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

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

18 thoughts on “Is intellectualism dead in U.S. politics?”

  1. A thoughtful and depressing reflection on the state of politics, not just in America, but around the world. We seem to have moved from ‘verbose’sound-bites to instant Twitter politics – policies conveyed in 140 characters or less.

  2. I truly can’t comment to this post in a responsible way because i do know nothing about politics, not in my own country, more so not in yours…
    although the news that does come te me about a man who runs for Obama’s chair truly gives me the creeps….and thinking about him on that chair, scares me (a lot!) for all the us-inhabitants and the people beyond the us-borders

  3. I can not all understand… but we look at the States with worries and interest in this time – – –
    Greetings from Germany

  4. Firstly Trump or Clinton ? the thought of either in the White House
    sends shivers down my spine..
    won’t be ‘God Bless America it will be ‘God help America’.
    I’ve managed to put up the wrong post Dohhhh!
    Can you please delete it for me as Linky wooon’t let me put
    the right one in then I can post the right one?
    Di xx

  5. Oh my gosh, Roger! You’ve hit the nail on the head (if only you could do it literally to the stupid noggins!) We here in Canada are terrified of the results of your election and cannot believe the idiocy of the hoards behind a certain candidate. I’m even disappointed in the results of our recent election as we’ve gone into such a humungous financial deficit already! Our previous PM may not have been, as one says “charismatic,” but he kept us economically sounds for all those years when even US Americans were losing their homes! May God help us all…

    abcw team

  6. The last quote is from the movie The American President a conversation between Michael J. Fox character and the president played by Michael Douglas. Love, love, love that movie!

  7. Yes, I agree you are ‘spot on’ and the USA seems to get ‘dumber and dumber’ and that ‘normal curve’ is not a place I want to be and don’t have a solution but my country needs to turn itself around and get some creative intelligence going ~ and where that leadership is going to come from is not in any of the presidential candidates ~ so hope their are smart men and women around whoever becomes president and get’s the country back on its feet ~ Probably too much information but your post motivated me ~

    Happy Week to you ~ ^_^

  8. It can be seen that now a days people argue for the sake of argument and not because they really mean it.

  9. The Heller quote is timely indeed.
    This is lowest common denominator politics at it’s worst.
    I sincerely believe everyone should vote but that they should also do some research, not just be carried along with the loud angry rabble.
    Hopefully by January 2017 we can get back to being a great nation and a better member of the global community.

  10. “It merelyl required no character.” That sums it up. Of all the Vonnegut quotes I have seen on the Net, real or imagined, that is the best for this moment in history.

    I have used the phrase “willful ignorance” many times, and I will continue to use it as pertains to Donald Tr*mp. Yes, his last name is a “swear” in our household, as in, “Go tr*mp yourself!”

    Willful ignorance transcends lack of education and applies to those (like members of my family) who have decided the president is Muslim, immigrants are to blame for (fill in the blank), and whatever nonsense FOX spews. Willful ignorance, embracing the lowest common denominator as absolute truth, when in reality, there is no such thing!

    Ah, I can feel my blood pressure cresting as I write this. Good call, Rog. Love, Amy

  11. My son watches yr US politics with enthusiasm. I am not sure I like either Trump or Hillary.

    I remember the 1976 election, I was in Canada watching US TV.

  12. They are a poor crop. A lack of both intellectual rigour and a long term vision seems to be common in all our politicians at the moment.

  13. Yes. The current farcical US political milieu isn’t funny anymore. I take Hofstadter’s point about the ‘curious cult of practicality’ very well. We fool-proof everything and become fools. We short-cut in the name of ‘working smarter not harder’ and our labors lack integrity. I think of Occam’s razor and I see Uncle Sam with bits of red and white tissue stuck to jowls where a handsome beard once hung.

    A well conceived and executed, thought-provoking post all ’round, Roger…

    ps. thanks for reminding me why I chose to study literature (and wrote grad papers on J. Heller to boot) — in pursuit of truth, for the love of beauty, and to be as fully human as possible!

  14. We have a bit of a farce here in Canada too, with a ‘celebrity’ Prime Minister who sees the post as an opportunity for ‘selfies’ with those who are enamored, and can’t make a speech or a comment without every fourth or fifth word being ‘uh’….do we really get what we deserve?

  15. I like to think the majority of us, voters know the difference between sand and water in a mirage. After reading your post, I’m very thankful my parents allowed me to meander towards my career rather than impose/enforce/intimidate me into taking the best paying job that was available to young women.

  16. Nobody here in Europe, and I mean all countries united can simply not understand how a clown like Trump even made it so far. So far America seemed to be quite normal to Europeans but now ….

  17. Such a mystery, why are there no intellectual discussions in American politics? Gee, maybe it has something to do with the portal through which all information flows, the Corporate Media? The only viable campaign that is even bringing up vital issues (Sanders) is routinely suppressed by the information gatekeepers. So the Corporate Media gives us Donald Drumpf almost nonstop and lets us hear about the size of his penis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial