From attacks on evolution to denunciations of the “ivory tower,” anti-intellectualism has a long and contemptible history in the United States. It is now killing Americans.
For months we have known about the global threat posed by the coronavirus. Yet, led by a president who consistently rejects empirical realities, the White House dithered. The cost of that dithering is now apparent, with the number of infections increasing exponentially, millions of people newly unemployed, and countless health care workers confronting a pandemic underequipped and overwhelmed.
This is not just a Donald Trump problem, however. To be sure, Trump is astoundingly ignorant and uniquely incompetent among modern U.S. presidents, and his mendacity and ineptitude will result in thousands of unnecessary deaths. But the problems afflicting us today point to a larger rot in American political life.
For decades the Republican Party has railed against expertise, painting it as a conspiratorial assault on so-called “conservative” values and the millions of Americans who embrace them. According to this reactionary worldview, experts, academic and otherwise, are not learned individuals seeking truths. They are, rather, left-wing subversives attempting to undermine the nation from within.