Having a college diploma and advanced degrees doesn’t mean you’re intelligent. It just means you have a substantial amount of formal education. And if you never get out of your bubble and expose yourself to different points of view, you could be as dumb as a box of rocks no matter how many degrees you have.
Many of us probably look back on our immigrant grandparents, with their sixth-grade educations and hardscrabble lives, and consider them to be among the wisest people we ever knew. And I bet all of us have run across individuals who spent many years piling up degrees but somewhere along the way lost their common sense. And then there are those politicians who look good on paper but failed Leadership 101 because they never bothered to study something really important: fellow human beings.
Besides, anyone who has worked a 12-hour day has to have a lot of respect for those who didn’t spend a lot of time in class because they were busy hustling on the job. Finally, if you spend any time around Ph.D.’s, you know that – in a world run by folks who can take the complicated and make it simple – many in academia often take the simple and make it complicated.
We accept all this, right? We know it like we know our own names, because life has taught us as much.
So why have some critics of President-elect Donald Trump decided to attack him and assorted members of his so-called “Billionaires Cabinet” on the flimsiest of grounds – their relative lack of formal education?
In Washington, Democratic senators are preparing to raise legitimate concerns about whether Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Trump’s pick for attorney general, is fully committed to protecting civil rights for all and not just for white men. They also want to know whether Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, is too friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Democrats can also be expected to ask Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency, how he can be trusted to shepherd a government bureaucracy that he has sued, and to try to elicit from fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick for labor secretary, his rationale for opposing increases in the minimum wage. All fair areas of inquiry.
But in the media and at the grass roots of the progressive movement, where anything goes and where what some people call “the politics of personal destruction” is alive and well, pummeling Trump and his Cabinet choices for supposedly not having a sufficient amount of formal education is considered fair game.
And so it is that Shaun King, a columnist for the New York Daily News, recently chided Trump for being “the first president of the United States in 25 years to not have a graduate degree of any kind.” He also took note that Tillerson doesn’t have the same level of education as John Kerry. The current secretary of state has a law degree, and the CEO of Exxon Mobil never went to graduate school.
King also singled out Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, his choice for energy secretary, as academic underachievers. So too Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for treasury secretary.
“Education matters,” wrote King. “It is often on college campuses where people are challenged with new ideas, new cultures, and opposing viewpoints that don’t quite match their own. … To see the education levels drop off so much, is not just disappointing, it could be dangerous.”
What’s dangerous is the combination of stupidity and elitism.
Let’s just look at one example. Tillerson doesn’t need defending, but you would imagine that someone who has successfully run one of the world’s largest oil companies has picked up a thing or two along the way. Kerry, you could argue, has repeatedly failed the test of moral leadership – as when he pushed through the Iranian nuclear deal, did little to stop the spread of the Islamic State, and scolded our ally Israel over its settlements.
Absent inheritance and lottery tickets, people tend not to fall backward into piles of money. Usually, they earn it. Intelligence and competence take many forms.
Politics can get rough. But this whole line of attack is, well, not smart.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.