Mondale lost the election and the Republicans regained control of the Senate.
    -2007 Congress had a bipartisan immigration bill ready to go and President Bush said he would sign it. Rush Limbaugh marshaled his 20 million listens to bombard Congress with objections. They
    called, crashed the Capital switchboard and the immigration bill died.
    -2010 After Senator Ted Kennedy died, Massachusetts schedule a special election to replace him. The Democrats assumed that the winner of the Democratic primary would automatically win the seat and the Democratic candidate went on vacation. Scott Brown was the Republican candidate. Talk Show host said “Let’s elect Scott Brown” His national audience sent money to Brown and Massachusetts voters called in, supporting Brown. The Police Union supported Brown, citing the insulting Obama “beer summit”. Brown won, and the Democrats lost their filibuster proof Senate. These winning events illustrate the power of talk radio. But nothing compares to the Trump victory. The candidate’s political rhetoric came straight from talk radio.

    For years, talk radio has indoctrinated its audience to distrust all media that was not conservative. Now, for these millions of voters, there is no credible source they would trust to refute or correct misleading information broadcast over the public airwaves and on social media.

    Academia is rapidly becoming a new target. The protests around the country are being condemned on “talk radio” the bull horn, I believe, for the coming administration. The charge is that the protestors are victims of the Teachers Union
    And left wing professors. Public opinion is being created to demand that federal funds be withheld from colleges and universities that do not have “political diversity” on campus. “Academic freedom” is seen an archaic cover up.

    Academia should be concerned with this immediate threat. I would recommend that those targeted turn their radios on and listen. Then, raise money for legal defense. And, please, please, do not define yourselves as the “educated.”

  • I love to see my Democratic friends try to understand we Trump supporters. Some of this is very good analysis but it falls short of describing the full picture of what makes Trumpites (or is it Trumpsters?) work.

  • I am not a supporter of Trump. So I do not know the full picture. I would really, seriously, appreciate your input.
    I will share with you my serious concerns. I have heard Trump supporters say that “We take him seriously, not literally.”
    However, the persona that Trump projected was one of belittling those who were handicapped, or of a racial or religious minority, or women who had been victimized. His win sent the message that not only was this behavior okay, but it was the way to be successful.

    I stand with those who are afraid. I am.

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