Trump’s bizarre obsession with his questionable intelligence

Trump is “very intelligent.” Just ask him. (Actually, you don’t have to ask—he’ll tell you.)

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Many Americans complain that Donald Trump has a tiny vocabulary. But he disproved his critics Wednesday during an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House.

In the past, Trump has repeatedly reminded people about his keen intellect by insisting “I’m smart.” Wednesday, he dug deep into his massive personal word bank and uttered a five-word sentence, “I’m a very intelligent person.”

Not only is that sentence three words longer than “I’m smart,” it is also three words longer than the phrase “f**king moron,” which is what his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called him not long ago.

Wednesday’s boast came in response to a reporter who asked Trump if he should be more civil.

“Well I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” the president said, and then quickly switched the topic from his manners to his mind.

“You know, people don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

Even long before he started running for president, Trump repeatedly claimed that he’s both well-educated and brainy. Each time, it isn’t clear if he’s trying to convince his interviewers or himself.

In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I got very good marks. I was a good student. It’s the best business school in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

In 2011, in an interview with ABC, Trump said, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country,” referring once again to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said during a speech in Phoenix in July 2015, a month after announcing he was running for president. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

The next month, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump describedWharton as “probably the hardest there is to get into.” He added, “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton.” He also observed: “Look, if I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.”

During a CNN-sponsored Republican town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2016, Trump reminded the audience that he had gone to Wharton and repeated the same boast: “Look, I went to the best school, I was a good student and all of this stuff. I mean, I’m a smart person.”

Even after winning the White House, Trump couldn’t help reminding people about his mental muscles. He did it a few days after his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters. Trump’s handlers staged the event so he could demonstrate his full support for the agency (despite having spent much of his campaign bashing the nation’s intelligence community) and to divert media attention away from the 750,000 Americans who had come to Washington, D.C., that day to protest Trump’s presidency. But Trump’s scripted remarks turned into an impulsive rambling rant that included attacks on the media and his insistence that as many as 1.5 million people attended his inauguration (despite photos revealing no more than 250,000).

In the middle of his tirade, Trump felt the need to tell the nation’s top spies that he was a bright guy.

“Trust me,” Trump said. “I’m, like, a smart person.”

Last December, Trump repeated those same words while explaining why he intended to be the first president since Harry Truman to avoid getting daily updates from intelligence professionals about national security threats.

“I’m, like, a smart person,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Anyone who feels compelled to boast how smart he is clearly suffers from a profound insecurity about his intelligence and accomplishments. In Trump’s case, he has good reason to have doubts.

Trump has the kind of street smarts (what he’s called “gut instinct”) characteristic of con artists and hucksters, but his limited vocabulary, short attention span, ignorance of policy specifics, indifference to scientific evidence, and admitted aversion to reading raise questions about his intellectual abilities—his capacity to absorb and analyze information and ideas.

Many observers have noted that Trump has a difficult time expressing himself and speaking in complete sentences. A linguistic analysis by Politico found that Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level. A study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University compared last year’s Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in terms of their vocabulary and grammar. Trump scored at a fifth-grade level, the lowest of all the candidates.

Some might suspect that this is not an intellectual shortcoming, but instead Trump’s calculated way of communicating with a wide audience. But Tony Schwartz, who spent a great deal of time with Trump while ghostwriting his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, noted that Trump has a very limited vocabulary. It would hardly be surprising if these observations infuriated the vain and insecure Trump.

Trump’s persistent insults directed toward anyone who disagrees with him also suggest his deep insecurity. Trump has constantly denigrated his opponents and detractors as “losers,” among them actresses Rosie O’Donnell, Cher, and Meryl Streep, civil rights icon John Lewis, businessman Mark Cuban, GOP political operatives Karl Rove and Ana Navarro, NBC’s Chuck Todd, Jeb Bush, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and conservative columnist George Will.

It turns out that loser is one of Trump’s favorite words. An archive of Trump’s Twitter account reveals that between 2009 and his January 2017 inauguration he used the word “loser” 234 times. His other favorite insults included “dumb” or “dummy” (222 tweets), “terrible” (202), “stupid” (182), “weak” (154) and “dope” (115).

On May 8, 2013, at 6:37pm, Trump tweeted: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.”

