Early last month, when The Claremont Review of Books published “The Flight 93 Election,” many of us were left scratching our heads.
Why would this conservative, intellectual quarterly — published by The Claremont Institute — invoke such an apocalyptic analogy just to defend … Donald Trump?
The author hid behind a pseudonym, but the piece went viral. A few weeks later, more than one hundred “Scholars & Writers for Trump” signed a document declaring that “Donald Trump is the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America, and we urge you to support him as we do.”
When the election is over and the finger-pointing begins, it will be worth remembering that people who could only be described as “intellectuals” and “elites” were complicit in the movement known as Trumpism.
To begin with, Trump is, himself, a billionaire New Yorker who graduated from Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. His surrogates include a famed neurosurgeon and a former speaker of the House. Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, was a Goldman Sachs investment banker and owns a stake in Seinfeld.
Give me a T!
His biggest early cheerleader, conservative provocateur and Cornell grad Ann Coulter, worked for Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham. And Dartmouth grads Laura Ingraham (who was a Supreme Court law clerk) and Dinesh D’Souza have been boosting him on Fox News.
I could delve deeper into the background of each of these individuals, as well as their “work” on behalf of Trump (Ingraham’s LifeZette website, for example, just posted a conspiracy theory intimating that the Clintons have been involved in murders — free PR and increased book sales for Coulter, anyone?)
But — for the sake of brevity — scrutiny of D’Souza’s biography illuminates an interesting microcosm for both the academic and professional pedigrees shared by many top conservatives currently backing Trump:
“Born in Mumbai, India, Dinesh D’Souza came to the U.S. as an exchange student and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1983. Since then, D’Souza has had a prominent career as a writer, scholar, and public intellectual. … A former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, D’Souza also served as a John M. Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He served as the president of The King’s College in New York City from 2010 to 2012.”
Now, with a résumé like that (certainly more sophisticated than my humble Shepherd College diploma), you might assume that D’Souza would be a highbrow and eloquent conservative in the mold of a William F. Buckley, right? Not anymore.
As recently as Oct. 21, 2016, D’Souza (who previously pleaded guilty for making illegal campaign contributions) fired off this cruel tweet: “[President] Obama’s dad dumped him at birth & his mom got rid of him at age 10 — did they know something we didn’t when we signed up for this guy?”
This seems like a particularly distasteful comment for a man with so much to recommend him, but it was consistent with his current persona.
Why the passion?
Back to my main question: What explains the fact that so many cosmopolitan, intellectual conservatives are standing alongside college dropouts and radio talk show hosts (like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh) as Trump’s most passionate supporters?
In some cases, the plausible conclusion was simply that Hillary Clinton was worse. This is arguable, if defensible. But in many of the cases, Trump turns out to have been their dream candidate.
There seems to be a misconception about well-traveled and highly educated people being more open-minded and tolerant than the rest of us.
Celebrated historian Richard Hofstadter once observed, “Just as the most effective enemy of the educated man may be the half-educated man, so the leading anti-intellectuals are usually men deeply engaged with ideas.” It turns out that rich and/or smart people are just as kooky as anybody else — possibly more so. They simply use their intellect to more effectively argue their biases.
Some of history’s greatest evils were spawned by very smart people who lacked wisdom. In “Intellectuals and Society,” Thomas Sowell put it thus: “The opposite of intellect is dullness or slowness, but the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, which is far more dangerous.”
My recent book about the GOP might have been titled “Too Dumb to Fail,” but Donald Trump was not foisted on us by uneducated people.
His candidacy wouldn’t have been possible had it not been aided and abetted by highly intelligent and credentialed conservatives who were either misguided, focused on making money, or simply blinded by a radical (not a conservative) ideology.
Any recriminations or attempted reprisals should be aimed at the people on top.
Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.