Is intellectualism dead in U.S. politics?

“It was almost no trick at all to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth…”

There is a distinct lack of intellectualism in the politics in the United States. One can disagree on policies, but that does not appear to be the crux of the arguments.
I came across this article in The Daily Beast from March 2014, which lays out the case that this phenomenon is not just a 21st century trend:

There is great intelligence in Americans, just as there is great professionalism. The problem is that professional intelligence is mechanical and functional – utilitarian. It is about the completion of an assignment, and the execution of a formula…There are only so many ways to do a job, and since many Americans learn at a very young age, that their entire lives are about the job they will one day have, they begin to think with the variety of appliance assembly methods in an instructional manual.

“The mystique of practicality,” to use [Richard] Hofstadter’s increasingly relevant words, stupefies people into voluntarily enlisting into the “curious cult of practicality.”

This seems to explain at least one candidate for President, who I’ve read described as a fachidiot, pronounced “fak ee dee oat”. It is a “derogatory term for a one-track specialist who is an expert in his field, but takes a blinkered approach to multi-faceted problems.” It could be a person highly accomplished in his field who is out of his depth in politics, for instance.

When has it ever been “practical” to study philosophy? Or art history? Or English literature? No one studies the humanities or fine arts for their practical value. They meticulously examine Van Gogh’s paintings, or closely analyze Hemingway’s novels, because it makes them feel more fully human. It enlarges the imagination, rattles the emotions, and offers the promise that through the intellectual mine work of artistic and philosophical discovery, they might emerge from the pit of the mountain with something more valuable than silver, gold, or coal — the truth.

The truth that is accessible only through the exploration of ideas is no longer in fashion.

Here’s a Catch-22 quote by Joseph Heller that singer Bette Midler recently tweeted that sums up at least some of the current crop of candidates:

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

Someone else recently noted the state of American politics by quoting the magnificent language of Aaron Sorkin:

“People want leadership,” says the presidential aide. “In the absence of genuine leadership … they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership, and they’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

To which the President replies, “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

— from the screenplay for “The American President”

Here’s hoping we don’t drink the sand.

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

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