At 3:52 pm on Sept. 26, 2014—nine months before he announced his candidacy for the White House—Trump tweeted: “I wonder if I run for PRESIDENT, will the haters and losers vote for me knowing that I will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? I say they will!”

On September 17, 2016—after CNN anchors criticized Trump for promising a “big announcement” to get the media to come to an event, only to use the moment to tout his new hotel and then invite several military figures onstage to praise him—Trump had another Twitter tantrum at 8:13am: “CNN just doesn’t get it, and that’s why their ratings are so low – and getting worse. Boring anti-Trump panelists, mostly losers.”

Trump sometimes uses other words to convey the same thought (he recently called Tennessee Senator Bob Corker a “lightweight”), but his insults all seek to demean his critics in order to boost his own ego. Whether he’s attacking Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona or San Juan’s Democratic Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Trump views the world in zero-sum terms, as if there were a finite number of IQ points.

Truly smart people don’t have to constantly boast about how smart they are. Only someone who doubts his own intelligence would feel compelled to make these kinds of public statements.

Trump surely knows he didn’t get into Wharton on his own merits. He transferred into the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate program after spending two years at Fordham University in New York, where he had no significant achievements.

“No one I know of has said ‘I remember Donald Trump,’” Paul F. Gerken, a 1968 Fordham graduate and president of the Fordham College Alumni Association, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Whatever he did at Fordham, he didn’t leave footprints.”

According to Gwenda Blair’s 2001 biography, The Trumps, Trump’s grades at Fordham were not good enough to qualify him for a transfer to Wharton. Blair wrote that Trump got into Wharton as a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who knew Trump’s older brother, Freddy. The college’s admissions staff surely knew that Trump’s father was a wealthy real estate developer and a potential donor. Other than his father’s money and his family’s connections, Trump had no qualifications that would have otherwise gotten him into Wharton. (Most people who mention Wharton refer to its prestigious MBA program, but Trump was an economics major in the undergraduate program.)

Moreover, Trump has for years exaggerated his academic accomplishments at Penn.

On at least two occasions in the 1970s, the New York Times reported that Trump “graduated first in his class” at Wharton in 1968. That’s not true. The dean’s listfor his graduation year, published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, doesn’t include Trump’s name. He has refused to release his grade transcripts from his college days.

It is likely that Trump was the original source for that falsehood, but it isn’t entirely clear, since neither Times article attributes it directly to him. But the fabrication that Trump was first in his class has been repeated in many other articles as well as books about Trump, so he clearly knew it was out there in the public domain and has never bothered to correct it.

“He was not in any kind of leadership. I certainly doubt he was the smartest guy in the class,” Steve Perelman, a classmate of Trump’s at Wharton, told the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2015.

Upon graduating from college, Trump didn’t have to apply for jobs or go through interviews with potential employers who would judge him on his merits. Instead, his father Fred Trump handed young Donald the keys to his real estate empire. Trump’s insecurity about his accomplishments is also revealed in his efforts to portray himself as an up-by-the-bootstraps self-made entrepreneur.

“It has not been easy for me,” Trump said at a town hall meeting on October 26, 2015, acknowledging, “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”

At a news conference last year, Trump repeated the same story: “I got a very, very small loan from my father many years ago. I built that into a massive empire and I paid my father back that loan.”

An investigation by the Washington Post in March 2016 demolished Trump’s claim that he made it on his own. Not only did Trump’s multi-millionaire father provide Donald with a huge inheritance, and set up big-bucks trust accounts to provide his son with a steady income, Fred was also a silent partner in Trump’s first real estate projects. According to the Post:

“Trump’s father—whose name had been besmirched in New York real estate circles after investigations into windfall profits and other abuses in his real estate projects—was an essential silent partner in Trump’s initiative. In effect, the son was the front man, relying on his father’s connections and wealth, while his father stood silently in the background to avoid drawing attention to himself.”

Fred Trump’s real estate fortune was hardly due to his faith in the free market, but instead stemmed from his reliance on government subsidies. He made his money building middle-class apartments financed by the Federal Housing Administration.

