Opinion: Why Are College-Educated Republicans Backing Trump?

Everyone should go to college. We’ve all heard that since we were kids. It’s the best path to a well-paying career. And everyone assumes that earning that four-year degree means you’re smarter than the person who didn’t attend college.

Assumptions like that probably explain the shocked reaction to a New York Times article finding that college-educated Republican voters are flocking back to Donald Trump for president in 2024.

In the months after the 2022 midterm elections, polling found that among GOP voters who said they supported Trump’s policies, 76% of college-educated Republicans wanted a different nominee for president. This month, the same pollster, Suffolk University, showed Trump with support from 62% of Republican voters, including 60% of those with a college degree.

How could college-educated people come to such a decision? Those asking that question can point to a laundry list of Trump transgressions, including his behavior, his morals (or lack thereof), the thousands of documented lies, the historians who consider Trump to be one of the nation’s worst presidents and the 91 criminal counts he is facing in four jurisdictions.

Yet, the college-educated Republicans who spoke with the Times, all of whom previously had second thoughts about seeing Trump reelected, are back supporting him. As one voter said, “Look at Biden and what he has done to this country. Trump can beat him, and he can fix this country.”

Such a statement makes one wonder how so much of what has happened during Joe Biden’s presidency is so unknown to so many when they are so obvious:

  • The recession everyone predicted a year ago seems a distant idea as those same economists are praising the Federal Reserve for a now-likely soft landing for the economy, a remarkable achievement that will be studying for years.
  • Record job creation for a president’s first term, nearly 15 million so far.
  • An unemployment rate that continues to hover at a 50-year low of 3.7%, down from the 8.6% that Biden inherited from Trump.
  • Inflation is down almost 80% from what it was a year ago, sitting at 3.7%.
  • GDP ran an extraordinary 5.4% last quarter.
  • In 2023, the average price of gas was $3.52 a gallon. In 2022, it was $3.95 a gallon. That’s an 11% drop. The current national average? Just over $3 per gallon. Will those prices rise? Sure. Fuel prices are among the most volatile commodities consumers face, and fuel prices always rise as refineries switch to summer blends. It happens every year regardless of who is president.
  • The Dow Jones on the day Trump lost in 2020: 26,800. Trump said the market would crash if Biden was elected. Today’s Dow: 37,000-plus.
  • Egg prices peaked at a nationwide average of $4.82 a dozen last January, but a dozen now costs $2.14. People blaming the Biden administration must have missed the news that the avian flu decimated chicken populations in 2022, causing a dramatic rise in egg prices. Chicken populations are recovering, and egg prices dropped accordingly. Are we to blame the avian flu outbreak on the president? I’d like to hear how from a college-educated Trump supporter.
  • Multiple bills have passed addressing infrastructure, manufacturing and technology.

These are numbers that affect everyone. How does anyone miss these tidbits of information? The only thing Trump was good at leading was meetings where people praised him.

Trump’s major achievement? An almost $2 trillion tax break that benefited corporations and the wealthy, increasing the federal deficit by 30%. The growth in the annual deficit under Trump ranks as the third-biggest increase in the nation’s history.

The current Republican House has accomplished virtually nothing except to oust a speaker who dared to compromise with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. That same Republican House received a comprehensive immigration reform bill in February 2021 that is currently going nowhere because Republican extremists refuse to negotiate a compromise they can send to the Senate.

Even if this election is not about issues, why do these college-educated voters think Trump was a stellar president? Have they all forgotten the circus and the chaos? Have they forgotten Trump increased the tariffs on trade with China and how that increased the price of goods? Have they forgotten that Trump shut down the pandemic response unit established by President Barack Obama, slowing the response to COVID-19 and causing thousands of preventable deaths? Are they aware that the COVID epidemic was first detected in China in December 2019 and could have been instantly addressed if Trump had gotten out of the way and let expert virologists and immunologists do their job? Did they forget that he recommended exploring bleach as a cure-all? Do they not understand that by the time Trump issued an executive order to ban all travel from China, it was February, six weeks after the outbreak and after the virus had already spread across the globe?

Have they forgotten that he made a deal with the Taliban that resulted in a catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal that killed hundreds and betrayed the Afghans who had worked with the U.S. military? Have they forgotten Trump’s praise for despots including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un? Yet he calls Joe Biden a threat to democracy. Basic logic should tell you this makes no sense whatsoever.

It is hardly logical how folks who call themselves conservative and who demand law-and-order solutions to societal breakdowns want to elect a candidate facing 91 felony charges who has been ordered to pay $5 million in damages for sexual assault and slander, who faces a second slander hearing and who is awaiting a penalty decision for fraudulent financial filings. Meanwhile, to help fund his soaring legal expenses, he is selling Mugshot Edition Trading Cards. How does this compute to the college-educated Republican voter?

One wonders if, 15 years ago, you asked any voter, college-educated or not, if they would support a candidate who was running for president by running in violation of the Constitution and the rule of law, would they? Of course they’d say no. So how are they not aware of the agenda that Trump acolytes have plannedpublicly stated and readily accessible to anyone — should he get reelected, plans that amount to a wholesale unraveling of our nation’s founding principles?

Is this what a college education has begotten us? Or is all we were told about college while growing up no longer valid, that it no longer instructs character, teaches wisdom or inculcates human decency?

Perhaps Trump’s resurgence among college-educated voters says less about those voters or Donald Trump than it says about what college education has become in the United States: factories for turning out employment-ready adults with economically efficient money-making skills and an adolescent winner-take-all mindset rather than thoughtful, self-aware human beings who understand that their greatest responsibility is to support the communities that not only made their education possible but also a civil society itself.

More cynically put, kids don’t go to college to become better thinkers; they go to get a piece of paper that tells employers they’re smart.

Test data consistently has found that many colleges fail to improve students’ critical-thinking skills. The Council for Aid to Education administers the Collegiate Learning Assessment test to first-year students and seniors at hundreds of colleges nationwide to measure their growth as critical thinkers. At more than half of schools, including prestigious flagship institutions, at least a third of seniors could not make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table. In short, the average graduate earns a degree without improving the ability to think critically or solve problems.

What other explanation can there be for supporting someone whose primary mode of operation is deception, dereliction, cruelty, reflexive narcissism, victim mentality and avoidant personality? We may pretend that the 2024 campaign is about issues and policies, but ultimately it is a test of character. Our character.

In his “Devil’s Dictionary,” a satirical poke at commonly used words, journalist Ambrose Bierce defined education as “that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”Being a college graduate may mean people are more educated, but that doesn’t mean they’re more intelligent. Or wiser.As for the election, If the nation doesn’t reject Donald Trump and send him to the ash heap of history, America could very well become history.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the coronavirus was first detected in China in December 2020. It was December 2019.


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