Welcome to the Academic Redneck blog! I am so glad that you’ve come here to read my posts. After many years of hearing friends tell me I should create my own blog, I’ve finally committed to writing regular commentary on politics, education, and American culture. Since 2009, I’ve been sounding off on Facebook in a sporadic, random fashion. However, I’m now ready to focus. Over the years, I’ve done a small amount of professional and creative writing, but I’ve devoted myself primarily to teaching composition and history in community colleges around the country. Now it’s time to get more serious about my own writing. I have the professional training. I’m a good writer. I have a lot of relevant things to say.
Does that sound “braggadocios”? If so, perhaps a little of the chutzpah of our president-elect, Donald J. Trump, has rubbed off on me. I’ll confess I’ve been a DJT supporter ever since June 16, 2015, when he announced his candidacy for president. As he glided down the Trump Tower escalator and into political history, the symbolism was not lost on me. The image of the billionaire and his glamorous wife descending from their gilded penthouse into the gritty world of presidential politics set the stage for his successful populist campaign. That escalator ride brought Trump down to the people, who in turn lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the White House. Astutely, he recognized early on that the key to victory did not lie with A-list celebrities, high-profile media figures, and the political elite. Rather, he sensed the political storm brewing across the country, as more and more ordinary Americans were growing disgusted with the corruption and incompetence of the federal government. Trump must have come to this realization after years of talking with construction workers and average citizens who built his skyscrapers and staffed his hotels. At the very least, he seemed aware that millions of regular people were tired of the rich and famous lecturing them on one hand and ridiculing them on the other.
Trump’s confidence and ability to humble “do as I say, not as I do” moralists are two reasons he appealed to me from the outset. I don’t mind cocky, but I find the self-righteous extremely irritating. That day at Trump Tower, as Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” blared from the sound system, Trump, the ordinary person’s champion, was setting up one of his first significant battles against the sanctimonious. Often, Republican candidates run afoul of “artistes” who object to conservatives’ using their music at political rallies. Predictably, it wasn’t long until Young, a Canadian, complained publicly about Trump’s use of “Free World.” In a statement, Young’s management company said that the Trump campaign “was not authorized” to use the song. Young also issued a statement on his Facebook page, saying he would not have given permission for “this candidate” to use his song. He also took the opportunity to criticize the American political system, stating, “Increasingly, democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests.” Trump responded by calling Young a “hypocrite,” asserting that his campaign staff had indeed paid for permission to use the song. He also pointed out that Young had even come calling at Trump Tower to seek an investor for his online music service. Trump also released a photo of himself and a smiling Young shaking hands at that meeting. A year later, Young conceded that Team Trump had indeed purchased the license to use “Free World” and suggested that he simply objected that Trump had not asked his permission. The bickering went on for more than a year, with Young continuing to grouse over the distinction between “commercial and public venue use” and offering a “F**k you, Donald Trump” at one of his concerts in response.
Certainly, while intellectual and creative property rights must be taken seriously, Trump’s feud with Young revealed something about many entertainers who fancy themselves truth messengers to the rest of us. They may be well-intentioned, but they often owe their careers and vast wealth to the very corporate entities they condemn. Young didn’t speak truth to corporate power when he went to Trump, hat in hand, seeking large sums of cash for a pet project. It wasn’t until Trump started running for public office that Young decided it was cool to express his disdain for him and the party that a lot of artists love to hate. The “don’t use my music” demand has become such a cliché that it would be surprising if we made it through a single election cycle without a performer’s taking a knee-jerk stand against conservatives, corporate interests, or other boilerplate villains. Don’t get me wrong. I love Young’s music, and “Rockin’ in the Free World” is an excellent critique of the George H.W. Bush years. But the art is powerful enough to speak for itself without the moral preening from an artist who sold his song and its message to corporate licensees for maximum profits.