In 1954, when Donald was 8 years old, his father was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on allegations that he had ripped off the government to reap windfall profits through his FHA-insured housing developments. At the hearings, the elder Trump was called on the carpet for profiteering off public contracts, including overestimating the construction costs of his projects in order to get larger mortgages from FHA. Under oath, he reluctantly admitted that he had wildly overstated the development costs.

Donald has followed in his father’s corrupt footsteps. Trump’s career is littered with bogus businesses (like Trump University); repeated ripoffs of suppliers, contractors and employees whom he failed to pay for services rendered; and the misuse of the Trump Foundation to feather his own nest while trying to look like a philanthropist. Six of Trump’s businesses have gone bankrupt.

Despite this, on April 18, 2015, Trump tweeted this falsehood: ”For all of the haters and losers out there sorry, I never went Bankrupt.”

Trump has also lied about the size of his wealth, as various business publications have pointed out. Many observers suggest that one reason Trump has refused to release his tax returns is that they will show that he has repeatedly and wildly exaggerated his wealth and thus his success.

Embarrassed by his lackluster academic record, his dependence on his family’s connections and wealth to get into college and to succeed in business, and his troublesome and abusive business practices, Trump lashes out at anyone who challenges him, no matter how insignificant the matter.

Many observers have noted Trump’s sociopathic, thin-skinned, demagogic, authoritarian, impulsive, and vindictive personality. Although Trump has the self-awareness of an adolescent, it is obvious to many others that his compulsion to constantly boast “I’m smart” and to deride others as “losers” is rooted in his profound sense of insecurity.

Presidents don’t have to be geniuses. But a successful president must recognize his own limitations and be willing to rely on others’ expertise. He has to take constant criticism—from the media, political opponents, and his own advisers—without taking it too personally. Surrounding oneself with yes-men and -women who are afraid to tell the president he’s wrong is a recipe for disaster. Most important, an effective president needs good judgment—to be able to hear different viewpoints, weigh evidence, think several steps in advance rather than act impulsively, and be calm under intense pressure. Trump fails each of these tests.

Beneath Trump’s public bravado is a deeply insecure, troubled man who is unfit to be president. This makes him a danger to the country and the world.


Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).

How should we protest neo-Nazis? Lessons from German history

How should we protest neo-Nazis? Lessons from German history

File 20170820 22783 12tnnxh
A supporter of President Donald Trump, center, argues with a counterprotester at a rally in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

By Laurie Marhoefer, University of Washington

After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, many people are asking themselves what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they put their bodies on the line in counterdemonstrations? Some say yes.

History says no. Take it from me: I study the original Nazis.

We have an ethical obligation to stand against fascism and racism. But we also have an ethical obligation to do so in a way that doesn’t help the fascists and racists more than it hurts them.

History repeats itself

Charlottesville was right out of the Nazi playbook. In the 1920s, the Nazi Party was just one political party among many in a democratic system, running for seats in Germany’s Parliament. For most of that time, it was a small, marginal group. In 1933, riding a wave of popular support, it seized power and set up a dictatorship. The rest is well-known.

It was in 1927, while still on the political fringes, that the Nazi Party scheduled a rally in a decidedly hostile location – the Berlin district of Wedding. Wedding was so left-of-center that the neighborhood had the nickname “Red Wedding,” red being the color of the Communist Party. The Nazis often held rallies right where their enemies lived, to provoke them.

The people of Wedding were determined to fight back against fascism in their neighborhood. On the day of the rally, hundreds of Nazis descended on Wedding. Hundreds of their opponents showed up too, organized by the local Communist Party. The antifascists tried to disrupt the rally, heckling the speakers. Nazi thugs retaliated. There was a massive brawl. Almost 100 people were injured.

I imagine the people of Wedding felt they had won that day. They had courageously sent a message: Fascism was not welcome.

But historians believe events like the rally in Wedding helped the Nazis build a dictatorship. Yes, the brawl got them media attention. But what was far, far more important was how it fed an escalating spiral of street violence. That violence helped the fascists enormously.

Violent confrontations with antifascists gave the Nazis a chance to paint themselves as the victims of a pugnacious, lawless left. They seized it.

It worked. We know now that many Germans supported the fascists because they were terrified of leftist violence in the streets. Germans opened their morning newspapers and saw reports of clashes like the one in Wedding. It looked like a bloody tide of civil war was rising in their cities. Voters and opposition politicians alike came to believe the government needed special police powers to stop violent leftists. Dictatorship grew attractive. The fact that the Nazis themselves were fomenting the violence didn’t seem to matter.

One of Hitler’s biggest steps to dictatorial power was to gain emergency police powers, which he claimed he needed to suppress leftist violence.

Thousands of Nazi storm troops demonstrate in a Communist neighborhood in Berlin on Jan. 22, 1933. Thirty-five Nazis, Communists and police were injured during clashes.
AP Photo

The left takes the heat

In the court of public opinion, accusations of mayhem and chaos in the streets will, as a rule, tend to stick against the left, not the right.

This was true in Germany in the 1920s. It was true even when opponents of fascism acted in self-defense or tried to use relatively mild tactics, such as heckling. It is true in the United States today, where even peaceful rallies against racist violence are branded riots in the making.

Today, right extremists are going around the country staging rallies just like the one in 1927 in Wedding. According to the civil rights advocacy organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, they pick places where they know antifascists are present, like university campuses. They come spoiling for physical confrontation. Then they and their allies spin it to their advantage.

A demonstration on the University of Washington campus where far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was giving a speech on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

I watched this very thing happen steps from my office on the University of Washington campus. Last year, a right extremist speaker came. He was met by a counterprotest. One of his supporters shot a counterprotester. On stage, in the moments after the shooting, the right extremist speaker claimed that his opponents had sought to stop him from speaking “by killing people.” The fact that it was one of the speaker’s supporters, a right extremist and Trump backer, who engaged in what prosecutors now claim was an unprovoked and premeditated act of violence, has never made national news.

We saw this play out after Charlottesville, too. President Donald Trump said there was violence “on both sides.” It was an incredible claim. Heyer, a peaceful protester, and 19 other people were intentionally hit by a neo-Nazi driving a car. He seemed to portray Charlottesville as another example of what he has referred to elsewhere as “violence in our streets and chaos in our communities,” including, it seems, Black Lives Matter, which is a nonviolent movement against violence. He stirred up fear. Trump recently said that police are too constrained by existing law.

President Trump tried it again during the largely peaceful protests in Boston – he called the tens of thousands who gathered there to protest racism and Nazism “anti-police agitators,” though later, in a characteristic about-face, he praised them.

President Trump’s claims are hitting their mark. A CBS News poll found that a majority of Republicans thought his description of who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville was “accurate.”

This violence, and the rhetoric about it coming from the administration, are echoes – faint but nevertheless frightening echoes – of a well-documented pattern, a pathway by which democracies devolve into dictatorships.

The Antifa

There’s an additional wrinkle: the antifa. When Nazis and white supremacists rally, the antifa are likely to show up, too.

“Antifa” is short for antifascists, though the name by no means includes everyone who opposes fascism. The antifa is a relatively small movement of the far left, with ties to anarchism. It arose in Europe’s punk scene in the 1980s to fight neo-Nazism.

The antifa says that because Nazism and white supremacy are violent, we must use any means necessary to stop them. This includes physical means, like what they did on my campus: forming a crowd to block ticket-holders from entering a venue to hear a right extremist speak.

The antifa’s tactics often backfire, just like those of Germany’s communist opposition to Nazism did in the 1920s. Confrontations escalate. Public opinion often blames the left no matter the circumstances.

What to do?

One solution: Hold a counterevent that doesn’t involve physical proximity to the right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a helpful guide. Among its recommendations: If the alt-right rallies, “organize a joyful protest” well away from them. Ask people they have targeted to speak. But “as hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them.”

This does not mean ignoring Nazis. It means standing up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed.

The ConversationThe cause Heather Heyer died for is best defended by avoiding the physical confrontation that the people who are responsible for her death want.

Laurie Marhoefer, Assistant Professor of History, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons License

New study finding fat isn’t as bad as carbs misses the point

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What’s more important to examine is whether the fat and carbs come from fruits and vegetables or doughnuts and candy. from www.shutterstock.com.au

By Clare Collins, University of Newcastle

A new study has added weight to the debate as to whether fat is better or worse for you than carbohydrates, in terms of risk of heart disease and early death. Unfortunately based on this study the jury’s still out, but it does highlight that we should focus on what foods people are eating, rather than just looking at components such as fat and carbohydrates.

