In 1968 after doing unexpectedly well in the New Hampshire primary, Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy bragged that his were “the most intelligent volunteers in the history of American politics.”
Later, during the Oregon primary, McCarthy said, “I want you to remember, when you go to the polls, that the more educated, more intelligent people vote for me, and the less educated people vote for my opponent.”
This year, on the night of the Nevada caucuses, Donald Trump said, “We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
Those last five words have drawn a considerable amount of comment.
James Taranto/Wall Street Journal: “As the left, and some on the right, denounce him as a bigot, he has been winning by being inclusive.”
Nick Gillespie/Newsweek: “Trump ‘loves’ the poorly educated without qualification, just as he loves the rich and the poor, the naked and the clothed, the fat and the skinny. … As long as you vote for him, it’s all good. He will look out for you and your interests.”
Nick Gillespie/Reason (a libertarian publication): “No recent candidate has been more divisive than Trump, who couldn’t get more than five minutes into announcing for president without going off on rapist Mexicans and building walls, beautiful walls. Yet he’s also inclusive in a way that virtually no other candidate is (with the exception of Bernie Sanders…).”
Scott Eric Kaufman/Esquire: “The fact that speaking about ‘the poorly educated’ prompted the notorious ad-libber to begin discussing Hispanic voters is surely a coincidence, as is the fact that he quickly segued from discussing Hispanic voters to all the ‘bad dudes’ he will ‘load up’ in Guantanamo Bay should he be elected.”
Jimmy Kimmel: “He loves the poorly educated. Who says that?”
Hadley Freeman/London Guardian: “‘I love the poorly educated!’ he crowed last month, and no wonder – they have, at long last, slaked some lifelong need in this poor little rich boy. And now he watches them beat up his critics at his rallies, like an emperor grandly sending out peasants to battle his personal enemies.”
So many people have tried to figure out what Trump meant by his comment. It would be better to try to figure out what those less educated Nevadans meant by their votes.
McCarthy equated education with intelligence – “the more educated, more intelligent people.” That’s absurd, of course, as Sequoyah, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Gregor Mendel, Frederick Douglass, Jane Goodall, John Glenn and innumerable others have shown us. McCarthy was suggesting, and Trump’s critics suggest, that the uneducated are attracted to certain candidates because they are ignorant or unintelligent. But that’s not how intelligence works.
People who are not educated do not, because of it, lack intelligence. They are not ignorant because they lack schooling. Indeed, they have an innate ability to recognize their own interests. In our society, people without college have difficulty getting by financially. As a result, they have turned to candidates who spoke for low income people – Estes Kefauver, Robert Kennedy, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders.
We can argue about whether those candidates truly speak for people who are hurting. But people who hurt have the perception to recognize those who disdain them, as McCarthy did. McCarthy’s opponent was Robert Kennedy. Kennedy was always bothered by the fact that, as he put it, McCarthy got the A students and he got the B students. But low income people recognized Kennedy’s empathy for them.
We’ve heard Democrats Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Barack Obama disparaging the culture of low income people.
There is considerable doubt whether anything in a Trump program would help low income people. But a Democratic Party that is far too disdainful of the working poor it once represented could learn from the fact that he does not look down on them.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.