“If the way to do good to my country were to render myself popular, I could easily do it. But extravagant popularity is not the road to public advantage.” – John Adams, after becoming President by only three votes
I admit I have been guilty of somehow having the concept in my mind that people in this century are much more widely read, more enlightened, more intelligent, more educated than in previous centuries.
I am reading the book John Adams, by David McCullough, and am almost struck breathless by the level of courage, honour, work effort and intelligence displayed by this farmer turned founding father of the USA in the mid to late 1700s. The clarity of thought in his correspondence, diary, and legislation is sublime. He was a lawyer, so perhaps this might be considered by some a natural progression or logical outcome; however, his spouse Abigail was also matchless in her intelligence and expression thereof in her correspondence, a fact which both the author and Adams himself credit as instrumental in his rise.
After reading this book, I find myself wishing that, at least (and no doubt only) in the political and public discourse arena, we could return to those earlier days.
I’m glad there are still clever intelligent, and articulate prominent people in the world. Educators, authors and playwrights, professionals, scientists, some comedians, a very few celebrities, and sadly even fewer politicians displaying (outwardly at least) erudite qualities I admire.
But frequently now there seems to be a backlash towards the intelligencia; the highly educated, general intellectuals or those in scientific communities are often maligned, usually by those who feel somehow ‘less than’ or looked down upon. Sometimes they are derided and scorned by those who feel disenfranchised, unempowered, or unable to garner further education, wealth or simply to hone those same traits themselves.
And unfortunately, the majority of todays’ politicians have accurately sensed that trend and are capitalizing on it to win votes and get elected/re-elected.
The Great Orange Hope Trump did not start this, but he certainly doubled down to the point that it shook the rest of the right wing to the core once they realized they could actually get away with bald-faced lies, misinformation and false accusations that in previous decades would have garnered lawsuits and criminal charges.
And of course, the left wing is also following suit.
This has happened before, during the precursors to revolutions (the French Revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, The Cultural Revolution in China, and so on); granted, they were mostly much more about poverty vs wealth, power and religion, but also included fomenting the anti-intellectual sentiments that the ‘masses’ felt.
Might this be where we are at right now?
Currently, everywhere in the world it seems, we also have high/increasing taxes, inflation, a supply-chain crippling war and epidemic, governments deaf to the masses, extremism, middle class erosion, rich getting richer again, and backlash towards those who appear to be above the rest, including the intelligencia previously mentioned. It is all the stuff of revolutions; unfortunately, I don’t know that we have people the calibre of John Adams and others to lead us safely (if you can call a bloody war such) through and out of one into a better day.