There's another book out about how dumb America is getting. In The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols takes things a step further than other analysts of the decaying American mind. He goes so far as to say "ignorance has become hip."
Yep, in the most powerful country on Earth, the less you know, the cooler you are.
"The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance," alleges Dr. Nichols, a professor at Rhode Island's Naval War College. Expertise is being replaced "with the insistence that every opinion on any matter is as good as any other."
The epidemic of misinformation is without precedent, the author maintains, and no one has a clue of what to do about it. Donald Trump is capitalizing and will continue to do so until respect for erudition, if ever, is restored.
Newspapers keep publishing lists of the President's latest lies. In a speech Mr. Trump gave at an ego-stoking mass rally in Iowa last week, The New York Times found a dozen. Nobody cared. It was consistent with his batting average. Lies aren't news any more. Fiction is to be expected. Fiction wins.
Sure enough, after months of being pilloried as a liar, Mr. Trump triumphed in his first big electoral test. The Democrats threw a ton of resources into a battle for a congressional seat in Georgia last week. As in the presidential election, there were expectations they would win. They lost.
Low-information voters were again on Mr. Trump's side. "I love the poorly educated," he said last year. Small wonder. They're ill-equipped to challenge him. His ignorance is bliss.
It wasn't always this way. In a 1976 presidential debate, Gerald Ford declared "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." The blunder brought thunder, hurt his campaign. Mr. Trump's supporters likely wouldn't be bothered by such. Issue illiteracy, as Dr. Nichols argues, brings no populist reckoning.
Here in Washington, I keep waiting for some incensed politician to stand up, to take a stand against all of the above, to risk populist wrath, to holler, "What are we doing? Are we this degenerate, retrograde? Isn't the advancement of a society to be found in the advancement of learning?" No one comes forward.
America's intellectual ossification is explored in other books such as Susan Jacoby's fine pre-Trump volume, The Age of American Unreason. The malaise is not uniquely American of course. But as Dr. Nichols writes, "The United States with its intense focus on the liberties of the individual, enshrines the resistance to intellectual authority even more than other democracies."
There used to be institutions, pillars of truth and credibility in this country. But now there are no such go-to temples. Universities in the past could sometimes lay claim to exercising intellectual authority. Now most are discredited as being wedded to ritualistic liberal ideology.
Despite terrific work being done in many American media, journalism has come to be seen as overly politicized. Given the country's level of polarization, most everything written or screened, no matter how well sourced, is slotted into a liberal or conservative bias bin. There are no Walter Cronkites, the TV anchor who bore the title of the most trusted man in America. There can't be. The capacities to cripple, afforded by new communications weapons, such as malicious online posts from cowards using phony e-mails, would prevent anyone from gaining such a reputation.
The author of The Death of Expertise takes the obligatory run at the woes brought on by the Internet. But the woes cannot be repeated too often. "Not only is the Internet making many of us dumber, it is making us meaner: alone behind their keyboards, people argue rather than discuss, and insult rather than listen."
Exhibit A of course is the President's ranting – such a model for American youth, for intelligent discourse – on Twitter. But the problem extends well beyond Mr. Trump and his circle. The epidemic of dross is a product of the excesses of what is supposed to be cherished in a democracy: Freedom of speech.