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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why academics dislike Donald Trump

The only reason intellectuals dislike Trump is that he doesn't talk like one.

D did you know Donald Trump pronounces China like “Cheeeeeeena!”? Well, neither did I until informed by an academic last week.

That remark got a big laugh from the other academics in the room, as did his subsequent comments about Sarah Palin, with which he assumed that his audience would agree, but his invectives were all content-free; their sole purpose was to make him feel better about himself and the fact that his idol Hillary had gone down to humiliating defeat.

There was a time when such comments would have elicited only looks of stern disapproval. Not anymore.

But why? Academics can't be that isolated from the two-thirds of the voters in this state who crawled over broken glass to pull the lever for Trump.

The main reason academics hate Trump is not his policies. It's not the things he says. It's that he doesn't play by their rules. Intellectuals live for ideas to tear apart the way a dog lives for a bone. When there are no ideas, all that's left to talk about is their emotions.

Yes, there's an element of wanting to drink from the swamp, and the accompanying fear that Trump will drain it; but even when academics cackle about possible grant money coming their way, most of them, at least in STEM fields, don't really care much about politics, as long as their funding isn't in danger. They're far too wrapped up in defending their own sinecures. What they really care about is being successful and respected.

In their world being respected means being witty. If Donald Trump had been wittier, he would have converted a lot of them, or at least intimidated them enough to pause before criticizing: the one thing an academic fears even more than losing funding is being thought too dumb to get the joke.

For example, when Hillary accused Trump of not planning to accept the results of the election, his answer was something like “I will accept it, if the results go my way!” Very straightforward, very Trumpian, and matter-of-fact. There's no need to think about what it means.

If he'd said “Well, um ... Hillary ... I don't think that will be an issue!” —the pause as if trying to remember her name is very important here—it would have been much more effective. At the risk of beating a deceased quadruped (note: pompous-sounding polysyllabic words are important too), a witty response is one where the meaning is not obvious, and the listener has to figure it out. It works because it gives intellectuals a challenge, like giving a cat an unopened can of tuna and an electric can opener where the electric outlets are all 208 volts.

(Note for the benefit of readers outside the USA: this means the plug will not fit.)

Donald Trump actually does this (that is to say, he's unpredictable, not that he gives cats tuna, though maybe he does), but with actions instead of words. As I and others have said many times, he stakes out an outrageous position, waits for a response, and then negotiates from there. It's his version of chess. Maybe that's why Putin respects him.

The chattering classes aren't accustomed to that. They are, by definition, verbal. Unfortunately, Trump needs their support in order to bring the country together, and if he could work some witticisms into his speeches, the next eight years would pass a lot more smoothly. And more importantly, I won't have to listen to dorkfaces my esteemed colleagues bashing him for eight long years.

Here's something he could say:

The broom of time will sweep political correctness into the dustbin of history. The suction cup of prosperity will suck liberalism into the wastebasket of bad ideas. The damp palm of revolution will carry divisiveness and identity politics into the crumpled paper towel of discarded ideologies.

After that he could add “We will make America great again!” or whatever, but the point would be made. Intellectuals would be speaking for months in muted tones of humbled admiration of his scintillating wit. Deep down, they'd say, he's one of us.

Of course, if he talked like that he wouldn't be Donald J. Trump. He would be Dick Cavett, or maybe Groucho Marx, and he'd probably have gotten stuck on the B list during the debates. But there's a sweet spot—I mean an optimal topological convexity—in there somewhere.

Anyway, why should he? We didn't elect this guy to talk.

Last edited Jan 19 2017, 6:46 am

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