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The College Divide: The DJT Stock Scam Exposes the Skepticism Gap

The College Divide: The DJT Stock Scam Exposes the Skepticism Gap

Jerry Dean McLain earned a profile in the Washington Post a few weeks ago for his sense of community, faith, sacrifice and loyalty. McLean, a tree-trimmer in Oklahoma, poured all of his available cash, about $25,000, into shares of Trump Media before the merger. He’s going to lose it all, but that doesn’t matter, “I know good and well it’s in Trump’s hands.”

“This isn’t just another stock to me. … I feel like it was God Almighty that put it in my lap.” It’s not easy to accumulate 25 grand while trimming trees, but it’s easy to lose it. McLean’s loyalty to Trump will probably cost him everything he’s saved. When that’s over, he’ll remain as loyal as ever. 

Community, faith, sacrifice and loyalty are the values that define goodness for most people. Core to those values is a sense of “us,” the community of just good folks, or volk, standing apart from a morally compromised “other.” When a hero emerges to champion an embattled community, that hero should be supported at all costs. Backing that hero means becoming a hero yourself. Good ole Jerry Dean is becoming a hero by supporting Donald Trump, the man who promises to bring glory back to good, decent white folks. 

What do college educated people generally see in this story? Humor, mostly. After all, how could someone be so stupid? It would pay to find empathy in this story. Our future depends on it. 

One of the most meaningful divides between the college educated and those who never had that experience is the value they place on belief and loyalty. 

People evolved to think socially, not individually. Those who survived hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution learned to blend into the tribe, to embrace the habits, values and knowledge received from ancestors and peers, molding themselves to fit the demands of a community. There was little evolutionary advantage in innovation if it conflicted with your community. One’s place in the tribe defined one’s value in the world. 

Our environment no longer rewards blind commitment to the tribe, though we’re still wired for it. Many of those who fail to find a tribe in conventional ways form cults or move to small communities to try to replicate the cozy old experience of mindless closeness. And those who haven’t learned to water down their group devotion with healthy skepticism are often prey for scammers. 

A telling contrast is buried in the article about McLean. The author also interviewed Carol Swain, who explained that she’d carved out a tiny portion of her stock portfolio to buy a few shares of DJT. Swain is batshit crazy, a former black conservative professor who started embracing some squirrelly ideas decades ago, then went off the deep end during the Tea Party era. She received some [ahem] encouragement to leave Vanderbilt after the 2016 Election. Since then she’s been rattling around Nashville as a D-list rightwing political figure. 

Swain may be crazy, but she’s educated. Swain, who holds half a dozen degrees in her unsteady hands, tossed a mere $1000 donation into Trump Social stock, explaining, “I wanted to show my support.” She’s willing to buy $1000 worth of credibility in Trumplandia with no illusions about what that money is worth.

There are three kinds of people left in Republican politics: racists, religious nuts, and grifters. As the GOP has become the party of non-college educated whites, the remaining Republicans with a college education are overwhelmingly the grifters. The few college educated still lingering in the GOP ranks are mostly there to exploit the values of the McLeans, feeding on their loyalty and faith to gain power, slash their taxes, or exploit them in other ways. 

Jerry Dean McLean, a tree trimmer, gathers up all the cash he can to buy DJT because he believes. Carol Swain, a disgraced former college professor, invests the bare minimum because she doesn’t believe, but wants to look like she does. The gap between McLean and Swain is all about college. In particular, it’s about the way college changes our values. 

A college education is one of the main vectors by which the new, more adaptive values of skepticism, questioning, and independence are transmitted. In high school, students learn what happened. In college, they ask why it happened. In high school, students learn what we know about the universe. In college, they explore what we don’t know. Primary and secondary education teaches answers. College teaches questions. In a world transformed by science and technology, power belongs to those who ask the best questions.  

Every culture is organized around myths, core narratives that define who is us and who is them, what it means to be good, what it means to be us. What values should be rewarded and which should be punished? Those values are packaged into stories, movies, music and art, then consumed to help define a culture. Primary and secondary education tends to push an unquestioned conformity with our prevailing myths. College does the exact opposite.