Researchers looked at intakes of fat, carbohydrates and protein in more than 135,000 people from 18 low income countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe), middle income countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Iran, Malaysia, occupied Palestinian territory, Poland, South Africa, Turkey) and high income countries (Canada, Sweden, United Arab Emirates).

They assessed dietary intakes based on questionnaires, and compared the results with death rates from heart disease and from all other causes.

Over 7.4 years of follow-up, 5,796 people died and 4,784 had major cardiovascular disease events, such as a heart attack or stroke. Interestingly, they found those with the highest intakes of total fat and sub-types of fat (saturated, unsaturated) compared to those with the lowest intakes, had a lower risk of dying from all causes.

There was a 21% lower risk of stroke among those with the highest saturated fat intakes compared to the lowest. However, when it came to the risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease, fats had no relationship with risk.

Interestingly, those consuming the highest percentage of total energy from carbohydrates had a 28% higher risk of early death, but no higher risk of having heart disease or dying from heart disease.

Although it hasn’t received as much attention, they also found a higher percentage energy intake from protein was associated with a 23% lower risk of early death and 15% lower risk of dying from causes other than heart disease. Animal protein intake was also associated with a lower risk of dying, but there was no significant association between plant protein and risk of early death.

So what does this all mean?

This study highlights that both carbohydrates and fat are important, but which foods you eat that contain fat or carbohydrate is even more important when it comes to how long you live.

The researchers found some differences between results for those living in Asian countries compared to other regions. For example there was no statistically significant difference in early death from all causes between those with the highest, compared to the lowest percentage of energy from carbohydrate for those living in Asian regions. But there was among those from non-Asian countries.

The analysis adds more weight to the global call to go beyond macro-nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate which are the major constituents of food) and to look carefully at actual food and drinks consumed. It matters whether your carbohydrates come from an apple, lentils or carrots compared to soft drink, doughnuts or pancakes.

The types of foods actually consumed could inform how changes in the food supply within lower and middle income countries relate to changes in death rates. They could also inform nutrition policies for countries experiencing a nutrition transition as they become more wealthy.

Overall, this study is very important, and a timely reminder of the need to continually update the evidence on diet disease relationships and to factor in what part of the world the individuals under study are from. But it’s not time to throw out the pasta, rice and bread and start guzzling tubs of fat.

It is time to pay more attention to nutrition and to focus on optimal eating patterns within each country. We need to stem the tide of ultra-processed foods that disrupt healthier eating patterns. Studies from around the world show that getting the ratio of ultra-processed to minimally processed foods back in balance is key to improving the nutritional quality of our overall diets.

Dietary patterns and heart disease

We recently reviewed the evidence on dietary patterns and heart disease, where most research has been done in high income countries.

Our report highlighted that a number of dietary patterns that vary in fat and carbohydrate type and quality are associated with lower heart disease risk. What they have in common is that they are all high in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and most includes legumes.

This new study provides support for a focus on improving the nutritional quality of macronutrients. In other words, it matters what foods you eat that contain high amounts of carbohydrates and fats. For example is the major source of carbohydrate coming from fruit and vegetables or is it added sugars and highly processed foods?

Close examination of the barriers and facilitators of consuming a healthy diet is warranted. In an earlier analysis of data from this new study, the team reported very low intakes of vegetables and fruit with a mean combined intake of 3·8 servings a day. This varied from 2.1 servings of vegetables and fruit per day in low income countries up to 5.4 servings per day in high income countries. They found that the cost of fruits and vegetables relative to household income was high.

The ConversationThis highlights that to improve dietary patterns globally, we need people to eat more vegetables and fruit. To achieve that we must develop nutrition polices that support affordability of healthy food for all and stop arguing about whether fat is better than carbs. That just adds to the current confusion.


Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Old West theme parks paint a false picture of pioneer California

Reprinted from the August 30, 2017 edition of The Conversation

Editor’s Note: The nostalgia for California’s past is still very much an influence throughout much of the state, and is especially conspicuous in the Gold Country, where many old-timers long to re-open old polluting gold mines, such as the Idaho-Maryland mine here in Grass Valley.

