OK. It IS time to use the word stupid. Unpacking the word, we can say someone who is stupid is in a bubble that cuts off understanding. Nothing could be better illustrative of that than the way we are talking about Trump’s assertion that he will defend NATO allies only if they are “paid up” on their “dues”. This is absurd – that is not what treaties are. The effect on our allies is destructive even if it is coming from a candidate rather than an actual President. The fall out from this could truly be – to use Trump’s word – disastrous. The undermining of decades of shoring up alliances so we don’t have to post troops in every country in the world and of inviting former enemies in the Warsaw Pact into alliances with us is enough to set the hair of our diplomatic corps on fire.
What is maddening is that the commentators do not seem to know who Trump is talking to. He is talking to people who’ve been fed garbage by the GOP for years: that NATO is full of suspicious foreigners who want to tell Joe the Plumber how to do his job and where to live and what songs his children will learn in school; that the U.S. does all the work of security and others are getting a free ride and laughing at us. They treat these other countries as if they are the guy who gets the mechanic to fix his car with a promise to pay next payday and then stiffs the mechanic – dishonest, unreliable, disreputable. That’s how they see other countries. They know nothing about them other than what they hear on Fox News. They have no idea how NATO works, what it’s for, nothing, zero. IOW, stupid.
Now can we say it?
Aug. 23, 2018 Update to Stupid. (I note I wrote this two years ago)
We must add ignorant. Stupid refers to being in a fog, a Fox-induced fog. Ignorant means not knowing. Here is what Trump supporters do not know:
To take on each one, the origin of the ignorance and the consequences:
James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me racks up Trumpian amounts of lies and distortions engaged in by writers of standard textbooks of American history (world history, too, I’m sure). America can never be wrong or bad or stupid. We must always be depicted as winning. Ever upward and onward. That is what makes the Trump phenomenon so hard to grasp: we might just be seeing a down-swing we won’t pull out of for a long time as Trump breaks up the norms and institutions that have served this country and destroys alliances and arrangements built up by some of our finest statesmen. That is in no way to say that those statesmen did not set us on the wrong path at times (right now in The Wise Men we see Kennedy setting the stage for Viet-Nam by his choices based in his reverence for the Establishment types). At some point, though, all thoughtful Americans (how many is that?) must reflect on the bed out of which arise our mistakes. A view of our history that ignores the complexity of our past gives us nothing to draw on. A case in point I’ve mentioned elsewhere is the issue of a disproportionate number of Black people killed by the police and other persons in authority or pretending to it. Without an understanding of where our policing practices came from, we cannot reform policing practices.
An understanding of nationalism is essential for comprehending issues like border security, language policy, and other matters that exercise people. If your image of border security comes from old WW II movies of the Gestapo asking “papers please,” you have no idea how normal it is for people along a frontier to go back and forth and do business across the border. The old story about the Brits during the War of 1812 getting so mad at a Canadian town that had given some gun powder to their American neighbors to celebrate the Fourth of July is more typical than one might think. Smuggling is how great Americans like John Hancock made their living, getting around tariffs. It is not enough to prattle on about American exceptionalism, we must distinguish our governmental and economic systems along with our culture from other systems and cultures in a realistic way rather than wrapping it all in a semi-religious (and often not so semi) package of ordained inevitability.
Even more than history, sociology is absorbed through community norms: some people are OK, others are not. In-group, out-group, quality folk vs trailer trash, the other side of the tracks, invisible paths to bidden and forbidden places that only the locals know….. all this makes up the sociology of a country. Immigration in the U.S., which might as easily been put under history looms large b/c that is how the continent was filled after the Amerindians died from disease. Perhaps here more than in other categories numeracy, a grasp on numbers, is required for full comprehension. If you feel in your gut what 3% is, the number of illegal immigrants aka undocumented people aka visa overstayers is not so big. When someone tells you that 30% of GNP goes to foreign aid you can squint a bit and prod them to check those figures.
I’ve been chatting recently with a guy who goes back and forth across the border with Mexico. He lives in Sinaloa; his family prefers living in Mexico although everyone has papers to live here. A friend of ours wanted him to do some work for her in a town some miles south of here, closer to the border but not much, and he went home first to grab his papers in case he was stopped. A hassle for everyone but a reasonable part of border control. What is not reasonable is putting in charge of border security people who either have no idea how the border works (millions of dollars flowing back and forth each day) or know exactly how it works and exploit people needing to cross. A mayor of a town near Phoenix had it pointed out to him that people in the thousands cross over every day to shop and his comment was, “And I’ll bet you’ll find them all in Wal-Mart.” Total contempt. But no racism there. Heaven forefend and clutch my pearls.
A supervisor told me Blacks had to be inferior because they had been here much longer than other immigrant groups (immigrants?) and remained on the bottom (this was mid-60s). It was only later that I realized his background in Virginia founding a school had been tied to the Resistance against school integration so fierce in Virginia and leading to the charter school movement (see Diane Ravitch, educational history scholar, in Death and Life of the Great American School System). The ability to forget about slavery and segregation, so recent as law that my wife was raised in it, is a sine qua non of being a conservative.