Trump’s Mount Rushmore Diatribe

The President is desperate and unwell and the press is making no bones about it.

WaPo (“At Mount Rushmore, Trump exploits social divisions, warns of ‘left-wing cultural revolution’ in dark speech ahead of Independence Day“):

At the foot of Mount Rushmore’s granite monument to his presidential forebears, President Trump on Friday delivered a dark speech ahead of Independence Day in which he sought to exploit the nation’s racial and social divisions and rally supporters around a law-and-order message that has become a cornerstone of his reelection campaign.

Trump focused most of his address before a crowd of several thousand in South Dakota on what he described as a grave threat to the nation from liberals and angry mobs — a “left-wing cultural revolution” that aims to rewrite U.S. history and erase its heritage amid the racial justice protests that have roiled cities for weeks.

Praising presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, the men carved into the cliffs behind him, Trump declared that their legacies are under assault from protesters who have defaced and torn down statues. As he has done with increasing fervor in recent weeks, the 45th president denounced not just rioters and vandals but also much of the social movement that propelled the mass demonstrations in response to the killings of black men at the hands of police.

“The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society,” Trump said. “It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance and turn our free society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.”

The president, who recently signed an executive order aimed at punishing those who destroy monuments on federal property, referred to “violent mayhem” in the streets, even though many of the mass demonstrations have been largely peaceful. He warned that “angry mobs” were unleashing “a wave of violent crime” and using “cancel culture” as a weapon to intimidate and dominate political opponents — in what he compared to “totalitarianism.”

NYT (“Trump Uses Mount Rushmore Speech to Deliver Divisive Culture War Message“) frames it almost identically:

Standing in a packed amphitheater in front of Mount Rushmore for an Independence Day celebration, President Trump delivered a dark and divisive speech on Friday that cast his struggling effort to win a second term as a battle against a “new far-left fascism” seeking to wipe out the nation’s values and history.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging and his campaign faltering in the polls, his appearance amounted to a fiery reboot of his re-election effort, using the holiday and an official presidential address to mount a full-on culture war against a straw-man version of the left that he portrayed as inciting mayhem and moving the country toward totalitarianism.

and adds:

Mr. Trump barely mentioned the frightening resurgence of the pandemic, even as the country surpassed 53,000 new cases and health officials across the nation urged Americans to scale back their Fourth of July plans.

Instead, appealing unabashedly to his base with ominous language and imagery, he railed against what he described as a dangerous “cancel culture” intent on toppling monuments and framed himself as a strong leader who would protect the Second Amendment, law enforcement and the country’s heritage.

The scene at Mount Rushmore was the latest sign of how Mr. Trump appears, by design or default, increasingly disconnected from the intense concern among Americans about the health crisis gripping the country. More than just a partisan rally, it underscored the extent to which Mr. Trump is appealing to a subset of Americans to carry him to a second term by changing the subject and appealing to fear and division.

“Most presidents in history have understood that when they appear at a national monument, it’s usually a moment to act as a unifying chief of state, not a partisan divider,” Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, said before the speech.

The President is becoming increasingly desperate and unhinged. And both of America’s leading newspapers have stopped pretending otherwise. Indeed, both reports are as much analysis as they are news coverage.

That’s a good and proper thing under the circumstances but maybe not if it continues with the next administration. Already, far too many Republicans believe the mainstream press is essentially a Democratic Party propaganda machine. This sort of coverage helps fuel that belief.

In the idealized version of journalism, these stories would simply report what the President said, how the crowd reacted, how many were in attendance, and the like—Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?—and analysis would be left for the editorial and opposite-editorial pages. But, when the President is openly fomenting racial resentments and stoking cultural divides, critics increasingly believe that straight-up coverage amounts to legitimating those tactics.

I’ve gradually and reluctantly come into the latter camp, thinking it’s important to be crystal clear about what’s happening even while skeptical that it will actually change the minds of anyone who can’t figure it out for themselves by reading through the lines.

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FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    @RachelBitecofer

    IDK know how anyone can watch this f’up fascist speech & not know that if Trump isn’t removed from office Nov. 3 REAL “cancel culture” will be coming to America & it won’t be the kind that generates smug sounding tweets & op-eds.