In addition to battling the entertainment industry, Trump’s candidacy finally exposed the truth about media bias that conservatives had long complained about. His political campaign also revealed the necessity to expand grassroots journalism. Traditional media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, and other news agencies, formerly held in high public regard, no longer made any pretense of objective reporting. They actively aided and abetted Democrats, which really began in earnest in 2008, as they chose to create a Camelotesque narrative about President Obama’s historic candidacy and election. The media advocacy continued in 2016, but this time the favored candidate happened to be Hillary Clinton, whom the media ironically had dumped in ’08 for the cooler, hipper Obama. Martha Raddatz, chosen to moderate one of the presidential debates, could not refrain from weeping on election night when the unthinkable happened and Trump won. Other snarky moderators like John Harwood referred to Trump’s candidacy as a “comic book version of a campaign” during the debates.
Interestingly, the mainstream media’s own hubris, greed, and appetite for scandal may have been more instrumental in creating the Trump phenomenon than they might like to admit. Trump, already a high-profile celebrity himself, created media buzz every day and knew how to harness press coverage to his advantage. He didn’t need to buy a lot of ads because he made news constantly. Though they despised him, the media could not ignore him, or they risked becoming irrelevant and losing advertising revenue. Their repeated attempts to knock him out of the race made for fascinating television. People tuned in just to see who would “win” the news day. Repeatedly, Trump took their lunch money, even when they were sure that the scandal du jour would surely finish him. Reports of his political demise were always grossly exaggerated.
When the national press becomes merely an arm of the state or the public relations firm of a single political party, we have Pravda and TASS, not information agencies holding the powerful accountable. This is the reason I find writing about politics so imperative now. As the traditional media have failed in their obligation to inform the public in an objective, nonpartisan way, more citizen journalists will emerge to critique the “fake news” generated by the very media outlets shouting the loudest about inaccuracy in reporting. When Brian Williams is one of the biggest complainers about fake reportage, the mainstream press provides only–to borrow from Harwood–“a comic book version” of news.
For years, bloggers have critiqued the press and the political establishment, though they have not received the attention and respect they deserve. I learned firsthand how effective and accurate the bloggers can be a little over a year ago, when the Planned Parenthood shooting occurred in Colorado Springs. Many of the bloggers my husband reads were listening to the police scanners and offering more real-time, accurate information than the local television stations, without the breathless, insipid, grating “How can terrible things like this happen?” chatter of talking heads.
I am certainly not a news reporter who has any insider sources in D.C. However, I do hope my commentary will provide some relevant insights and accurately articulate the views of the average Americans the media have caricatured and misrepresented for far too long. In addition, while I may also be an ardent Trump supporter, my goal is to challenge my own assumptions about him on a regular basis and consider serious criticisms of his policy positions.
You may wonder why I chose “academic redneck” as the title of this blog. I initially used the expression to refer to myself in an article, “An Academic Redneck for Trump,” I wrote for a colleague’s blog back in May of 2016. Since liberal progressive thought dominates many areas of higher education (though I will concede that my own institution is much more evenly split among conservatives and liberals than others. Colorado Springs is, after all, a military town), I am a bit of an oddity among my professional peers. Many do not understand why someone as well-educated as I am could support Trump. Nevertheless, because my roots are southern working class, I sought to set the record straight as more and more of the elite media and academia demeaned Trump voters as illiterate, desperate, angry people. My family has always respected artists and educated people, even if they did not have the opportunity to go to college or pursue creative endeavors. Unfortunately, many elites rarely acknowledge the honor and dignity of working class people like my family.
The term “academic redneck” beautifully encapsulates my contradictory persona. Although I hail from the ranks of the working class, I have learned to navigate and thrive in a world with people who spend their days immersed in the world of books and knowledge. But I’m an immigrant into this world, so I also see its limitations. Academia can be a wonderful place where good ideas flourish. Likewise, it is sometimes a petty world of entrenched bureaucracy and bad ideas. In addition, some of the most elite academics often have little skill for getting things accomplished because they traffic in the abstract and shun the practical. Fortunately, within the community colleges, we have (at least historically) been realistic enough to know that students need skills to make a living when they graduate, though some disturbing trends are emerging in two-year colleges as well. I sometimes fear we are moving too rapidly to embrace the identity politics of elite institutions, ideas that serve merely to make students more angry, insecure, and hopeless about their futures.
But that is a topic for another day.
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Dana Z, the Academic Redneck