By Amanda Tewes

Old West, as seen through 1967 Orange County eyes. Orange County Archives, CC BY

In 1940, just a year before Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a world war, Walter and Cordelia Knott began construction on a notable addition to their thriving berry patch and chicken restaurant in the Orange County, California, city of Buena Park. This new venture was an Old West town celebrating both westward expansion and the California Dream – the notion that this Gold Rush state was a land of easy fortune for all. The Knotts’ romanticized Ghost Town – including a saloon, blacksmith’s shop, jail and “Boot Hill” cemetery – became the cornerstone of the amusement park that is today Knott’s Berry Farm.

While Ghost Town is arguably the first of its kind, since 1940 Old West theme parks have proliferated around the United States and the world. They’re more than just destinations for pleasure seekers. Like Hollywood Westerns and dime novels, these theme parks propagate a particular myth of “the West.”

The relationship between history and entertainment is especially complex when these theme parks exist in California – a place that actually experienced “the Wild West.” Visitors can have a hard time differentiating between fantasy landscapes and local history.

In studying California’s Old West theme parks and their version of the state’s past, I’ve conducted oral histories, visited these sites and observed continued nostalgia for these places. What do these imagined spaces reveal about cultural conflicts of politics and regional identity in midcentury California? How do they demonstrate the attraction of a fantasy past that has captivated Californians?

Knott’s original berry stand, Buena Park, California, circa 1926. Orange County ArchivesCC BY

Chicken with a side of ‘pioneer spirit’

The addition of a Ghost Town may seem an odd choice for the Knotts, who were farmers and restaurateurs. But it was a calculated move to entertain guests waiting upwards of three hours in line for their chicken dinner – as well as to tell a particular story about the California Dream.

Walter Knott grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales about traveling across the Mojave Desert to California in a covered wagon, with her young daughter (Walter’s mother) in tow. Knott admired his grandmother’s “pioneering spirit,” which influenced his own decisions to homestead (unsuccessfully) in the desert. For Knott, his grandmother’s account sparked ongoing admiration for independence and adventure, qualities that embody the myth of the West but not necessarily the realities of California’s past.

And it was this personal connection to California’s past that colored Knott’s critique of his present. Looking back over the devastation the Great Depression wrought on California, the farmer – a lifelong proponent of free enterprise – concluded federal interference had prolonged the situation by offering aid and social welfare programs, instead of encouraging struggling residents to work harder.

In the 1930s, Orange County was starting to transition from a land of orange groves and strawberry fields.Orange County Archives, CC BY

This assessment ignores the fact that an agricultural hub like Orange County gained much from New Deal programs. The Agricultural Adjustment Act, for instance, offered farmers price support for their crops, which Orange County growers accepted.

But Knott remained steadfast. In an oral history from 1963, he explained,

“We felt that if [Ghost Town visitors] looked back, they would see the little that the pioneer people had to work with and all the struggles and problems that they had to overcome and that they’d all done it without any government aid.”

This virulent independence shaped Ghost Town and ensured that Knott’s Berry Farm’s memorial to California history was a political statement as much as a place of leisure.

Beyond its political message about the past, Walter Knott wanted Ghost Town “to be an educational feature as well as a place of entertainment.” Indeed, the first edition of the theme park’s printed paper Ghost Town News in October 1941 explained, “…we hope it will prove of real tangible educational advantage and a lasting monument to California.” By 1963, Knott asserted,

“I suppose there’s hundreds of thousands of kids today that know what you mean when you say, ‘pan gold.’ I mean, when they read it in a book they understand it because they’ve gone down and actually done it [at Ghost Town].”

Indeed, the message reached generations of visitors.

Perpetuating the myth of rugged individualism

But Knott learned – and taught – the wrong lesson from the past. Certainly 19th-century Anglo pioneers faced financial, physical and psychological challenges in reaching California. But these individuals did actually benefit from the “government aid” Knott scorned.

Federal funds and policies supported land grants in the West, a military to expand territory and fight indigenous peoples and even the development of the railroad that eventually connected California to the rest of the country. Government intervention helped support these Anglo pioneers as much as it did their Depression-era descendants.

