The country is drowning in a rising tide of stupidity. It represents a far greater threat to our future than a thousand Islamic State cells or all the nuclear missiles aimed at us from Russia.

The Stupid Movement has been on the rise in America since the mid-1950s. But it’s now becoming a mainstream force in our society, with the election of the first truly stupid president.

Here’s how low we’ve sunk: The president-elect recently backed off a promise to produce the largest infrastructure-repair program in history.

“That’s not a very Republican thing to do. I didn’t even know that, frankly,” he said, acknowledging that he hadn’t realized during the campaign that such initiatives might conflict with his party’s small-government philosophy.

That was followed by massive changes in American foreign policy and a new nuclear arms race announced in 140-character tweets. Fittingly, 15 shopping malls last week exploded into mob violence and fistfights because people were tweeting about gunshots while running and screaming in fear. There were no gunshots.

From both American and world history, we know where the dictatorship of the stupid takes a society: to autocracy, mediocrity and strife. And to the enrichment of a few over the many and a general collapse of civil society.


Let’s be careful not to confuse stupidity with ignorance or lack of education, although they generally expand together. There are lots of people who lack education but who have great natural intelligence and a desire to learn, including most of the people I grew up with.

Stupid is different. To win a degree in stupid, you have to willfully reject facts in favor of superstitions, myths, fears and conspiracy theories. And then get all your news from fake or biased news sites targeted at the stupid.

As Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” wrote: “Every shortcoming of American governance is related in some fashion to the knowledge deficit of the public.” And our knowledge deficit is growing:

• For the first time in America’s history, this generation will be less educated than the last.

• Sixty-eight percent of public school third-graders cannot read proficiently.

• We’re 19th among young people with a high school or associate degree.


• Where we once led the world in the number of young people with college degrees, we’re now in 12th place.

• We’re 52nd in the quality of university math and science instruction.

• Reading among all ages is declining rapidly. Forty percent of Americans under 44 haven’t read a book this year. Growing numbers of young people read nothing except required school assignments.

• Nearly 50 percent of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will return to their home countries.

That’s taken a toll on our understanding of civics and politics:

• Two-thirds of Americans can’t name the three branches of our federal government.


• Only 40 percent know we have 100 senators in the U.S. Congress.

• Over 35 percent cannot name any rights granted by the First Amendment aside from free speech.

• Forty-two percent think that the Constitution established English as our national language.

• Twenty-five percent believe the Constitution also established Christianity as our national religion.

Our scientific knowledge is abysmal:

• Forty-two percent of Americans believe God created human beings less than 10,000 years ago.


• Eighteen percent of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth.

• Only 28 percent of high school science teachers follow recommended guidelines on teaching evolution.

• Three out of four Republicans in the U.S. Senate and half of those in the House deny the validity of climate change, despite the warnings of virtually every major significant scientific organization in the world.

• American schools regularly undervalue intelligence while celebrating athletes and pretty cheerleaders. Schools in Europe and other economic competitors do nothing of the sort. Most don’t even have athletics in their schools.

Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation,” places part of the blame on the decline of professional media and the numbers of young people who are “learning” from social media. Many of their parents are hardly better, learning primarily from “news” channels that aren’t in the news business at all and that primarily reinforce what they already believe or don’t know.

Charles Pierce, author of “Idiot America,” speaks to a new phenomenon that is taking hold in the country, which is “the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about.”


Against this backdrop, we should hardly be surprised that people are becoming increasingly susceptible to exploitation by politicians and fake news sites that are spewing fiction and fears as “honest,” “blunt” and “revealing.”

What are Americans to do? Make some New Year’s resolutions for your country.

• Never succumb to discouragement.

• Raise the bar on what we expect from ourselves and our children on learning.

• Demand that voters do their homework or stay home.

• Call out stupidity wherever it raises its empty head. Don’t be overly polite.

• Join a movement to renew American intelligence. The country and the world need you.

Alan Caron is owner of Caron Communications and author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: