A 19th-century German philosopher once asserted that the educators must be educated, the point being what was passing for knowledge and learning in the world seemed, based on the state of the world and its lack of universal well-being, perhaps more than arguably was not serving us well.
If we were to stop and reflect on this philosophical assertion, we just might have to recognize some wisdom in it.
After all, despite a tendency in U.S. political culture to blame the least powerful and most politically marginalized, in actuality those leading us are among supposedly some of the best educated folks among us. And look how we’re doing—the nation’s people lack adequate healthcare; a startling percentage of the population in the richest nation on earth live in poverty; Trump’s leadership has failed to manage the coronavirus pandemic; the nation is racially divided, aided and abetted by the racist and and hateful ignorance and hostility of Trump, his administration and the dominant culture as a whole; and once could go on. To paraphrase and adapt Dr. Seuss: We are not in very good shape, for the shape we are in.
Learning recently that Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, a revered private university, tested positive for COVID-19 really brought this point home for me.
The leader at one the nation’s top academic institutions of higher learning ignored the expert counsel of leading scientists about how to protect one’s own life and the lives of others. Indeed, he began isolating himself after returning from the nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in Washington, D.C. last weekend, at which he neglected to wear a mask and did not practice physical distancing, shaking hands during the ceremony.
Jenkins did say in statement that “I regret my error in judgment,” elaborating, “My symptoms are mild and I will continue work from home. The positive test is a good reminder for me and perhaps for all how vigilant we need to be.”
A reminder? Over 208,000 people and counting have died from the coronavirus, and a supposed academic leader needs a reminder to protect himself, not to mention others, from a lethal threat?
What he needs is a wake-up call to stop refusing to face reality, recognize scientific knowledge when it hits you in the face and desist from dismissing science as hoax, and to stop hating.
Refusing to accept the truth is in fact a form of hatred in all kinds of ways. First, Jenkins’ refusal, and that of Trump and many others, to heed to advice and warnings of expert scientists, constitutes a disrespect for the lives of other people, for human life itself. Indeed, Notre Dame’s campus has been plagued with outbreaks of the pandemic since it opened this year and brought students to campus.
Learning and research, whether in the sciences, arts, or humanities, are not fundamentally just about learning abstract laws, formulae, or principles; they are about learning about us, about human lives, the natural world of which we are a part, about how we and this larger world function, precisely so that we can figure out how best to take care of ourselves.
That Jenkins tested positive for COVID-19 because of his refusal to grant legitimacy to the experts urging us on in the best practices to care for human life says a lot about conservative leadership and its damaging obscurantism and lack of concern for human life.
Let me shift a bit to explain. Back in May 2019, I published a piece in the pages of PoliticusUsa.com highlighting a then recent study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia identifying a correlation between homophobia and lower cognitive abilities, and overall linking hatred and prejudice with lower intelligence. I suggested in the piece this study could provide some very valuable insights to help Americans understand and assess President Trump’s behaviors, beliefs, and policies.
What we see in conservative leadership is a great deal of hate. Trump on national television on multiple occasions has refused to denounce white supremacy. His racist rhetoric inspired mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.
The GOP has not by and large separated itself from Trump, loudly silent when it comes to weighing in on Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy, or any other of his hate-filled policies, as when he recently even defied the Supreme Court he had such a hand in appointing when it came to denying transgender people equal protections.
Let’s not forget that Notre Dame Law School invited U.S. Attorney General William Barr to speak, giving Barr a platform at a major academic institution to broadcast his prejudicial hate-filled opinions that LGBTQ people basically have their civil rights legislated away and that the reality of their existence should not be allowed to be made visible in public schools.
Here’s Barr, enumerating in a speech at Notre Dame Law School last fall what he sees as the secular assault on “religious liberty”:
“The first front relates to the content of public school curriculum. Many states are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional religious principles according to which parents are attempting to raise their children. They often do so without any opt out for religious families.
Thus, for example, New Jersey recently passed a law requiring public schools to adopt an LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching. Similar laws have been passed in California and Illinois. And the Orange County Board of Education in California issued an opinion that “parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction.’
The study from the University of Queensland determines such hate and prejudice is not an indicator of intelligence and wisdom, but of ignorance and low cognitive ability.
It is this low cognitive ability we are seeing in conservative leadership around the country and in the White House. It’s deadly, unloving, ignorant, and absolutely anti-human.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.