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Vol. 19, No. 5, 2020
 
     
 
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donald trump and the
DUMBING DOWN OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY

by
NICK CATALANO

____________________________________

Nick 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, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website: www.nickcatalano.net


In 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.

Steadily 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.

Thus 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.

In 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.

In 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.

Up 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

The 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.

Actually, 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.

Trump’s 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.’"

In 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.

“When 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.

In 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.

The 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 philosopher-king.

There is new urgency. The question now arises What kind of vetted education should a political candidate undergo in order to qualify for high office?

Not 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.

It 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.

 

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COMMENTS

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You write very well indeed. With clarity and great scholarship. We need great minds. God bless you. Stay safe. Louise

user-submission@feedback.com
Cheers! Well, all. I can say about Trump is that for someone as stupid as he is, he is certainly one smart cookie! Luv, Diane Fanizza

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The job of a leader is to lead. If he can lead do we care if he doesn't read and was a dumb-assed student?

artweiss@acedsl.com
It has been said our country doesn't need a brilliant person to lead it - it needs a warm, comfortable figurehead who has the savvy to pick a brilliant cabinet to actually run the country.

 

By Nick Catalano:
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Winning
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
Salinger
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


 

 
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