How the GOP weaponized ignorance — and how “smart people acting like dopes” stay in power 

This is a portion of a discussion for Salon yesterday between Dean Obeidallah, writer for Salon and Andy Borowitz who wrote “Profiles in Ignorance: How American Politicians got Dumb and Dumber.”

The three stages of ignorance are ridicule, acceptance and celebration. Ridicule came first. That was when dumb politicians had to pretend to be smart. It was still important, we thought, for our politicians to be knowledgeable.

RIDICULE: There was an era a long time ago, say 50 years ago, where we still expected politicians to know stuff. The Republicans discovered in the 1960s, after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, that it was important to have somebody who was good on TV. Because Kennedy cleaned Nixon’s clock on TV. Not on the radio, because on the radio they both sounded knowledgeable. So the Republicans reverse-engineered this and thought, well, instead of finding a politician who’s knowledgeable and making him good on TV, let’s just find somebody who’s really good on TV and then make it appear as though he knows stuff.

And that was the beginning of Ronald Reagan. They recruited Ronald Reagan, who was at that point a has-been TV host. But he won the California gubernatorial race by a million votes, and that really set the whole thing off. Because at that point the Republicans realized, we just have to find people who are good on TV. 

ACCEPTANCE: Next we moved into the acceptance phase, where dumb politicians felt it was OK and even cool to appear dumb. That’s George W. Bush, the guy you want to have a beer with. . … George W. Bush really turned ignorance into an asset. Because he didn’t know anything and was like, “I’m like you. You don’t know much either, do you?. … .” 

George W. Bush would get asked questions and he would say, “Maybe I don’t know that. Maybe I don’t have to know that.” He would sort of embrace his ignorance. And he said, “I don’t have to know everything. I’m going to surround myself with people who know things.” That sounds familiar, because Trump said the same thing. “I’m going to surround myself with good people, the best people.” 

George W. Bush, just a few weeks before invading Iraq, did not know who Sunnis and Shiites were. I mean, he literally did not know. He was informed about this by some Iraqi exiles at the White House, and he said, “I thought the Iraqis were all Muslims.” I mean, this was weeks before invading Iraq.

GATEWAY TO CELEBRATION: Palin, as you say, began to show us glimmers of what the GOP is today: the celebration of ignorance and the trolling. Like, I’m going to stick it in your face and I’m going to gin up hate against people on the other side. Is that fair? She had never heard of Margaret Thatcher. She thought the queen of the U.K. commanded the armed forces. She didn’t know who attacked us on 9/11. She thought it was Saddam Hussein. This was somebody John McCain chose to be one heartbeat away from the presidency.

CELEBRATION: Finally, you get to the celebration phase.; the celebration of idiocy and how dangerous it is. Donald Trump ushered in that celebration.

But what’s really horrifying about this stage — there are two kinds of ignorant politicians we’re dealing with now. We have Boebert comes by it very naturally. Louie Gohmert, among othere, people like that. But then there are these super-educated guys like Ted Cruz, Princeton grad, Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley. These guys know better, and yet they’re making really dumb decisions because it appeals to this populist sense that we don’t want smart people running the show. To me, the celebration phase is the most heinous phase, because we have people who really know better who are acting like dopes, and it’s hurting us. It’s endangering us.

— you remember trickle-down economics, the Republican gospel that you cut the taxes of the rich and then the poor, magically, somehow get rich too. Doesn’t work. It’s been disproved a million times.

I think, though, that trickle-down ignorance has been a roaring success, because we’re social animals and we’re actually very compliant. So when our leaders say things like, to pull an example out of thin air, “I really think that drinking bleach could knock out the coronavirus just like that,” a certain number of us will say, “Well he’s really important, he’s the president, so that must be true.” So these people have an enormous responsibility, obviously. What they say has enormous power.