The latest edition of Harvard magazine — published for alumni, faculty, staff and students — features a Donald Trump-like caricature on the front cover and the headline, “The End of Expertise.”
The feature story focuses on Never Trump’s Tom Nichols, who holds the president and his supporters in contempt and argues in his new book, The Death of Expertise, that Trump is the culmination of a “malady decades in the making”: hatred of experts.
The article shows no capacity for self-awareness or self-criticism, either by Nichols or Harvard magazine itself — no sense that there might be a reason behind Americans’ skepticism of experts. After being told by policy wonks that the Iraq War would bring stability to the Middle East, or being lectured by economists that Obamacare would work despite the alleged “stupidity” of the American consumer, it would seem some reflection would be in order.
But Nichols’s thesis is too tempting for the left-leaning Harvard magazine to doubt, even if the impulse behind it is as old as H.L. Mencken’s satire of the “booboisie.”
The American elite has often confused brains with power — in both directions: it believes that those with specialized knowledge have the right to rule, and, conversely, that those who rule must therefore be wise — though the latter is less widely believed during a Republican administration.
Ironically, President Donald Trump has restored the role of expertise in government by nominating competent people to head agencies formerly staffed by ideologues. The Department of Homeland Security is finally doing its job; the Food and Drug Administration is being led by a medical policy guru with a zeal for regulatory reform; the Department of Defense is headed by a retired general instead of a political fixer or a bureaucrat; and so on.
It was the Obama administration that set a new low, as far as standards of expertise. Large chunks of U.S. foreign policy, for example, was handled by Ben Rhodes, whose creative writing degree somehow qualified him to direct nuclear talks with Iran and negotiate with the Cuban regime. Obama was notoriously insecure about the military advice given to him by his generals, and so he tended to ignore them and manage — or mis-manage — around them.
What Obama offered Harvard, the liberal think tank universe, and the media elite was the promise of power. A bigger government that managed more of its citizens’ lives would have greater need for experts to do the managing. At some point even independent “experts” stopped serving the country, or the cause of truth, and began serving the Obama administration.
Trump’s election restored a civic balance — one the “experts” continue to resent and reject.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.