Wednesday, May 13, 2009

America's shrinking elite—the educated


Once again, America's master of the inane and frivolous, Donald Trump, has manipulated controversy into national suspense and then, skillfully assuming the role of noble white knight, ridden to the rescue of a fair damsel threatened with ruin because of semi-nude photos and her views of gay marriage.

Silly, you think, that such a dustup developed over the runner-up in the Trump-owned-and-operated Miss Universe contest?

Then you're not into what obsesses so many Americans today.

Major cable networks considered the Trump theatrics major news. They cut away from the reality of the rest of the world to devote an hour of live airtime Tuesday to the egomaniacal Trump emceeing an acquittal of Miss California's breeches of contract as merely a "miscommunication" problem. He did the same for another contestant in one of his beauty pageant businesses several years ago.

This time, Trump and his blonde protégé invoked the name of God, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and her World War II decorated grandfather to get around questions of whether she broke her contract.

Now the nation can rest easy, as it does after another of The Donald's stunts—his quadrennial hints that he may run for president of the United States. The media hangs by its fingernails for months while seriously reporting his every move. Then he decides he won't run. Surprise!

This latest Trump publicity triumph in the inane has a companion cultural testament on the Internet.

YouTube is currently featuring a British man-on-the-street interviewer who asks questions of ordinary Americans with results that at first prompt laughter, but really amount to a commentary on an American tragedy of ignorance.

To the Brit's question, name a country whose first letter is "U," his quarries reply, "Yugoslavia" and "Utah." A giggly young woman is shocked when the interviewer suggests "United States" is a country with a "U."

"What's the religion of Buddhist monks" is another that stumped a respondent.

"How many sides to a triangle?" One. Four.

"What's a mosque?" An animal.

"How many Eiffel Towers in Paris?" Ten.

"What's al-Qaeda?" A wing of the Masonic Order.

The interviwer also devotes a segment to posing as Australian Prime Minister John Howard, wandering along sidewalks, introducing himself, and being accepted without question.

These were all adults, presumably with some schooling and access to print and broadcast news about the world around them.

However, it may be true what 18th-century poet Thomas Gray wrote: "Where ignorance is bliss/'Tis folly to be wise."

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