    16
  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I just want them to point out the lies and what the truth is. Not that any good would come of it. The articles would triple in length and people would stop reading halfway thru the first paragraph. Wait a minute, I do that now.

    7
  3. Jen says:

    He’s having more and more trouble pronouncing basic words. He mispronounced “totalitarianism” and had to repeat “Jefferson” to get the word out correctly.

    There is something very, very wrong here.

    17
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Curious as to how Tiny’s rant was covered in a regional paper, I perused the Union Leader website. This is a Tiny friendly newspaper and they went with a by-lined, Reuters wire service report that was neutral in the way wire service reports are. It mentioned the high low points of the speech and did touch on the fact that he forced the fireworks on the park, they had been suspended for fire safety reasons in 2009, the protesters blocking the roads and virus related controversies.

    That the UL editors kept those portions of the report in what was printed here, in my mind, signals disapproval of Tiny by the paper. As of this morning, there was no opinion/editorial pieces on the rant.

    To your point James, regarding a preference for a return to straight reporting in the future. I’m in essential agreement with you, but what I don’t want to see is a return to the both-siderism that has been prevalent in the press over the last 30 years.

    17
  5. Teve says:

    I don’t know offhand what happens to you when you snort Adderall for decades, but I’m guessing it’s probably not something positive.

    5
  6. charon says:

    @Jen:

    Your link didn’t land at any easy to find examples. Here is another version:

    https://twitter.com/TomJChicago/status/1279256867718529029

    Trump’s is sweaty, jerky & slurry. His skin is glazed. His words are mangled. He can’t enunciate
    “Totatitariatism”
    “U-lyss-i-us S Grant”
    “Grandger”
    “Terinized”
    A new level of weakness in his voice stands out. He can’t deliver the angry speech. This is part of his dementia decline

    4
  7. charon says:
  8. Jen says:

    @charon: Yeah, I linked to the full Aaron Rupar thread, you do have to go through it to find all of the different examples he listed.

    It’s startling to see it laid out like that.

    1
  9. Barry says:

    James: “That’s a good and proper thing under the circumstances but maybe not if it continues with the next administration. Already, far too many Republicans believe the mainstream press is essentially a Democratic Party propaganda machine. This sort of coverage helps fuel that belief.”

    James, they believed it since the days of President Clinton.
    And not playing the ‘he said, she said’ game help inform more Americans.

    13
  10. Teve says:

    @charon: What the fuck is going on with his right shoulder and then left arm.

    That boy ain’t right.

    5
  11. CSK says:

    @Barry:
    Republicans have believed the press is an organ of the Democratic Party since the days of John F. Kennedy.

    Over at Lucianne.com, this diatribe is being lauded as “Trump’s finest speech,” quoting The American Thinker.

    7
  12. Kingdaddy says:

    Take the empty trappings of faux patriotism — fireworks, flags, flyovers — and fill them with dangerous denial of a raging pandemic, drunken tribalism, and willful ignorance. Add a few dashes of cognitive decline, promises of continued symbolism over substance, and, oh, why not, it’s within arms reach, the unnecessary risk of fires at a national monument. Stir it all together and you have a toxic stew that’s orders of magnitude unhealthier than the fare that Trump eats on a regular basis.

    If you were to write a story about the crisis of the core values and institutions of American politics, it would include this scene. I’m not sure you’d have the reckless behavior in the face of a deadly disease, however. It would seem incredible, thousands of supporters cheering a man who himself is clearly protected in a way they are not. It’s hard to believe, even when it’s happening in the real world.

    On the other hand, you’d pretty much expect the antagonist be a cynical plutocrat pretending to be a member of the lumpenproletariat. That’s almost a given, in that sort of political nightmare narrative.

    22
  13. Bill says:

    @Teve:

    What the fuck is going on with his right shoulder and then left arm.

    That boy ain’t right.

    Something medically isn’t right about Trump. His saying of Jefferson and how his body acted makes me think he may have had a slight stroke. My father had a few of those. In one case, I diagnosed it while Dad’s primary care doctor didn’t think so but nevertheless ran a few tests. Which confirmed my diagnosis.

    At my suggestion, Dad got rid of that primary care doctor shortly thereafter.

