SYNDICATED COLUMN: Americans Are Stupid

Americans are dumb.

That’s what people say. Especially foreigner non-American people.

But lots of Americans think that Americans are stupid. Not them, of course. They think other Americans are stupid.

It will not, even if you’re an idiot, come as a shock when I admit here that one of the Americans who think Americans are intellectually challenged is me.

Moronitude exists everywhere, of course. What makes stupidity in America stand out is that most Americans — the dumb ones — don’t think it’s bad to be dumb. Far from being ashamed, they’re dumb and proud. To the contrary — the dumb ones make fun of the small-and-constantly-shrinking population of intelligent ones: the “nerds.”

Want to study astrophysics? You’re a geek. No prom date for you!

I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve traveled a lot, and what historians have documented as the tradition of anti-intellectualism in America seems to be pretty unique. Even Australia, land of our cultural Anglo-Saxon brethren, where dwarf-tossing was a thing (and for all I know may still be), never had an actual political party called the Know Nothings. We did, and not only that, but when historians reference the Know Nothings, no one ever chortles in derision. They nod knowingly. Maybe.

Flat affect. That’s what we do.

From “The Simpsons” to Green Day’s punk rock opera “American Idiot” to the semi-banned Mike Judge movie “Idiocracy,” our cultural commentators have taken repeated stabs at our “dumb and proud” national attitude. Yet it doesn’t change.

This, after all, is a country in which smart people have to pretend, in the words of an old ’80s song by Flipper, to “act stupider than you really are” in order to fit in.

Reality TV and televangelists aside, nothing epitomizes the national cult of stultification more clearly than our electoral politics. On the Republican side, well-read men and women of considerable accomplishment and with impressive educational credentials that belie what I am about to describe find themselves pretending to believe in things they and everyone else with half a brain can’t possibly believe to be true — because so of the voters they need are just that damned stupid. This is how we get Ted Cruz, no dummy he, pretending not to believe that climate change is caused by humans. Not to mention a bunch of governors and senators — senators! — claiming to think the earth is about 6,000 years old because: Bible. And to believe in “God.”

Just last week, a friend who hung out with George W. Bush told me something I’ve heard often enough before to believe: the guy is actually smart.

In a way, this comes as a relief, because: launch codes. Also Yale and Harvard. Even a legacy admit shouldn’t be half as much of the colossal idiot brush-clearing hick Bush pretended to be his entire political life.

There were hints of Bush’s non-stupidity. Every now and then, his aw-shucks cornpone veneer would flake off, the Connecticut Yankee inflection of a grandson of Prescott Bush peeking out like the cobblestones and streetcar tracks of an old paved-over road after a hard winter. That stupid accent — all fake!

Which reminded me of something Bush biographer Kitty Kelly reported: after losing a local election in Texas, Dubya swore, Scarlet-like, to never get out-countrified again. And he didn’t. And it worked.

How depressing.

Given how much I beat up Generalissimo El Busho while he was bombing and Gitmo-ing and bank-bailing, it’s only fair that I point out: he’s one of many. Obama and Hillary both apply a reverse-classist downscaling filter to their locutions, and Jesus H. W. Christ, it’s so over-the-top phony, am I the only one who can tell?

Speaking of which, I attribute all of the Bernie Sanders-Donald Trump surge to the two outsiders’ surprisingly unscripted authenticity, part of which derives from their unspun, startling, old-school New York accents. Platform planks have taken a back seat to reality. Which says something.

Not that the two mavericks of right and left aren’t forced to breathe the sludgy water of stupidism through their previously pure gills.

The Donald and The Bern: both men are smart (despite the former insisting on saying it about himself, it happens to be true). Despite “The Apprentice” and the Ivana mess, Trump has to dumb himself down still further (i.e., the “Make America Great Again” baseball cap). So far, the socialist senator from Vermont has refrained from talking American. But for how long? So many pundits, so few who enjoy a Marx-inflected class analysis, I fear he’ll succumb.

Burying the lede as much as I possibly can — in a nation where the life of the mind is valued, this is not considered a vice — this brings us to: Why?

Why are we dumb and proud?

I blame our schools. We learn facts, but not how to think. Rhetoric, debate, logical reasoning are after-school activities. So we grow up believing that everyone is entitled to their opinion, each as valid as any other, even though this cannot possibly be true.

