My father died when I was fifteen. He was too young, with the best years of life ahead of him. But in those fifteen years he accomplished so much that sometimes I feel embarrassed with the generational gap. More importantly, in those years he had plenty of time to remind me, almost to the point of exhaustion, that education, dedication and inspiration are essential pillars of life. In that order.
My dad was the type of man that made an impact in most people around him. But his principles are not new or unique to him. The parents of most of my friends would match his consideration for education, regardless of wealth or position of power. My wife’s dad, a poor seasonal laborer from Puerto Rico that only attended school until third grade, spent most of his savings in my wife’s College, post-graduate studies and adventures abroad. My mom, after my father’s death and upon becoming the only breadwinner, would relinquish essential purchases, like new shoes, for the largest part of a decade. The few extra pesos had a clear destination: my education and my sister’s education. That wasn’t even a point of discussion.
That’s why the Trump Presidential campaign is so alarming. Trump’s incompetency is widely documented and not my area of focus for this short piece. It’s rumored that he hasn’t read a book in his entire adult life. He’s ignorant in many areas of Presidential knowledge, and more surprisingly, in the areas where he is supposed to be good. Donald Trump has absolutely no idea of how the economy works. His understanding is primitive at best. He doesn’t know how to treat people, a key aspect of a good well-rounded education. He doesn’t respect others, or a system. But again, I’m not so concerned about him. After all, he’s just filling a void of political representation.
My preoccupation today is with his followers. What do the people who support him have in common? It’s of course a fascinating question, since regardless of the November results, the truth of the matter is that there are tens of millions of them. Trump followers come from every demographic, but there are some statistics that are hard to ignore. There are multiple divides in our society, and we must recognize that many of those divisions intersect. There is a racial divide and an economic divide. There are huge differences between urban and rural areas. There are, of course, ways to categorize our States based on academic achievement. For example, Wikipedia has a page with the percentage of people with advanced degrees by State. I ran a correlation between this value and the gap in the polls between Clinton and Trump by 8/16/16, as reported in http://www.electoral-vote.com (thanks Professor Tanenbaum).
The results? An astounding correlation coefficient of +0.81. As a reminder, the correlation coefficient is a number in the range between -1 (perfect negative correlation) and +1 (perfect positive correlation). A value close to 0 indicates that the two variables do not move together. Our table below shows with no hesitation that the half at the left (higher academic achievement) is almost entirely blue, and the half at the right (lower academic achievement) is almost entirely red. The “purple” states are considered “battleground” states for the upcoming elections, based on the 2012 results and the polls for the 2016 election.
The States with more Trump followers would benefit the most with increased academic achievement. However, they are on the side that does not talk seriously about it, and I don’t need to remember you what Trump University is about. But like in any good analysis, the numbers are just part of the story. The testimonials offer plenty of insights.
In the endless news cycle, we hear without interruption how disgruntled Trump voters think that America was stolen from them. As citizens of the United States, they feel entitled to a world that is long gone. We are hearing the voice of those who were left behind, as the educational achievement table suggests. I fear that many of them have decided, in the most un-American way, to take the easy way out. Instead of recognizing the educational gap, the unavoidable upcoming of the new economy and the need to work hard to adjust and upgrade, many have resorted to hate. Hate against the educated. Hate against science. Hate against math. Hate against intellect. Hate against logic and facts. Useless despair instead of meaningful actions. The outcome that we should expect from a third world society handicapped by a poor education system: the breeding of a social class whose behavior and patterns are driven by emotions. By the gut. The easy prey of the preacher.
Education forms critical minds that challenge group thinking and enables progress. An educated individual can tell apart nonsense and valuable information. An educated society is less likely to be a breeding ground for those who advance their careers mostly on deception and politics. Many times I wonder what my dad would have said in reference to this United States of 2016. He would be echoing my wife’s dad words: but for Pete’s sake, if education is our friend, is everybody’s aspiration: the unquestionable goal for all, for the poor and for the rich!