Philosopher Onkar Ghate at The Ayn Rand Institute has a penetrating article on the anti-intellectualism of President Trump, aptly titled “Why Ayn Rand Would Have Despised a President Trump“. Quoting from the article:
Trump’s salient characteristic as a political figure is anti-intellectuality. Because Rand saw this mentality as on the rise (she called it the anti-conceptual mentality), she had a lot to say about it, and it’s illuminating how much of it fits Trump.
In Rand’s terms, to be intellectual is to sustain through life the conviction that ideas matter. This means that knowledge, abstract principles, justice and truth are of personal importance to you, embedded in everything you value and informing your every action. “To take ideas seriously,” Rand says, “means that you intend to live by, to practice, any idea you accept as true.”
This is a demanding responsibility. To be intellectual requires real independence of judgment and enduring honesty and integrity. It’s not just that Trump lacks these virtues; in comparison to, say, Jefferson, Washington or Madison, most of today’s politicians do. It’s that Trump projects disdain for these virtues.
On cable news, it’s now a regular feature for reporters like CNN’s Anderson Cooper to catalog Trump’s latest lies. But to call them lies misses the point. A liar retains some respect for the truth: he tries to conceal his lies, weave a web of deception and make it difficult for his victims to discover the facts. Trump does none of this.
He states, for instance, that his inauguration crowd was the largest ever — when photos of his and past inaugurations are easily accessible. He declares to a national audience that “nobody has more respect for women than I do, nobody” — when the Billy Bush tape of him boasting that he grabs women “by the pussy” is fresh in everyone’s mind. In defense of his Saturday Charlottesville statement, he says that unlike others he waits for the facts to come in before making judgments — when his Twitter outbursts are read by millions.
Trump makes no distinction between truth and falsity, between statements backed by evidence and statements unsupported by any evidence. This is why you can’t catch him in a lie. He doesn’t care.
Rand puts it like this: to an anti-intellectual mentality words are not instruments of knowledge but tools of manipulation. Trump’s description of how he came to use the phrase “Drain the swamp” captures this kind of attitude perfectly.
The phrase, of course, in this context is hollow. By his own admission, Trump was part of the swamp, a master at playing every side of a corrupt political system. To drain the swamp would be to get rid of people like him — not elect them to the presidency. But somebody suggested to Trump that he use the phrase. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey. That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll try it.’ So, like, a month ago I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa, watch this.’ Then I said [it] again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it, I started loving it.”
Onkar’s entire article is worth a read.