The Illiterate Electorate: Who Elected Trump


Forty-five million Americans cannot read a children’s book. But they can read a tweet, compose a tweet and retweet ad infinitum.

They are America’s functionally illiterate population.

These 45 million can read a headline but do not have the skills needed to absorb a newspaper or magazine article or even this blog post. As a result, they are incapable of higher order thinking – the holistic analysis of printed information and a resulting conclusion. Likewise, important things like evaluating reliability of authors, content and sources are missing from their thought processes.

The functionally illiterate cannot tell printed truth from fiction. They are easy prey for the blaring headlines of fake news, loud voices from public podiums, simplistic chants, repetitive memes and 140-character tweets – all of which dominated the Republican presidential campaign.

The digital campaign trail produced a noticeable corollary – the collective resentment toward those who can read, analyze and make independent decisions. If you were assigned the label of “libtard” then no doubt, you found an abundance of simply-worded, graphically insulting tweets greeting you on a daily basis. This was your punishment for data mining and logical thought.

Journalists were also punished with a similar hostility during the campaign. Forty-five million Americans cannot read your syndicated columns or your editorial endorsements or your provocative findings. And a swath of them are enraged that you provide a channel for this “information.” They have heard the wild rhetoric at rallies and the ravings on Infowars and that is all they need, thank you very much.

Yes, Donald Trump encouraged the media disdain. Yes, he cheered on their jeers and threats. But that hatred was already present. It’s the safe harbor of the ignorant.

While promoting this outright distrust of the written word, the GOP nominee took advantage of other fears and realities caused by ignorance.

Fifty percent of adults aged 16-21 are perennially unemployed because of their illiteracy; another 46 to 51 percent earn below poverty level wages because of their stunted reading skills. A huge chunk (75%) rely on public benefits simply because they never learned to read. This is the economic worry so belabored, and its cause is simple: illiteracy.

But the GOP nominee ignored these realities. Instead, he focused on grand promises of prosperity (I’ll Make America Great Again) and broad strokes of blame (Lock Her Up! Lyin’ Hillary, Crooked Hillary). Illiteracy was his friend. The fact that 60 percent of households have not read a book in the last year was a big cherry on top of the meltdown of America.

The illiterate became his electorate – an unthinking, incurious, rigidly loyal mass.  The majority of America now faces a Donald J. Trump presidency. We know this does not bode well. We’ve done our research.

(Source: National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, U.S. Census Bureau)

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