    9
  14. CSK says:

    @Bill:
    A transient ischemic attack. Maybe that’s why Trump was rushed to Walter Reed last November.

    11
  15. Bill says:

    @CSK:

    A transient ischemic attack

    Yes a TIA. I was trained by the Navy Corpsman, and mostly worked in radiology* but my cancer battle has left a few holes in my memory.

    *- The off color comments I’d get from Marines after I tell them Take a deep breath and hold it and Gunny may say back to me. “That’s funny, Doc. I think I said the same thing to the wife recently.’

    5
  16. Teve says:

    @CSK: @Bill: it didn’t look like that to me, it looked more like some kind of spasming.

  17. charon says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    I’m not sure you’d have the reckless behavior in the face of a deadly disease, however. It would seem incredible, thousands of supporters cheering a man who himself is clearly protected in a way they are not.

    A lot of people are long term severely debilitated, it isn’t just the fatalities.

    This thread is pretty sobering:

    https://twitter.com/DaniOliver/status/1279155358666305541

    What the fuck is going on with his right shoulder and then left arm.

    That boy ain’t right.

    It’s called dystonia, involuntary muscle spasms are part of the frontotemporal dementia package, the dementia has a lot of physical symptoms in addition to the cognitive decline.

    Loss of balance, loss of control of the tongue, etc.

    2
  18. @Barry:

    James, they believed it since the days of President Clinton.

    They believed in the 1970s, if not the 1960s. Limbaugh ranted about it int he 1980s when Reagan was still in office (he constantly spouted how he was “equal time”). Fox News Channel was born in the late 90s out of the belief that the other networks weren’t “fair and balanced.”

    7
  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Bill:
    @CSK:

    First, Bill it is good the see your screen name again.

    I’ve been wondering if the mystery trip to Walter Reed, had been related to a stroke or mild chest pains. The slurred speech, the body weakness and trouble walking are indicative of a mild stroke, though the spasms that @Teve: mentions brings to mind Parkinsons

    7
  20. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    I didn’t mean that Trump had one last night. I was speculating on whether he may have had a TIA in the past. Like last November when he was carted off to Walter Reed. The aftereffects can linger.

    One of the symptoms of a TIA is arm weakness. Trump’s been suffering this for a while. Who knows? Maybe he has Parkinson’s. Some of the symptoms are the same. He’s not the picture of health his doctors keep assuring us he is.

    4
  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Biden should agree to take a cognitive evaluation and medical record, if Tiny does as well and release his complete medical record

    1
  22. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    We seem to be thinking along similar lines.

  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    Great minds…

    Or maybe it is fools on a hill?

    1
  24. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Thanks for the back-up. As I said, the Republican belief that the press serves the Democrats goes back to the days of JFK.

    2
  25. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    The fool on the hill was actually wise, was he not?

    2
  26. CSK says:

    Whoever did Trump’s makeup for this debacle forgot that we can see the sides of his face and neck. It looks as if he’s wearing a bronze mudpack.

    6
  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    The kind of reporting and also commentary I seek and stick with is one with a specific, explicit point of view, and a commitment to integrity. They will consider and report all the facts they are aware of, not just the ones that support their case.

    I went years reading only left-wing stuff and not realizing that the reason that some states were rejecting the Medicaid expansion was that they would have to spend more of their own revenue. It’s a great deal, the Feds will chip in with lots more dough than the states, but the states still have to pony up and some don’t want to.

    Thing is, nobody reported that. Because it didn’t fit the narrative. Now, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of examples of this from right-wing news sources. And stuff that’s much more egregious, such as the idea that Obama is “the most incompetent man to hold the presidency”, which a conservative friend told me. Which is nuts. You’re welcome to not like is politics, but where did that come from?

    Reporting or blogging this way is hard. Human beings need to work at being like this. And you don’t get many readers this way, either, it seems. Some will see you as disloyal to their cause. I know James and Steven do work at it, which is why I’m here.

    14
  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Thanks, Jay — that was well-said.

    The only thing I would add is that if you are reporting on a speech, and you know that some of the central things that were said are not true, you are complicit in the gaslighting if you do not correct them in your reporting.

    15
  29. Jake says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I have been here since I was a twenty something undergrad. Now, I’m a thirty-six year old medical student with a wife, a kid and another one on the way. I steer anyone with an honest interest in politics to this site.

    5
  30. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: What has happened to American culture that so many people insist on being exposed only to “news” that supports their viewpoint? Or was it always this bad?

    If I were POTUS, the first thing I would do is tell whatever person is acting as spokesperson for the White House to Not Spin. Dicat veritas, ruat coelus.

    3
  31. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. How are your locations celebrating Fourth of July celebrations? Where I am they’ve decided to not have a parade nor a fireworks celebration due to the crowds that show up. I suspect that even so we’ll be hearing a lot of pop-pop-pop tonight as people let off fireworks from their back yards.

  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    GIGO is as true for humans as it is for computers. But I think at the same time we are underestimating how many people could take in even perfectly unbiased information and nevertheless fail to draw rational conclusions from it. The last four years has been a brutal lesson in just how incapable Americans are of even basic analysis.

    I’m reminded again of Swift’s quote: It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

    We don’t teach people to reason. We don’t insist that they show their work when attempting to reason. We can’t, because to do so flies in the face of religious belief and until recently we weren’t allowed to challenge that. But it also would lead to treating people as if they might be unequally gifted with intelligence, so it’s elitist and the only elitism Americans will tolerate is expressed in dollars.

    9
  33. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I suppose people will do backyard fireworks (as always), since all the state and municipal celebrations around here have been canceled. No live Boston Pops on the Esplanade this year. I have no objection to people celebrating July 4, but I had outgrown it by the time I was about 10. You’ve seen one fireworks display, you’ve seen ’em all.

    4
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK:

    You’ve seen one fireworks display, you’ve seen ’em all.

    True enough, but only because the people who plan them rely on chrysanthemum bursts for most of the show.

    3
  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I don’t think it’s due to religious belief systems–after all, the development of literary criticism and the debunking of the Donation of Constantine was carried out by very devout Christians. I’d blame it on the “have it your way” mentality, where everything (including news) is now considered nothing more than a product to sell to a customer. Americans now take it for granted that they should be served up, as their “right” as customers, with “news” that satisfies them and makes them feel self-righteous about their belief systems. The “customer” mentality has superseded the “good citizen” mentality. The latter requires a devotion to ethics and morality, as well as a realisation of responsibility towards the Common Good. The former simply requires money (or, in the case of social media, a willingness to be the meat-on-the-hoof to sell to advertisers). There is no need for ethical balancing or a devotion to Truth at all.

    3
  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I disagree, but that’s because I’ve seen Japanese fireworks festivals, which regularly are advertised by the number of 10,000 fireworks they are going to set off….

  37. JohnMcC says:

    Thought I’d point out that this event was not a campaign rally. It was a presidential visit. No reporting I’ve seen has pointed out that these two distinct kinds of presidential activity have become completely merged into the great personality of our Leader.

    That’s how low our expectations have sunk. No one noticed.

    11
  38. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I think I found the reality of fireworks displays a real letdown after the way they were hyped. I’m always reminded of Dom DeLuise’s line in History of the World, Part I: “Nice. Not thrilling, but nice.”

    2
  39. Teve says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    but the states still have to pony up and some don’t want to.

    Thing is, nobody reported that. Because it didn’t fit the narrative.

    I’m pretty sure an hour of looking through NYT archives would say otherwise. Pretty sure I saw it reported several places that the feds paid everything for x number of years and then the state had to contribute 10% and blah blah blah afterward…

    3
  40. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:
    NBC, the CBC, and even one of the Fox affiliates referred to it as a rally. I think they’re inseparable in Trump’s mind, don’t you?

    I think it’s one of the reasons why–apart from sheer loathing of the man–Trump wasn’t asked to speak, even briefly, at George H.W. Bush’s funeral, or John McCain’s. (Or even show up at McCain’s.) He would have turned both obsequies into events celebrating him, as he did his own father’s service.

    8
  41. Scott says:

    Yesterday was the 167th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Let’s hope that Trump’s speech was, like that failed charge, the high water mark of the Neo-Confederacy.

    2
  42. Gustopher says:

    @Bill: Bill! Good to see you back.

    Trump is in decline. He’s a billion years old, and he’s clearly in decline.

