Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature
and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for
several journals and is the author of Clifford
Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter,
Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham
New Yorker at Sea,, Tales
of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book,
from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:
387 B.C. Plato threw his hands up in disgust. For decades he
had experienced failure upon failure from government leaders
in Athens where the ‘miracle’ of democracy had first
appeared more than 100 years before. Although the new system
had brilliantly freed the citizenry
from self-serving leadership and social and economic injustices,
ensuing decades had brought politically driven figures (Alcibiades
is the best known example) who had transformed it into an imperialistic
polis constantly at war with neighbours.
the ideal of universal freedom had eroded because as economic
difficulties developed, plagues raged and ancient internecine
quarrels reemerged, oligarchs crept back into power and demagogues
encouraged factionalism. In 411 B.C. the hallowed original democratic
Assembly containing intimidated and demoralized members voted
itself out of existence. It was replaced by an oligarchic council
of 400 that would soon give way to a larger body of 5000. This
convoluted democratic erosion wound up in 404 B.C. with the
ascendancy of terror under The Thirty Tyrants. Although the
original democratic ideal would survive on into the ages, the
Athenian disintegration continued on into the 4th century.
a frustrated Plato wasn’t happy when he wrote The
Republic after spending the last decades of the 5th century
in Athens witnessing its democratic demise resulting in the
ignominious death of Socrates in 399 B.C.
this iconic dialogue, Plato dismissed democracy as an ideal
system claiming it encouraged anarchy on the one hand and periods
of unjust oligarchy on the other. He was later joined by Aristotle
who put forth similar criticisms his Politics. Through
the centuries other astute figures (James Madison, Winston Churchill)
have often displayed similar cynicism while conceding that democracy
was preferable to various forms of totalitarian government.
The Republic Plato insisted that the best government
would be one led by a ‘philosopher-king.’ The idea,
while almost hopelessly idealistic, has inspired high standards
in leadership in contemporary democracies. In America founding
fathers i.e. Adams, Jefferson, attended prestigious universities
and had impressive backgrounds in political history and philosophy.
In the U. K., countless prime ministers have degrees from Eton,
Oxford, Cambridge. In France the Sorbonne claims many political
leaders as graduates.
until recently, many U.S. leaders, ever aware of the notion
of the ‘philosopher-king,’ pursued studies at prestigious
schools. Associations and experiences garnered at superior universities
have, in many cases, promoted healthy measures of political
wisdom in graduates and resulted in much sound American foreign
policy and enlightened government for its populace.
the process of vetting qualified students for admission to top
universities in America has come under fire as of late. Convictions
for all sorts of briberies and corruption in connection with
university admission have recently made headlines, but suspicions
of abuse have existed for years. This insidious activity has
caused eminent educators to question many university standards
and open speculation to the qualifications of many graduates.
case of Donald Trump immediately jumps out. For years he has
bragged of his U. Pennsylvania-Wharton background; the school
newspaper University Pennsylvanian reports that he
publicly name-dropped Wharton 52 times between June 2015 and
January 2018. These days in the midst of the present political
maelstrom, few have queried his academic history but his recent
reference that Finland was part of Russia raised some eyebrows.
Despite all of the bragging about his Wharton degree he has
never allowed his academic performance there to be made public.
over the years he has insisted, in journalistic interviews,
that he had outstanding grades and advanced the notion that
he was actually number one in his class. Incredibly, this claim
gained credence even among prestigious newspapers i.e. The New
York Times. In a profile of the Trump organization published
in 1973 a Times essay stated “Donald, who was graduated
first in his class from the Wharton School of Finance of the
University of Pennsylvania in 1968, joined his father about
five years ago.” The statement was repeated in another
Trump profile published in 1976. The record wasn’t corrected
until 1984 when the paper’s fact checkers consulted the
University’s ‘68 commencement program.
actual academic performance may be inferred from a narrative
by attorney Frank DiPrima who recounted that William T. Kelley
Trump’s marketing professor “must have told me 100
times over the course of 30 years . . . ’Donald Trump
was the dumbest goddmn student I ever had.’"
maneuvers akin to his refusal to reveal his tax history, in
2015 Trump instructed his attorney Michael Cohen to threaten
Fordham University (which he had attended prior to Wharton)
and the University of Pennsylvania with legal action if his
academic records were ever made public. Cohen presented copies
of the applicable threatening letters to the House Oversight
and Reform Committee in testimony given in February 2019.
I say con man, I’m talking about a man who declares himself
brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges,
and the College Board to never release his grades . . . “
Cohen told the committee. “The irony wasn’t lost
on me at the time that Mr. Trump in 2011 had strongly criticized
President Obama for not releasing his grades.” During
the time of Cohen’s testimony it was noted that Obama
had graduated magna cum laude from the Harvard Law school.
addition to this history, a slew of recent related accusations
re Trump’s academic history are readily available. In
her new book, Too
Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s
Most Dangerous Man, Mary Trump states unequivocally
that her uncle paid someone to take his SAT tests and as many
as 56 members of Wharton
alumni from 1968 have commented on Trump’s
infamous academic mediocrity.
obfuscations of his academic history that Trump engineered presage
increasing hopelessness for modern societies aspiring to achieve
a semblance of leadership in the tradition of Plato’s
is new urgency. The question now arises What kind of vetted
education should a political candidate undergo in order to qualify
for high office?
an easy question to answer; but the French have long provided
an educational structure designed to resurrect the philosopher-king
idea that Plato put forth ages ago. In 1945, Charles de Gaulle
created ENA -- Ecole Nationale d’Administration -- whose
mission is to provide challenging professional training for
high level civil servants. As a result a large proportion of
French politicians are énarques i.e. ENA graduates. After
70 years of operation, three presidents, seven prime ministers,
and many ministers have come out of ENA.
is high time that top American universities with prestigious
legacies create similar educational structures for aspiring
political leaders. If the nation is to reclaim its former enlightened
periods of political leadership the present embarrassment of
empty-headed self-service in the White House must cease at once.