In the presidential debate on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump had one message for people who went to a state college, didn’t do well in college, or didn’t go to college at all: You’re stupid.
In response to a question about COVID-19, former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden said that Trump “still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be back in February, and he didn’t even tell you. He’s on record as saying it. He panicked or he just looked at the stock market. One of the two. Because guess what? A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker.”
The president’s response: “Did you use the word smart? So you said you went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college. You didn’t go to Delaware State. You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word.”
It was a stunning moment, especially from the man who once crowed, “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
Trump has zero respect for the people he claims to represent.
Trump’s claim that he loves “the poorly educated” itself evinced profound condescension for the very group of people he claimed to value. But his attack on Biden’s education during the debate was a new level of vitriol and disrespect. Given that white voters without college degrees do indeed support him in much higher numbers than college graduates, you would think the president wouldn’t be so quick to equate a diploma with intelligence—unless he thinks his own followers are stupid.
For a guy who thinks he’s very smart, Trump was also wrong about the whole “college makes you smart” thing. There’s little question that learning of course improves intelligence. But it is not the case that what college you went to (or didn’t go to) is evidence that you are smarter or dumber than someone else.
Often, attending an elite school reflects a broader constellation of privileges: Some level of intelligence, sure, but also class, affluence, personal connections, and the luck of being born into a particular family. (Let’s not forget that more than a third of Harvard’s class of 2022, for example, are legacy students.) There are a lot of extremely smart young people in the world. An infinitesimally small number of them wind up at America’s top colleges. A great many don’t have the opportunity to go to college at all.
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