    Biden doesn’t have the same spring in his step that he used to, but seems relatively healthy, if a little frail.

    But Trump… maybe it’s just depression making his usual problems seem worse, but he seems low energy, weak and sloppy. There’s something very wrong. And that might just save our republic.

    3
  43. @CSK: Yep–you beat me to it.

    (I still remember my mother thinking that Walter Cronkite was too liberal).

    2
  44. Hal_10000 says:

    I think you underestimate the appeal of that speech at your peril. It’s hitting home with a lot of the conservative base. It’s helped by parts of being based in truth — people are tearing down statues, not just of confederate generals, but of anyone. Hell, they’re now gunning for a Lincoln statue donated by slaves and dedicated by Frederick Douglass. You also have things like Seattle’s CHAZ garbage that ended with teenagers getting murdered, the billions of damage done to inner-city and minority-owned businesses and explosions of murder and mayhem in cities like Chicago. This isn’t something Trump and the Right Wing are imagining or creating out of thin air.

    Yes, the speech was deranged. But he’s given deranged speeches before. This sort of thing will rally his base. And it will appeal to a lot of Americans who think that tearing down Lincoln statues, declaring anarchy zones in cities, pretending rioting didn’t happen and soaring murders might be a problem.

    8
  45. Scott says:

    @Hal_10000: You are exactly right. My Congressman is going full red baiting culture war right now ranting about America hating, self-loathing, marxist snowflakes. Demanding law and order to preserve liberty. The base is eating it up.

    I’m waiting for the stab in the back reference.

    3
  46. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I’m not sure that any underestimates Tiny’s bases approval of the speech, what is questioned is, does it improve his standing with suburban, nominally repug voters who can’t stand him?

    6
  47. Monala says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I was a child in 1976, but I swear I recall fireworks that year that would form images in the sky, such as American flags. I can’t recall anything like it since. As you say, it’s all chrysanthemum bursts.

  48. JohnMcC says:

    @Teve: Speaking for the poor sadsack state of Florida, during the regrettable governorship of Mr Rick Scott, it was well reported that altho the Feds would pay some 95% of the cost for 10 years (or some such — the numbers elude me) the Medicaid expansion was still a trap that would in the end cause the State to actually — wait….. have a tax.

    @CSK: What do people talk about when they’re not talking about the greatness of Mr Trump? I ask you.

    1
  49. CSK says:

    @Monala:
    See, that’s what I’m talking about. I recall being told that I’d see an American flag, but I never did. All I saw was a bunch of red, white, and blue fireworks randomly exploding. No flag. Flag colors, yes.

    When someone says, “Those fireworks will form the American flag,” I expect to see a flag, goddamit, not a bunch of flag colors.

    1
  50. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:
    I suppose they’re at a loss for words.

    2
  51. Monala says:

    @Teve: I was going to say the same. I recall plenty of stories about that, too.

    1
  52. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I went years reading only left-wing stuff and not realizing that the reason that some states were rejecting the Medicaid expansion was that they would have to spend more of their own revenue.

    That was their excuse, but that was not the reason why.

    It’s a great deal, the Feds will chip in with lots more dough than the states, but the states still have to pony up and some don’t want to.

    90% Fed, 10% state, which if one runs the numbers they more than get back in improved healthcare for their poorest people and the associated cost savings.

    The reason they don’t go for it is because they would be rewarding those people for not lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps.

    ETA: also, I don’t know what you were reading but I always knew about the fed/state cost share. As I recall It was in every news story about medicaid expansion that I read. Also in every analysis and opinion piece.

    12
  53. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The reason they don’t go for it is because they would be rewarding those people for not lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps.

    A big part of it. But I think it’s mostly that Republicans believe their own BS. As part of trying to stop Obama from accomplishing anything they made out that Obamacare was the worstest thing ever, purely for political reasons. Having said it for years, now they believe Obamacare, including Medicaid expansion, is evil purely as a matter of faith.

    4
  54. JohnSF says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Sometimes, with my medievalist head on, I think returning to the trivium as the foundation of education would be a good idea: grammar, logic, rhetoric.
    Arguably the foundations of critical reasoning.

    4
  55. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: Having said it for years, now they believe Obamacare, including Medicaid expansion, is evil purely as a matter of faith.

