Much ado has been made recently about State Senator Kerry Roberts September 2 call to “get rid of our institutions of higher education” where he went on to call them “liberal breeding grounds”. A public outcry has arisen not just here in Tennessee but has also spread to some national news outlets.
The question we should be asking ourselves is why anyone finds this statement even remotely shocking? Senator Roberts is not saying anything that conservatives and Republicans haven’t been wanting for decades now. Especially in the times we live in now where the intellectual conservative is an all but extinct breed, Roberts train of thought is in fact critical for the survival of conservatism and the Republican party. This is because the Republican party has become the party of President Trump, and Trumpism can only survive on ignorance. Knowledge and free thought are the enemy of any authoritarian ideology and Trumpism is no different.
To be a follower of Trumpism one cannot believe in reality or facts. It takes a suspension of belief of the observable world and a strict faith in only those things that come out of the President’s Twitter feed, Fox News, and conservative talk radio. Any education beyond rudimentary reading skills challenges the world view of the Trumpist and threatens the entire program.
It is true that Roberts was first elected well before the rise of Trump, but his message has always been one that is consistent with the basic tenants of Trumpism. He is an effective politician because he realizes that his anti-education anti-knowledge message appeals to the largely lower educated district that he represents. As a matter of fact, his district is a microcosm of the Trump supporting world. According to Pew non-college educated whites voted for Trump at a rate of 67%. This tracks closely to Senator Roberts district that only has a college educated population of around 15% and is predominatly white.
Senator Roberts has proclaimed that his statement was simply hyperbole, and it very well may have been. However, even if his statement did not reflect his own earnest beliefs, it does reflect those of the people he represents. He surely is aware that his political power and his continued hold on it is directly connected to limiting access to education and free thought.
Whether hyperbolic or not, Senator Roberts statement served to accomplish little more than push the conservative agenda and smother a perceived threat. Raising a generation of well educated, independently thinking, and capable young adults is very much a threat to the current GOP and Senator Roberts himself. This is the type of existential threat that they cannot stand for, and when you are fighting for your life many will say and do anything.