Those of you who know me even modestly in a social regard know that I’ve been highly focused on the impending era of Trump. Some have suggested perhaps to an unhealthy degree. But I had to ramp up quickly. Even though by November I had come to recognize a realistic path to Trump’s election, I still held to the belief that the forces that be would settle on Clinton. Not that this is without its own mounting concerns, but this belief had led me to construct a post-election game plan that would have involved me lobbing constant, searing scrutiny on Clinton’s presidency, which would have needed to be exemplary to justify continued support from many people who reluctantly supported her in contrast to the blood-chilling alternative.
Obviously, I had to scratch all that planning. As well as a whole lot of sleep.
In the weeks since the election, even my more liberal and progressive friends and family have wondered why I myself am worried. I’m a straight white male, they say. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of refugees, Muslims, LGBTQ people, people of color, women, and other marginalized groups. “But at least you’ll be all right, right?”
I’d be inclined to agree were it not for a timely and world-encompassing curriculum taught in my schools as I grew up. Rochester, Minnesota has long been a friend to refugee communities. When I was in elementary school, we learned about the conditions in southeast Asia that caused people to flee Laos, Cambodia/Kampuchea, and Vietnam. We read about the state of human rights in such places as China, Poland, Cuba, and Afghanistan. We learned about dictators and their rise to power. Students read Animal Farm and The Diary of Anne Frank, Maus and The Killing Fields.
There was a common detail that emerged in many of these fledgling dictatorships. One of the first things that needed to happen in a seizing of power and stifling of dissent was to crack down on scholars, on educated people who could see what was happening and chose to speak out. To simplify their purge, many despots’ soldiers simply executed anyone who wore glasses. It was possible to live life and work without glasses if one had flawed vision, but they were a necessity to those who might also want to read and write. Glasses signaled intelligence, and so places like China and Cambodia operating accordingly.
As someone who has worn glasses since first grade, I was a bit of an anomaly in elementary school. Taunts of “four eyes” were still common then, and “nerd” was a foregone conclusion. So my classmates had an interesting takeaway from all this information on foreign horrors:
“They’d kill you first,” they would say, in the classroom or on the playground. “You and your whole family.”
I have never forgotten this.
Scholarship need not be shot in the head, however. It can be suffocated, or slowly strangled to death. It’s been happening for many years now. Where once the Cold War placed special emphasis on the need for math, science, and engineering, the years since the fall of the Soviet Union have moved decidedly away from treasuring our best and brightest. A fostered sense of distrust for all things government has bled over into one of more most critical institutions: public education. Ironically railing against “state brainwashing,” education critics have done their best to place firm limits on exposure to many forms of knowledge: sex education, literature (including many of the titles listed above), evolution science, art, music, philosophy, world cultures and religions. In doing so, such advocates seek to create an environment for only “safe,” “moral” instruction (that tightly aligns with one’s own historical and religious perspective). Even the non-profit nature of schools has come under attack, in favor of profit-focused charter school or university models.
Tuition has skyrocketed as colleges and universities spend on everything but faculty salaries in their race to court “customers of higher learning,” while the professors themselves are derided as “elitist,” “out of touch intellectuals,” or the more assiduous “leftists.” Americans are being told to view teachers with suspicion instead of respect. The inanely repeat the “those who can’t do, teach” mantras that portray educators–who often make a sacrifice in their careers in order to help cultivate growing minds–as people who couldn’t cut it in the real world.
Policy is rarely dependent on science anymore. Law is formed by the lawyers, and no one else is invited. Where once a scientist or expert in one’s field could be trusted to fill in the gaps for policy, such expertise is brushed aside by politicians and their “real world” common sense that tells them that too many people living on an island might make it sink, or that melting icecaps aren’t a problem because the melting ice cube in your drink doesn’t make the liquid level rise, or fear that harnessing wind power will reduce the world’s limited supply of moving air and heat the earth, or that the Internet is a series of tubes. All of these are real claims made by real lawmakers. Some on boards centered on science.
We have reached a point where a Steven Crowder can glom onto a report by NASA and will hear (and declare) the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the study finds because people no longer have the patience, reading comprehension, or basics for understanding scientific terms necessary to properly assess such a treatise. We have reached a point where not only do scientists have to fight to make their informed conclusions heard above the din, but they have to waste additional time trying to convince people of what they said the first time because so many entrenched pundits are misrepresenting their findings. We have reached a point where the more concrete evidence that gets presented, the more people are willing to double-down on the idea that the evidence serves a cover-up of the truth.
Certainly we have always had to affirm and reassure non-scholars who have declared (and rightly so) that our learning doesn’t make us better than them. We have even entertained the notion that our degrees and years of study don’t make us smarter than anyone else. Yet now we are at a time when such people will further declare that our studies do not make us more knowledgeable than they are. And call it smug if you will, but there I draw the line. I rankle at the idea that people can simply “know what they need to know” when so much of being a good student is realizing the extent of what it is that you do not know, and vainly trying to fill in those holes. I get agitated when people assure me that they “can see the truth for themselves” in circumstances where it is clear they have no idea what they are talking about.
It doesn’t matter if “I don’t know” is perceived as weakness or a character flaw. What does matter is combatting it not by striving to understand, but by sternly refusing to accept that one doesn’t know, or that whatever one doesn’t know might be essential. This is the defining characteristic of Trump, and appears to be for his presidency. He doesn’t need intelligence briefings because he already knows the score. He believes he knows how to deal with ISIS better than the generals. He will unwaveringly declare facts staring him in the face to be wrong and the tools of a corrupt, lying media. Reporters are biased, scientists are biased, professors are biased, everyone is biased against him because their information doesn’t gel with his.
And I am anxious because I am already so tired and the big fights have not even begun. I am tired of being told on Facebook that I need to educate myself by people who could never be counted on to do their share of group work and cheated off of people like me on tests. I am tired of the level of abuse and extent to which the phrase “You’re over-thinking it,” is being used against thorough analysis. I am tired of having people tell me that the solutions to things are “real simple” when the reality is that they are very, very complex which is in large part why they haven’t been solved yet. I am tired at having empirically and demonstrably incorrect views can be written off as having an opinion. I am tired at how “tl;dr” is not only a thing, but that it itself has to be abbreviated. I am even more tired at how “tl;dr” is framed by others as a criticism rather than a helpful summary.
I have no misconceptions as to how this piece itself will almost certainly be misconstrued, or how critics will simply frame it as “Glaser explains why he’s so much smarter than you” in order to both minimize my claims and further quash my petition for respect for academics by leading the avenue of ridicule via caption. They will channel the zeitgeist of today and declare that I and others like me have been “owned” by some half-witty one-line zinger, and seize upon any concession or compromise we make in our open discussions as complete and utter defeat of our entire premise (if not our way of life). Labels of “libtard,” “snowflake,” “idiot” or any other cutting label will be lobbed because such labels are helpful for telling someone “everything they need to know” about a person and their positions.
Meanwhile, I will continue to draw upon the lessons of history to add perspective to the looming disaster being visited upon our nation, and attempt to share that perspective with anyone who will listen. A number is that is rapidly shrinking with each attempt as more and more people grow bored or annoyed by people like me who are “what’s wrong with America” and somehow “why Trump won,” and move very quickly to silence me by moving their mouse or finger to the block or unfollow buttons, happy to see an end to my know-it-all bespectacled face, pulling the trigger to be rid of me. Click.