What’s left out of this picture? Orange County Archives, CC BY

Despite the fantasy past it represented, the premise of Ghost Town inspired local appreciation. Visitors to Knott’s Berry Farm saw evidence of California’s financial greatness when they panned for gold. Stories about the trials Walter Knott’s own relatives faced crossing the Mojave Desert reinforced the fortitude of those who settled in the Golden State. Indeed, by midcentury many Orange County residents had themselves moved west to California and could well identify with the theme of 19th-century migration.

Ghost Town played on mid-20th-century nostalgia for simpler and more adventurous times in California, especially as the area began to rapidly shed its agricultural past in the years following World War II. The Knotts’ nod to California’s 19th-century history was a welcome distraction from the modernization efforts in Orange County’s backyard.

Richard Nixon pans for gold with Walter Knott in 1959. Orange County Archives, CC BY

The romantic and often whitewashed version of California’s past embodied by Ghost Town played an ongoing role in shaping midcentury cultural and political identity in the region. The Knotts used the living they earned from Ghost Town and their other attractions to support conservative causes locally and nationally. In 1960, Ghost Town and the Old California it represented was the literal backdrop of a Richard Nixon rally during his first presidential run.

Later, fellow conservative and the Knotts’ personal friend Ronald Reagan produced a segment about their attraction on his political radio show. On the July 15, 1978 episode, Reagan said, “Walter Knott’s farm is a classic American success story…And, it still reflects its founder’s deep love and patriotism for his country.” Reagan celebrated the theme park as the pinnacle of free enterprise and the California Dream.

Among California’s Old West theme parks, Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm is not unique in tweaking the state’s 19th-century past to more closely align with a Hollywood Western than the complex racial, cultural and political reality. Today Ghost Town serves millions of domestic and foreign visitors annually and continues to sell a fantasy version of the Golden State’s history. But this fantasy memorializes mid-20th-century conservative values rather than 19th-century California.

With renewed debates about public memory and monuments, it’s more important than ever to examine sites like historical theme parks as places where individuals learn (false) history. These romantic and politicized versions of the Old West can leave visitors longing for a past that never was.


Disclosure statement

Amanda Tewes does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Inside the anti-racist movement that brings the fight to white supremacists

Editor’s Note: In a recent article in Mother Jones about the US anti-fascist movement, a young man spoke about his flexible ideology: “I wasn’t sure if I was racist or anti-racist,” recalls Alex Stuck. “I just knew I was pissed off … thank God that [HARM] got to me first. I could have easily went the opposite direction.” Related: Years ago, I heard some Hells Angels being interviewed on the radio. One said, “Many of us used to be cops.” Something deeper than ideology is going on here. What is it? A thirst for violence driven by testosterone?

From Mother Jones: “Inside the anti-racist movement that brings the fight to white supremacists”

“At lunchtime on May 19, 2012, 18 masked men and women shouldered through the front door of the Ashford House restaurant in Tinley Park, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago. Some diners mistook the mob for armed robbers. Others thought they might be playing a practical joke. But Steven Speers, a stalactite-bearded 33-year-old who had just sat down for appetizers at a white nationalist meet and greet, had a hunch who they were. The gang filing in with baseball bats, police batons, hammers, and nunchucks were members of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM), two groups dedicated to violently confronting white supremacists.

“Hey, bitches!” one of the anti-racists shouted before charging Speers’ table. “ARA is going to fuck this place up!”

“Speers stood up and warned his seven companions to prepare to fight. His girlfriend, Beckie Williams, who had organized the lunchtime gathering on the white supremacist website Stormfront, grabbed a butter knife. Francis Gilroy, a homeless man who had driven up from Florida to find “work for whites,” as an online ad for the meeting promised, tried to pull the attackers off his companions. Williams was clubbed on the arm. Speers was hit on the head so hard he vomited.

“An 80-year-old woman celebrating her granddaughter’s high school graduation at a nearby table was also pushed to the floor. A retired cop who believed he was witnessing a terrorist attack used a chair to knock out one of the masked intruders. That’s when they ran off, dragging their dazed companion.

“In less than two minutes, the anti-racists had unleashed a flurry of destruction. A mosaic of smashed glass covered the floor. Blood polka-dotted the ceiling. Three people required medical care.”

 

Read the full article here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/04/anti-racist-antifa-tinley-park-five/

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