High schoolers, at large, will learn a relatively uncomplicated myth of a triumphant American westward expansion. College students learn about Wounded Knee. High school students absorb science as a collection of facts and equations. Science education in college focuses on the unanswered questions, exploring what we don’t yet know, and what we once thought we knew. An education organized around questioning and skepticism produces a radically different culture from an education that starts every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance.

You’ll often hear people complain that when kids leave their hometowns to get an education at State U, they return with their heads full of crazy ideas. Or more likely, they don’t return at all. They become something frightening to their elders, asking questions about matters that should be left alone, or engaging in behaviors that violate unspoken values. They may not go to church anymore. Maybe they kneel for the anthem. Maybe they’re dating someone of another race. College can drive a wedge between generations that’s difficult to bridge. A large part of that divide is a shift in values, favoring doubt and inquiry over compliance.

Among the tribe, doubt is weakness. Questions are disloyal. Sacrifice, faith and compliance are righteousness. These are evolutionary lessons thousands of generations in the making. 

A newborn age of science, technology and capitalism is now rewarding curiosity, delivering power and wealth to people who prioritize innovation over compliance. Good, righteous people who stay close to their communities, living their lives by the old values, are growing weak and poor. There must be evil afoot.

How did Trump become a godlike figure in this white tribe? By loudly congratulating the darkest byproducts of white tribal thinking from a position of apparent membership in the elites. Trump was in Hollywood, but he still respects ordinary folk. He went to those fancy schools, but unlike our grandkids, he came back to us. Sure, he partied with Epstein, but only to learn the truth. Trump is telling people, “I’ve been out there. I know how this game has been rigged against good, righteous white volk. Your racism and sexism and refusal to ask questions are values that make you beautiful. Those educated ‘elites’ who laugh at you, and the blacks, immigrants and immoral women who serve them, will all be put in their place when you give me power.”

Trump promised to champion these people, gaining credibility by loudly embracing their most shameful values. In doing so, he hijacked their sense of righteousness and they’ll happily follow him to ruin. 

Recently, Michael Cohen taunted Trump over the Stormy Daniels trial by calling him “VonShitzenPants.” This is how Trump supporters responded at his rally:

Loyalty to tribe trumps reason, doubt and inquiry. “I’ll wear a diaper for you” is a powerful statement of loyalty.

Once people glimpse the complexity and uncertainty of our world, whether through education or some other experience, they’re never the same. Leave the mental or physical confines of the tribe for long, and it becomes difficult to grasp the worldview of the tribe or communicate with them on the simplest levels. For those who have learned to live with uncertainty, that woman in the diaper is an incomprehensible lunatic, a cultist, bent on destruction.

For those left behind by the rise of college education, the fancypants doubters who left home seem to have embraced the values of an alien race. Their movies, their clothes, their food and their values, even their language; nothing about them makes sense. Both sides see the other as deceived, they see the values of the other as a threat to their existence. They aren’t wrong about the threat they pose to each other. 

When the college educated were a small minority, their personal alienation from traditional community values was of little consequence. Their role was to quietly serve as a firebreak against the wildest dysfunctions of a traditional culture, while living inside it.  

Now the college educated are a large enough category to be their own demographic force, well on their way to becoming a majority. They are no longer the educated protectors of a traditional community. They’ve begun to congregate amongst themselves, leaving those older communities behind. Those who were once the “Atticus Finch” of their small town are simply gone. They took with them all of the resources, skills and investment of those communities, leaving those places poorer and more disconnected than ever. The small towns and rural communities left behind by this migration are ripe for exploitation, impoverished and largely defenseless. Their allegiance to a political Godzilla like Trump becomes a rational choice.  