    Absolutely, but I think they think so because it “takes” money from those who “have” it and “gives” it to those who don’t. What is more, it makes the scam of fake health insurance illegal and tells insurance companies they can’t discriminate. (on the basis of pre-existing conditions). Also that there are some things they are going to have to pay for whether they like it or not (mammograms, vaccines, you know, basic stuff that saves lives)

    The fact that it actually helped their constituents, especially the rural ones, was just the icing on their oppositional cake. They were not about to allow a DEM to do that. If anyone was going to make their constituents lives better, it was going to be… God?

    5
  56. An Interested Party says:

    Speaking of news sources and how they deliver information, I just love this ridiculous piece from Politico…Biden is in the lead, BUT he may still blow it, Trump is floundering mightily, BUT Biden may still lose, Biden will probably be elected, BUT Trump may announce a Covid-19 vaccine, and then when they include quotes from somebody who worked in the Carter administration, you definitely know where this article is going…I half-expected the author to write that Biden will probably win the election, BUT he may be struck by lightning tomorrow afternoon…despite what Hal_10000 mentioned, about all the very scary people in the big cities, this deranged, enfeebled joke of a president is going to need a miracle to win in November…the real fun is going to start when Republicans realize that he will drag them down with him, including losing the Senate, and then perhaps they will finally turn on him…

    2
  57. rachel says:

    @JohnSF: Let’s make the trivium great again!

  58. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: I’ve never seen a show in Japan and fireworks were not popular in Korea as a civic celebration thing–although there were a few fireworks here and there on some holidays. Where I’ve been they’re mostly mum bursts.

  59. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Wait a second. Who goes into politics to make the lives of their constituency better? I know that’s what they say, but who actually does that at a level higher than school board?

    @JohnSF: @rachel: With all due respect, considering that it is the “modern equivalent” of that system that creates the Alexander Boris dePfeffel Johnson’s of the world, I’m gonna slow walk this idea a bit.

    1
  60. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We don’t teach people to reason. We don’t insist that they show their work when attempting to reason. We can’t, because to do so flies in the face of religious belief and until recently we weren’t allowed to challenge that.

    I can’t remember what weird backwater you grew up in, but in a lot of America, kids are taught critical thinking. I may have had some exceptional teachers*, but honestly not that many. There was a lot of “here’s a letter from 1773, what does it tell us about the person who wrote it” (although they skipped over the low literacy rate and how the letters tell a biased view…)

    But it also would lead to treating people as if they might be unequally gifted with intelligence, so it’s elitist and the only elitism Americans will tolerate is expressed in dollars.

    I was in the gifted programs and took AP Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, History and possibly English — I can’t remember one way or the other on that one. That was 30 years ago, and if anything college prep programs are even more commonplace now.

    ——
    *: I had a teacher who had us reenact the Trail of Tears by marching across the football field and ordering people to collapse and die and others to weep for them. He followed this up with breaking the class into groups and having us try to come up with new names for it to hide the atrocities and make it more palatable. That teacher was exceptional — also, imagine 6th graders coming up with propaganda style names for the Trail Of Tears to minimize genocide.

    I suspect that last exercise wouldn’t fly these days. I don’t remember what awful things we came up with, just that he had a long list of even worse ones that were used in newspaper reports at the time.

    2
  61. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    I can’t remember what weird backwater you grew up in, but in a lot of America, kids are taught critical thinking.

    That was Pre-W.

    Under the Shrub’s [expletive deleted] No Child Permitted Ahead program, we deliberately replaced all of that hard-to-test critical thinking stuff with objectively-testable minimum competency standards. The incentives in the system were beautifully designed to enforce teaching to the tests, with predictable effect.

    In Virginia, those standardized tests are called SOL, which is shockingly honest of them. It’s ostensibly “Standards of Learning”, but no one is fooled.

    2
  62. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    Dude, I took 6th grade Virginia history and learned about the War of Northern Aggression. The closest I came to learning any sort of reasoning was debate club and speech class, where I was subtly targeted by my teacher with the phrase, ‘we can’t all be Michael.’ I learned fuck all in school.

