In her new book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton agonizingly reviews why she lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump. No stone goes unturned or unblamed: James Comey, Bernie Sanders, Julian Assange. Everyone. But for all the 512 pages, she misses the real cause of her defeat, and ironically, it was the very same thing that allowed her to become a candidate in the first place.
Amidst all of her endless re-examination of the election, she overlooks the obvious seminal question: How was it possible that the wealthiest and most successful nation in human history could elect a transparent idiot as president? How could this have happened?
The cause of her loss and Trump’s victory were not triangulation or campaign errors or the flaws of other people in one moment of bad judgement or action. This was an event that had been in the making for the past 40 years. It did not happen by accident or by transgression, nor was it caused by any individual. It was, rather, inevitable. The seeds for this were planted a long time ago, it is only now that they are beginning to bear their bitter fruit.
For much of the past 25 years, I have been teaching at both Columbia University and NYU. These are very good schools. They attract the “cream of the crop.” The students are supposed to be amongst the smartest and best prepared in America. Yet over those years, I noticed a distinct and very real deterioration in the quality of the basic education that my students had received prior to coming to the universities. As time went on, they became, increasingly, year after year, far less well informed or educated. They often could not, for example, tell the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King. Many of them did not know when the Civil War took place, and what was far more disturbing, most of them did not care that they did not know.
“We can Google it” was their standard response.
They were, increasingly, like their president, lacking in any sort of intellectual curiosity, and worse, unaware of how little they knew. Nor did they care.
What had happened?
I have a theory.
When I was in public school in the 1960s, I received a very good basic education. I did so because I had excellent teachers. Now, the vast majority of these were women. They were women who had become teachers because society afforded them no other option. Even as late as the ’60s, the only fields open to intelligent women in search of a career, were, for the most part, teacher or nurse. Thus thousands of extremely intelligent women became teachers ―much to our benefit. And, because they had no other options, they were paid a pittance and the school boards were able to get away with it. Where were these very bright women going to go?
In the ’70s and ’80s the world changed radically. I am old enough to remember when a woman attending Harvard Law School could still warrant a newspaper story.
As the world opened to women, they flocked to law, medical, business degrees and the high paying careers that accompanied them. Had education paid attention, it would have offered salaries competitive with partners in law firms or corporate vice presidents to hold onto the best. But they didn’t. The continued to pay their rather low salaries. And the result, certainly with the exception of a deeply dedicated few, was that the quality of teaching deteriorated. You get what you pay for in this world, always.
As the quality of education deteriorated so did the quality and intellectual foundation of the electorate and the nation.
I have been in the television business for more than 30 years, and I have watched as the “viewers” spoke. CBS no longer produces programs like “Harvest of Shame.” Instead, TV is filled with “Naked and Afraid” or the Kardashians. Television programing reflects the intelligence of its viewership. “Pawn Stars” and “Swamp People” on The History Channel (The History Channel!) speaks volumes. Les Moonves spoke volumes when he said, “Donald Trump may not be good for America, but he certainly is good for CBS.” Donald Trump “rates” (and gets elected) because he is the honest reflection of what we have become ― and uneducated and intellectual uncurious country with no grounding in history or literature or reading.
Good luck Hillary Clinton with that.
And so, after debasing public education for two generations, what did you expect? What did you expect you would produce? Stop teaching Greek and Latin, stop reading the classics, stop teaching history, stop demanding that people actually know something to graduate or even pass and you create a nation that loves Donald Trump. He is, after all, “just like us.”
As for Hillary Clinton, the sad reality is that the very forces that opened the doors of opportunity for her and allowed her to become both a U.S. senator and a Secretary of State may also have sealed her doom ― and that of the nation as well... perhaps.