So, the provenance of this post: a few weeks ago Bill Maher posted a video on his facebook page where he pretended to give Donald Trump’s Eulogy. I am not sure how the chain of creativity occurred, but I posted a comment somewhat on the fly, that went something like this:
” In the upcoming Xmas movie “Screwged,” Trump has federal agents gas the Ghost of Christmas Past, fires Bob Cratchit, sues Fred for his tell-all memoir, takes away Tiny Tim’s healthcare, and pardons Jacob Marley. It is what it is.”
Okay, a fun little play on the Dickens plot, I figured I might get a few dozen likes, and I went about my business. But amazingly, and this is by far a personal Faceboook best, I got over 600 likes, along with a total of 90+ comments. No money of course but, nice to be noticed.
While the vast majority of the comments were complimentary (My fave: “You won the internet today”), a handful were not. It doesn’t make immediate sense to me why a fan of Donald Trump would even visit Bill Maher’s page, much less watch the video or read the comments, but . . . they did. And here is the key: instead of making any logical argument, the Trump fans basically said I was stupid, or a moron, or something similar. It was remarkably consistent. And patterns like that set me thinking.
Now normally in our culture the word “stupid” is an effective shaming tool, and I suppose the goal here was to silence me with shame (good luck with that guys); but since I wrote the book on the science of stupidity, the hoped for effect of essentially seeking to silence me with shame did not work. Instead, it gave me an insight into the minds and souls (yes, souls) of these Trump voters. And here is what I discovered:
With all our eagerness to send kids to school and test their intellectual capabilities, the people (now I am making a presumption here) who run the schools and administer the tests tend to lean democratic, and I think that group is not seeing how they are helping to create the Trump voter block.
Here is the deal: if you score high on a test, good for you, but what if you don’t? What if the public school system repeatedly shoves your low tests scores in your face and repeatedly tells you you are “stupid”?
Bear in mind, for a helpless little kid going through that kind of shaming experience over and over, for all the good intentions of measuring academic achievement, I think the big picture is getting missed. Those kids have collected a massive pile of shame, and they associate it with any and all things academic. That includes their teachers as well as any kind of intellectual or scientific expert, as that is the group of people who shamed them so often. That resentment has been building for decades, and now Fox News and the Republican Party have recognized the potential lying therein.
As Alice Miller explains, when people are traumatized in childhood they seek to heal themselves via the “reenactment syndrome,” meaning, they repeat the abuse, only this time they are in charge. And these Trump fans who told me I was stupid were trying to put me through their worst childhood experience, of being told one is socially unacceptable due to a mental defect.
I could explore this issue at much greater depth but the point I wish here to make is, if you are an education professional, have you ever taken a moment to look at this block of Trump voters and wonder, we spent on average $100,000 of taxpayer money on “educating” each one of these kids; and did we, perhaps inadvertantly, create the monster which supports this kind of anti intellectualism, and eagerness to visit shame and social ostracization on some vulnerable party? In dumping shame on others (sometimes violently so), are they merely reenacting what school did to them?
I fear that for people who did well in school– those who had parental support, better qualified teachers, perhaps also paid coaches to help the more average among them get by– really don’t have a good grasp of what this kind of experience can do to a kid who is on the edge anyway, with divorced parents, abusive parents, or poverty stricken parents in the mix. That shame energy needs to go somewhere, and a charming leader can exploit that energy by telling them to direct it at his enemies.
In our eagerness to test and test, we of course create a select group of elite high scoring winners, but in so doing, are we not also creating a far larger group of low scoring losers? And is any thought being given to this massive mound of intellectual tailings piling up year after year?
People who live at the top end of intellectualism and academic elitism have precious little direct experience with the kind of intense shaming and embarrassment that so many C and D grade American children go through. The emotional scars can be so great that they can overwhelm the conscious logical mind.
The Treaty of Versailles had many good intentions, but the unintended consequences– of humiliating and impoverishing many of the German people for 20 years– created the collective crazed anger that allowed Hitler to rise to power.
Politics these days is seldom about logic. It is about tapping into the worst buried memories of wounded vulnerability that overwhelm the conscious mind. People who seek power do not hesitate to tap into these dark emotions, and before we complain about it, we ought to ask if we have contributed to the problem. With the best of intentions, have we created a lower intellectual caste that is burdened by overwhelming amounts of anger towards society, a caste that that might someday outnumber us?
(c) Justin Locke