    And I’d say it was just my experience, in schools long ago, but my genius offspring went to the top high school in Marin County and had the same experience, minus the racist history. I had to pay her to get her diploma, she gave that little of a shit about it. My artist kid found it all soul-crushing and humiliating. And just to round it out my wife spent HS eating lunch in the girl’s room.

    School works for dutiful B+ students. You know what I did during the two years of I was meant to be in High School? Got fake ID and worked at Toys R Us through Christmas, took myself and a cashier named Connie to hitch around Europe, ended up sleeping by the river in Frankfurt, came back through customs with nothing but a jar of peanut butter and Childhood’s End. Then moved to LA to collect rents and maintain my grandfather’s Long Beach slum properties. Then I moved to DC, worked in a law library and made a tiny contribution to bringing down Spiro Agnew.

    OTOH I did miss out on homework and tests and prom.

  63. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Dude, I took 6th grade Virginia history and learned about the War of Northern Aggression.

    Well, that’s a slave state, that’s hardly America.

    Seriously, though, I think you are assuming a regional problem that you encountered is representative of the country as a whole, when it is more likely to be pockets of good and bad.

    Clearly some people are learning to think — even some mediocre people. Look at the commenters here, look at all the people with engineering degrees (they often don’t think, but they can think).

    There are places in this country where they do a very poor job of it. I also think your linking of that to religion is a stretch — is Marin known for its religious fervor? You pull a lot of different problems that have superficially similar outcomes together as one problem.

    Schools favor the upper-edge-of-mediocre to the lower-half-of-very-good. I don’t doubt your genius kid was bored — I was bored most of the time and coasting with an A-minus and hung out in the art classes. Your artist kid probably discovered that they gutted art classes by the time she was there.

    I do recall a very clear effort to try to get kids to learn to think, incorporated into a variety of different classes. And, once the kids learned to think, they were usually bored.

    It might have been good if they taught me to work, though, rather than to coast. I failed out of one of the best engineering schools in the country because I spent all my time in the art school. When presented with things that were hard, I put in minimal effort and went off and did the things that were fun.

    I did learn to just find somewhere I could coast, and got a degree from a well regarded second-tier school while putting in no work… Not the best life lesson, perhaps. I’m never going to change the world. But, when I think of people who have changed the world, I think of Hitler, Stalin and Donald Trump, so that might be a monkeys paw I wouldn’t want to wish on anyway.

    Or, less obviously evil, Thomas Midgely, the man who developed leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons. He contracted polio, and devised a complicated system of pulleys to help people take care of him, and accidentally hung himself, thus preventing a third “great” invention.

    Apparently I just wanted to ramb;le more than I wanted to make a concise point.

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  64. @Michael Reynolds: @Gustopher: Are out schools flawed? Yes. Could they do a better job of teaching critical thinking? Absolutely.

    But, clearly, a lot of people do learn a lot in school. Else we wouldn’t have doctors and engineers and biochemists and so forth and so on.

    And, in the aggregate, public schools have been demonstrated internationally to be a major contributor to economic development.

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  65. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But, clearly, a lot of people do learn a lot in school. Else we wouldn’t have doctors and engineers and biochemists and so forth and so on.

    No, let’s be honest. Clearly a lot of people DID learn a lot in school. The educational systems of the past have been vindicated. For the current systems, the jury is still out.

  66. @DrDaveT: It will ever be thus.

  67. de stijl says:

    In college we had fall semester, January, and spring semester.

    During January you took one class. Only one class. Two and and half hours a day. They larded you up with a lot of reading and critical writing.

    January was great except it was St. Paul during January.

    Deep dives on interesting topics.

    My favorite was Learning How To Watch Television

    Which was basically the trivium mentioned above: logic and rhetoric. What was new to me is what most reporting leaves out.

    Not just is what are they saying logical, but what are they not saying that is absolutely pertinent.

    That was fascinating and really good group discussion. That professor – she was a solid pro at her job.

    January was deep dive learning and thinking and a lot of alcohol and enjoying nature’s pharma gifts.

    I believe Cornell was doing that scheme the full year: where you took one class per month. I liked J term a lot. No distractions. No calculation of how much can I slack on x because I have this paper due for y.

    The one downside is if you chose a poorly designed class or had a not so good professor. You were frustratingly stuck.