But I could be wrong.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


15 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Americans Are Stupid

  1. Of course you are not wrong – maybe a little off base at times on the shifting target of what you appear to address, but on the topic of whether Americans are stupid, it might be better to ask if Americans are ignorant. They are. If you have little knowledge of the world outside the US, then you definitely have an ignorance problem, but if even have little knowledge about the true nature of your domestic problems, then you might appear stupid, while in fact, you are still just ignorant. Now, I realize that I am giving a lot of latitude in consideration of the horrible attitudes and prejudices that many people may carry along as part of their attitudes towards various issues, but, let’s just cast that aside for a minute in addressing whether Americans are stupid. I don’t think that most of them are stupid. I think that most of them are ignorant people that only consider their immediate needs, and have no knowledge of what is going on in the rest of the world. I think that most of the people in this forum would agree with this, and that the question of whether Americans are stupid is just a false preposition intended to provoke knee-jerk responses. Most Americans are so isolated and ignorant of the world outside them, that their pathetically ignorant responses appear to be stupid, while their various prejudices and attitudes towards issues simply reinforce the idea of being “stupid”. They are are not all stupid. But a lot of them qualify as dunbfucks. Not stupid, but instead deaf and dumb of what surrounds them.

    • One of the aspects of knowledge that I attempted to instill is my former students was the difference between being stupid and being ignorant. Ignorance can be remedied by greater learning; stupid is forever.

    • Sure, Rall is writing for effect, which is warranted by the nature of his medium, but the real point he’s making has to do less with the ignorant voters and more with the not-ignorant and not-stupid people who become our political leaders.

      They jockey for position trying not to be “out-countrified” by each other because the mainstream media plays to the concept, considering themselves a sort of fourth estate in the political process staking out their own territory. In the modern sense, the new tradition began with the treatment of Adlai Stevenson by the mainstream media of the day, who successfully painted the difference between Stevenson and Eisenhower, so highly inaccurately, as intellectual vs. anti-intellectual. And the tradition continues today.

  2. There are two essential elements of fascism:
    1) virulent nationalism >>> “U-S-A! U-S-A!” (not to mention: Ex-fucking-ceptionalism !!! ), and
    2) a myth of renewal >>> “Make America Great Again”

    The 14 “characteristics,” thereof, are essentially embedded in US society: .eg.
    Obama’s affectation is at it’s absolute, pitiful, embarrassing worst when he tries to channel MLK

  3. “But lots of Americans think that Americans are stupid. Not them, of course. They think other Americans are stupid.

    It will not, even if you’re an idiot, come as a shock when I admit here that one of the Americans who think Americans are intellectually challenged is me.”

    Are you familiar with the Dunning-Krueger effect, by any chance?

    • Two boys came in from playing.

      One was very dirty and the other was clean.

      Only the clean boy washed, because he assumed he was as dirty as the other boy.

      The dirty boy didn’t wash because he assumed he was as clean as the clean boy.

      Being smart enough to recognize stupid makes one take measures to avoid doing stupid things.

      Being stupid makes the smart things done by other ostensibly stupid people seem simple to do, and not worth taking care to avoid doing oneself.

  4. Ted,

    I think you are spot on about the schools. In the past, it was possible, if hard, to find public schools which did teach you to think. I went to one. No grades, no requirements – I wrote my own high school transcript. But more traditional settings could also teach you how to think, though usually that was private. My kids go a to a public school, classical is the mantra, they study Latin, and rhetoric, and do actually learn how to think, and question. They also learn that there is right and wrong. And since the school is in the city and not the lily white suburb we live in, they learn that there are all sorts of people. They’re the minority, well off white kids.

    • Then there’s Texas, where they recently tried to pass a bill to outlaw teaching critical thinking to kids.

  5. Glad you can both recognize and admit Trump is intelligent. Most lefties seem to insist on his stupidity.

    As for Generalissimo, I’ve been unable to convince friends who believe he was a puppet of Cheney that he was actually in charge and at least of average intelligence.

    The most common and irritating way my fellow Americans let me know of their ignorance and disdain for learning is when they see me reading a large hardback and assume I must be reading it for school. When I tell them it’s just for me, they are clearly puzzled. And I know we could hardly be more different.

  6. Agreed, but I question the meaning of validity of opinions. While opinions may vary in value, the question of their validity should be more along the lines that what makes an opinion an opinion is what makes it a valid opinion. For instance, if I were to say I think the Republican Party needs people like Ted Rall, then that is an opinion, whose validity stems from the fact that it is an opinion, not a statement of fact, or hypothesis, like ‘Ted Rall is a Republican’, which is not a valid opinion because it’s not an opinion, but a statement, no doubt false. The value of the opinion is debatable, while the statement is valueless..

    What I think should instead perhaps be meant is that the freedom of expression of thought of people is something that has a shared equality or validity to it between all people, but the value of those thoughts varies widely.

    • Part of the problem is that so many people don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion.

      Religion deliberately blurs that distinction.

  7. Since the Korean War, American culture has developed stupidly. To paraphrase a politician, you “… don’t work with the culture you want …” . When dealing within such a retarded culture, displaying aptitude becomes problematic.


  8. I’ve got a bunch of fundy relatives. They consider “scientist” to be a bad word. A scientist is someone in league with the devil, trying to disprove the bible.

    They have difficulty with the whole concept of “proof” – they conflate it with “convince.” I can prove that 2+2=4, but if you don’t believe it that doesn’t mean I failed to prove it, it means you failed to understand the proof.