We Are More Than Ourselves
Written by
regina barreca
January 2017
Written by
regina barreca
January 2017

Spending some leisure time at the Department of Motor Vehicles a few days ago, I overheard two men talking: "Did you hear about all those women going to Washington this week?" one asked. His pal waved away his friend's concern with a reassuring reply, "Not all of them. Just the smart ones."

It's true that a lot of smart women — and men — are headed to D.C. this week. But they're not en route to celebrate the inauguration of Donald Trump, who is taking office with the lowest approval ratings of any recent president. Instead, hundreds of thousands of citizens are convening to make the point that women's rights are human rights. They're gathering to encourage conversations about justice and equity and to raise awareness about the wisest approaches to our country's future.

The new president might not be interested in wisdom, which means that we, the people, must be.

Trump doesn't seem to want smart people around him. Even Trump hangers-on who appear smart, like Monica Crowley with her Ph.D. from Columbia University, turn out not to be all that bright. Remember what the Wizard of Oz told the Scarecrow: I can't give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma.

Just as the lack of a high school diploma doesn't mean you're stupid, the possession of a Ph.D. doesn't mean you're smart, especially if you lifted whole sections of your dissertation without attribution the way Monica Crowley apparently did. (Maybe Melania taught Monica to plagiarize. I bet there's a lot we can all learn from Melania.) And yet there are indeed differences between smart and stupid, between informed and ignorant and between wise and ridiculous.

Look, I'm not worried about whether people in the new administration will have a piece of paper issued by an Ivy League institution or not. I'm worried about the carefully groomed and artfully constructed celebration of ignorance I regard as part of Donald Trump's incoming administration. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, there used to be a joke saying, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" but now we should be asking "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"

Connecticut Residents March For Women

Being articulate, capable of logical reasoning and able to use language constructively is not an affectation. Using your language clearly and effectively is not showing off. Life is not a game of "Scrabble" where you're awarded points for big words, but language is how we communicate.

Actually, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway might disagree about the need for language. Conway wants us not to go by what comes out of his mouth but instead to "look at what's in his heart."

You know who did think it was important for American citizens to be well-informed, arguing that the very fabric of our nation's life depended on it? Thomas Jefferson (Trump can Google him). In 1820, Jefferson wrote, "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough … the remedy is not to take [power] away from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

Why isn't it good enough simply to Google Thomas Jefferson? Because having access to information is different from understanding a subject. Education, whether it comes from a school, university or library, is portable property. You can't just make up knowledge all by yourself. There are foundations upon which enlightened judgments are based. Or put it this way: Life is not a black pair of pants, and the accumulated wisdom of civilization is not lint. You don't just sit around and pick it up from unchecked sources.

It's essential to refine what Jefferson calls "discretion" because the decisions of the American electorate need to be based on more than individual tastes. This country was founded on values better than ruthless ambition, histrionic opportunism and a passion for golden things.

This inaugural week, especially, we should remind ourselves that Americans are not merely the consumers of government: Those who lead our country derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. (That last part is Jefferson, too.)

Those women and men marching on Washington are reminding us that we are more than ourselves: We are The People.

Shamelessly yours, 




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