So, what are we supposed to do about this? That’s another subject and the answer isn’t clear. This is where you’d expect to read the kumbaya solution of outreach and understanding. Empathy for Jerry Dean McLean matters not because you can reach him. You can’t. Having a better understanding of those who intend to destroy you is always a good idea, but it won’t necessarily open up a reconciliation in the near term. Empathy matters in this case because it’s the only way to grasp this wave of insanity breaking over us.

In reality of course, everyone who works for a living shares more in common with each other than they share with those who don’t. The vast majority of the college educated still work for a living, just like Jerry Dean McLean, even if they are doctors or lawyers,. Building the channels by which people living such different lifestyles can understand their shared interests will take time. White supremacy scrambles those channels, and white Americans without a degree are loath to surrender their myth of superiority.

Truth Social will soon join the Taj Mahal in the crowded dumpster of failed Trump businesses. DJT’s holding period for pre-IPO insiders ends in September. You can be confident that Trump insiders will sell off their shares, perhaps in transactions arranged with foreign buyers eager to bribe an American political figure. Trump himself might clear tens of millions of dollars from his stake in this scam, enough for a modest down-payment on his legal judgments. 

McLean will be left with pennies. His racism, born of a sense of community, his faith, born of a stubborn commitment to belief, and his willingness to sacrifice, born of loyalty to his tribe, will have made him food for grifters like Trump and Swain. With no one he trusts inside his circle of loyalty possessing the knowledge and values of this new, more powerful world, he’ll be robbed over and over. First his money, then his political power will be diverted to those targets of his misplaced trust.

College isn’t about job skills. It’s about preparing people to live in a world of change and uncertainty. Jerry Dean McLean will pay, literally, for his loyalty to a hero. We’ll shake our heads in derision because his choice seems so plainly ignorant, but the willingness of these people to sacrifice everything for a white nationalist hero may not be funny much longer.


  1. I’d also like to add this tidbit from an article today on CNN. The Dem’s simply cannot deal with this level of fanaticism.

    “Trump was met with a massive crowd of supporters in Wildwood, who waited in lawn chairs outside the event for days, according to local media. One local official told the Associated Press that there were approximately 80,000 people in attendance. “

    1. I’m not saying Trump won’t win, but maybe slow your roll a bit on these polls. First, if you’d like, I’m happy to show you all sorts of polls from election year that showed the eventual winner trailing– even as late as after Labor Day. In September, 2008, USA Today– which has had a pretty decent track record over the years– had one poll showing John McCain +10!!! So be patient. Second, with a lot of these polls, the devil is in the detail. Right now, there are lots of polls showing the most racist president in modern history getting the largest share of black voters, for a Republican candidate, in more than 50 years– yet those same polls also show a tight race.

      See the dilemma? If the race is tight, Convicted Felon Donald Trump isn’t getting 20% of blacks. And if he is getting 20% of blacks, then the polls that depict a tight race should show him running away with it. So, maybe, take the polls with a grain of salt until Columbus Day or so.

      As for the 80,000 people in NJ, you may be surprised to learn that he’s probably overstating the figure– just as he overstates everything else in his life. (Also, in general, most crowd events vastly overestimate the size– my rule of thumb is to take whatever figure you get and divide by 3). You may not have noticed, but all of his rallies are in super red areas (he wasn’t in Madison Square Garden). They’re also in places where people are mostly free to just walk up or have some other occasion (the NJ event was held on a beach near an amusement park)– that isn’t a coincidence. Also, if he really had 80,000 people, he wouldn’t need to show pictures from a Rod Stewart concert in 1994 to “prove” a large crowd attended.

      If I had to peg it, I’d put the true figure at about 20,000-30,000 people. Most of them were people who happened to be in the area and just wandered over. There are also several reports that a good number of them left soon after Trump started speaking. Trump recently held an event in the Bronx where he claimed 30,000 people attended– in a park whose maximum capacity is 3,500. And a look at the pics shows sparsity. And again, if he really had 30,000 people, it’s not as if there isn’t a park that’s just a little bit south of the Bronx that’s more than adequate (and, like, right next to Trump Tower).

      So, yeah. Trump can win. But take some of this with a BIG grain of salt.

