Robert Azzi: ‘It must suck to be that dumb’

  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., speaks at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump (left) in Monroe, La., on Wednesday. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 11/10/2019 6:30:15 AM

‘There is a cult of ignorance in the United States and there always has been,” professor and science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980. “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ ”

Standing on a national stage this past week, Republican Sen. John Kennedy played to that ignorance at a Trump campaign rally in Monroe, La. As he introduced Donald Trump, he went out of his way to gratuitously disparage House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying, “It must suck to be that dumb.”

Yes, Senator, “It must suck to be that dumb,” a quality you aptly demonstrate.

Kennedy and Trump, two white misogynists standing together on stage quaking in fear of a powerful woman and the impeachment inquiry she leads exemplify some of the worse instincts of many Americans – Americans who fear inclusion, fear an America increasingly diverse and pluralistic, fear becoming increasingly non-patriarchal, non-white.

Their fear, arrogance, anti-intellectualism and ignorance – much of it underlaid with racism – is palpable. They and their followers, the so-called base, unprincipled and trapped in illiteracy and diminished potency, live for those moments when they work to dehumanize and delegitimize all those unlike themselves.

Their ignorance, which extends to issues of climate change, evolution, environmental concerns, race, social justice and equity, is perhaps unparalleled since the Know-Nothing days of the 1840-50s.

Yes, Sen. Kennedy, “It must suck to be that dumb.”

It must suck to be in service to a president who revels in such ignorance, surrounded by, as scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl writes, “pirates of intellect, sharks that crave the pedantic and thrive on the insignificant.”

“It must suck to be that dumb.”

“No one today is purely one thing,” Edward Said wrote. “Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind.”

“Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale,” Said continued. “But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or black, or Western, or Oriental. … It is more rewarding – and more difficult – to think concretely and sympathetically, about others than only about ‘us.’ ”

That’s the rub. For Trump, for Kennedy, for the obsequious base, the only ‘us’ that matters is white and evangelical – and because they define “us” so narrowly, they fear listening to the voices of the victimized, exploited and colonized and try to marginalize and disenfranchise them.

They fear Sojourner Truth, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Sean Doolittle.

They fear the challenges of new voices. They fear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – Americans of Puerto Rican, Palestinian and Somali origin.

They fear Nancy Pelosi.

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns us of the danger of a “single story” – that if we hear only a single story about another person, country or religion we risk not only critical misunderstanding but miss opportunities to affirm each other’s humanity.

Donald Trump has only his “single story,” a white narrative based on greed and arrogance, ignorance and fear, and enabled by sycophants like Sen. John Kennedy in the service of oligarchs and kleptocrats.

It must suck to know that “their” president is being constitutionally impeached for reasons clear and distinct.

“It must suck to be that dumb.”

In their service to Trump’s single story, “pirates of intellect who, possessing no intellect of their own, rehabilitated their ignorance with intolerance” Kennedy and other enablers don’t recognize that America’s strength lies in its diversity and multiplicity, in the fact that Americans cannot be pigeonholed and defined and ruled as just one thing.

America’s question is not whether someone is Sunni or secularist, Re-constructionist or Lutheran, spiritual or religious, Democrat or Republican.

America’s question is whether we can be free to be any of those things – or none.

The question is how do we confront – out of empowerment rather than out of fear – the immigration and refugee challenges, environmental crises and voting rights issues that continue to restrict the path of many Americans to fulfillment and security.

Do we confront them with mercy and justice or do we confront them with greed and injustice?

Most critically, the question is how do we confront predators like Donald Trump and his enablers who today are treading upon and shredding our most sacred values, our constitutional protections, our heritage.

We confront them, in part, by asking what would Chief Joseph do, what would Sojourner Truth do, what would Martin and Malcolm do?

We confront them with impeachment.

To live within diversity is a challenge: America is great because we have learned that there is value in not allowing one group to have dominion over another.

America has become enriched way beyond its Anglo-Saxon roots by waves of immigrants. While there is gratitude due our Founding Fathers who started this noble venture, such gratitude should be tempered by knowledge of how those pioneers built the America we have inherited, by our knowledge that they built it in part on slave labor, genocide and stolen land.

Immigrants now, as then, are vulnerable to prejudice and exploitation. Historically, the American Dream often prevails and within that dream Americans strive – and many succeed – to live creative, prosperous and fulfilled lives not because of Donald Trump and John Kennedy but in spite of them.

These “pirates of intellect,” too dumb to realize how corrupt they are, how much they have corrupted this nation, continue in their arrogance and tyranny to challenge the constitutional moral and ethical foundations upon which this nation was built.

Resist them. Impeach them.

In the end let it not be said of us that we permitted “the pirates of intellect, the sharks that crave the pedantic and thrive on the insignificant” to corrupt the vision of a nation where all are created equal.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)




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