In the mid-1850s, there was a political party referred to as the Know Nothings. Officially called the American Party, its followers feared that the influx of Roman Catholics from Ireland and Europe would push “real Americans” aside and take over the nation, giving control to the Vatican.
But with regard to racism, misogyny, and lack of knowledge, that movement pales in comparison to today’s Trump-led Republican Party fueled by the Gen X and Millennial generations (adults under the age of 56) – those who comprised the majority of the insurrectionists on January 6. Not surprisingly, they are also the largest group of Qanon believers.
Apparently, it’s tied to a lack of education, a reliance on online sites as their sources for “news,” and a fascination with conspiracy theories. For example, a nationwide survey released on Holocaust Remembrance Day found that 1 in 10 respondents under age 40 did not recall ever hearing the word “Holocaust.” Nearly half could not name a single one of the German death camps. And this alarming lack of knowledge extends far beyond the Holocaust.
Less than half of those surveyed identified Afghanistan as the country that provided al-Qaeda with safe haven prior to 9/11 despite the fact that the war in Afghanistan was our longest war. And only slightly more than half of those surveyed could identify Iraq on a map.
Though it wasn’t part of the survey, I’m sure the same would be true if you asked Americans to pick out Ukraine on a map.
And it’s not just world history and geography that seem to flummox Gen Xers and Millennials. In my own limited survey of people at a county fair in rural Minnesota, I found that almost no one could name the original 13 colonies, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, or the 3 branches of our federal government.
Few knew that the Bill of Rights was comprised of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Yet almost every respondent could recite half of the 2nd Amendment. (But, frighteningly, only the second half.)
No one could name who wrote our Declaration of Independence or the reason why we went to war with the British. No one could name our primary ally in the Revolutionary War (the French). No one could name the primary British ally in the Revolutionary War (the Germans). No one could name our opponent in the War of 1812. No one could name more than two of our nation’s founders. And no one knew that the White House was built with slave labor.
And, if you consider that as depressing as I do, it gets worse. A recent survey found that an astounding 54 percent of Americans read below a sixth-grade level! And based on the posts I see on social media, I would venture to guess that most Americans’ writing skills, including grammar and spelling, rank below that.
As a result, they become the perfect targets for disinformation from pathological liars like Trump, and unscrupulous media like Newsmax and Fox “News”.
Since our Constitution has enshrined freedom of speech and freedom of the press, we can’t censor those who take advantage of the gullible, the misinformed, and the poorly educated. If we want to change politics and improve our nation’s future, it becomes obvious that our only really choices are to limit the insane amounts of money used to elect our leaders, and to rebuild our public education system.