Surely you remember the “basket of deplorables.”
That was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 characterization of some Donald Trump supporters. Observers saw it as a major gaffe, and conservatives erupted in hot, “How dare you!” indignation at the idea there was anything deplorable about voting for a lying, racist, misogynistic, vagina-grabbing, deadbeat.
Few people, if any, dared point out the obvious. Which is that Clinton was right.
Well, welcome to déjà vu all over again. Recently on CNN, Don Lemon presided over a segment about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently blew up at an NPR reporter for having the temerity to ask him about Ukraine. The reporter says Pompeo challenged her to find that country on a map, which she did. Panelist Rick Wilson, a former GOP strategist, opined that Pompeo “knows deep within his heart that Donald Trump couldn’t find Ukraine on a map if you had the letter U and a picture of an actual physical crane next to it.”
At which Lemon started laughing and could not stop. He lowered his head to the desk as Wilson and a second panelist, New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali, adopted dumb rube accents in mockery of Trump supporters.
Wilson: “Donald Trump’s the smart one – and y’all elitists are dumb!”
Ali: “’You elitists with your geography and your maps – and your spelling!’”
Trump World was predictably, if hypocritically, outraged. Lemon would later assert that he was laughing only at the initial joke and that he didn’t hear – and disavows – the mockery. But the Poynter Institute, among other journalism professionals, was unpersuaded. It called Lemon’s behavior “unprofessional,” and added that, “Bending over and laughing until you cry while being oblivious to what your guests are doing was not a good look for Lemon. It was an even worse look for CNN.”
You’ll get no argument here. Lemon’s attack of the tee-hee-hees reflected poorly on him, his employer and his profession.
But Lemon’s response to it aside, Wilson and Ali’s jokes – riffing as it does not just on Trump World’s ignorance, but on its hostility to knowledge – strikes a chord. Consider an anecdote from the new book “A Very Stable Genius” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig. It’s about Trump’s visit to a sacred American shrine, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. He’s on the boat, being ferried out to this iconic site, and he pulls then-Chief of Staff John Kelly aside. “Hey, John, what’s this all about?” he asks. “What’s this a tour of?”
Maybe if it were a one-off, you could ignore it. But from his disinterring of Frederick Douglass to the creative spellings of his tweets to his geographic gaffes (We just got back from the Middle East,” he once announced – in Israel) Trump produces daily, glaring and incontrovertible evidence of his intellectual dullness.
Which, in Trump World, will cost him absolutely nothing. Small wonder. A 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans with college and post-graduate degrees, progressives outpace conservatives by a wide margin. In other words, the right is less well educated. In Trump, they’ve found someone who validates their inchoate biases and fears – and they don’t much care that he doesn’t know what happened at Pearl Harbor.
If you happen to be one of those crazy folks who thinks knowing stuff is good – especially on the world stage – that’s frightening. And it lends a certain perspective to Lemon’s lapses. Once again, a side issue takes center stage.
And the obvious goes unsaid.