      1. I’m still a bit shocked at the brazenness of the lies. Since when are there mountains on the Jersey Shore (in reference to the picture of the rock concert on the beach in Rio)?

        “In reality of course, everyone who works for a living shares more in common with each other than they share with those who don’t. The vast majority of the college educated still work for a living, just like Jerry Dean McLean, even if they are doctors or lawyers,. Building the channels by which people living such different lifestyles can understand their shared interests will take time. ”

        It needs more than time. You once referenced how the GOP wouldn’t get better until it had the equivalent of waking up in the gutter hung over and naked, that come-to-Jesus-what-the-$&@#-have-I-done-with-my-life-moment. That only comes with a landslide loss, but our current system isn’t set up to deliver that harsh but needed medicine. It seems the best we can do is scape up enough horrified indies, moderates, and never-Trump GOPers to team up with the Dems and give democracy a narrow and shaky governing coalition. We need more than that to kill this authoritarian monster. We on team reality can be as willing as possible to reach out to these Trump fans, but the onus is squarely on them right now. We can point out the con, but we can’t make them have that epiphany. When someone rejects even enlightened self interest, I can’t see how to reach them.

  2. It is over, At least any civilized means of getting a new leader. The tyrant has won.

    Last CNN poll had him up 49-43.
    According to Five Thirty Eight, the tyrant is up in Penn, Mich, and Wisconsin.

    His cult is unshakeable. scotus has proven out the worst fears when the tyrant was able to install 3 toadies. Democracy is already dead in the u.s. The Dem’s just have not clued in yet. The thing that staggers me is how many are actually in that cult, or at least pretend to be.

    Oh, and the tyrant is not going to score tens of millions, but BILLIONS, from the scam stock. He was on record for asking for a 1 billion dollar bribe from oil execs last week. It is a simple step to tell russia and the saudi’s “You will buy 50 million shares at 70 bucks a share for my continued loyalty.”

    There is ONLY one way to stop the tyrant.

    1. Its wild to me that people still think these “polls” are going to predict the outcome of the election. Modern polling is fundamentally disconnected from actual results, we see it in outcome after outcome.

      If was overlooked by many, but Nate Cohn admitted on a recent podcast that they’re having to “guess” how to correct their results now more than ever, and the way people answer a poll is very different than actually pulling the lever.

      No one knows what’s going to happen. Its far too early to give up and there WILL be black swan events between now and November.

    2. Your continued campaigning for broad-daylight extrajudicial violence and open war as the only options left available to us, over the course of years, is mentally exhausting and has crossed over to utterly pathetic. If you’re so scared, then leave the country for somewhere else and stop coming here. You have an antagonistic relationship with everyone here already, so please don’t try to counter this by saying that you keep coming here to try to “save” us by telling us to prep for doomsday while we still can.

      1. “The market”??? Lol. It’s straight up money laundering. Big spenders are making campaign donations to Convicted Felon Donald Trump and using DJT stock as their vehicle. It’s no different than shady real estate, or casino chips, or restaurant “tips”, etc. A new twist on an old game.

  3. A very concise piece that explores the divide between critical thinkers and people who maintain traditions, typically because the traditions they keep benefit themselves over “others”.

    While the question of how to get people to start critically thinking seems obvious, maybe the more pertinent question is: how do we retain a functioning government when 40-45% of the population would rather destroy the country than question their own traditions that are inappropriate and counterproductive to a functioning government post 1865?

    Personally, I believe your “Democrats Should Weaponize Federalism” piece is still relevant and the best answer to that question. I link to that piece quite often because eventually it’s either that, or a hot civil war/insurrection.

  4. I’ve been seeing things fly by lately about how many GRADUATE-DEGREED folks believe in conspiracies. Here’s a good thread from Mastodon about this:

    Fitting it into your Iron Triangle of racists, religious nuts, and grifters, I suppose the first two believe lies inherently, and the last one uses lies for fun & profit.

    I do wonder if the much-narrower-focus of graduate programs allows brainworms to enter more easily?

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