Political Science 101. It’s the basic entry-level political science course taught at many college and universities. I oughta know because I wrote the book—well, one of the books. It’s called Understanding Politics* and it’s been around a long time now, longer than I care to remember. Longer than over 40% of the eligible voters in America have been alive.
Donald J. Trump has either never taken a basic course in politics or didn’t learn a damn thing if he did. When it comes to learning or understanding anything other than how to lie and cheat to get what he wants, he’s a zero.
Imagine a president who doesn’t understand or care about the Constitution he swore “to preserve, protect and defend.” Or what it means to take the oath of office. Or that the separation of powers is a bedrock principle. Or that the Appropriations Clause means what it says. Or why it’s wrong to use the Oval Office to enrich himself, his family, and his wealthy friends.
We don’t need to imagine such a president now because one currently resides in the White House. A president who’s a fraud and an admitted fraudster. An uncommon criminal who lies for a living and lives a lie for the sake of nothing greater than self-promotion, self-glorification (think Mt. Rushmore) and self-aggrandizement. Anyone who believes otherwise is full of it, (“it” in this case is half of a familiar four-letter word for fecal matter).
Understanding politics in America means coming to grips with the widening gap between the rich and poor, between the theory of democracy and the actual practice, and, yes, between black America and white America. Such an understanding goes a long way to explaining how millions of disaffected voters fed up with the federal government’s gross neglect and the glaring inequities both major national parties have let slide, ignored, or encouraged, turned to an anti-government outsider who struck a believable pose as a populist, railed against the Establishment, and spoke in a language familiar to the working class.
And in essence, that’s how hardworking people on the lower rungs of the income ladder in key battleground states helped elect a raving madman—a fat, lazy, philandering charlatan—who was clearly unfit for any position of trust.
Explaining it is one thing. Overcoming the disastrous consequences is quite another.
The have-nots are not solely or mainly responsible for electing Donald Trump. They did not do it alone. They had a great deal of help from the suburbs.
Never mind that many if not most denizens of America’s suburbs are college graduates. Most have never taken Poli Sci 101. Less than 20% of U.S. colleges and universities require a course in American government or history to graduate. Only about 3% require a course in economics! Millions of voting-age Americans walk across the stage in cap and gown every year having never taken a single course in political economy or political philosophy. This sad fact explains a lot about the existential political crisis we are facing in this country.
The crisis came about in the first place because enough Americans in Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin, among others, voted for Donald Trump to put him over the top in the archaic institution otherwise known as the Electoral College. Make no mistake: it happened once against all the odds and it can happen again.
In fairness, it’s not only voters in suburbs or rural areas that have embraced Donald Trump’s rule by tweets and taunts—the latest polls still show him with a 41.8% approval rating. That statistic points to a disconcerting fact, namely that Trump has a lot of company, that a very large percentage of registered voters in the U.S. would also flunk Poli Sci 101.
Despite being a rich country that prides itself on universal basic education and equal opportunity, despite pouring tons of taxpayer money into public education, we have not done a very good job of preparing students to become fully functional citizens in a free society, or teaching the full and true meaning of citizenship—that it entails duties and responsibilities, as well as rights and privileges. And that casting a vote is a sacred act that defines who we are as a nation and determines our fate.
That fact alone is justification enough for launching a major campaign to promote political literacy. And for pulling out all the stops to defeat an illiterate president.
*The book was originally published by St. Martins Press in 1984. Since then it has gone through more than a dozen editions. The latest edition appeared last year.