Shortly after the cooling of the earth, I happily spent many years working on political campaigns. One of my least favorite campaign duties was asking rich people to contribute to my candidates. In fact, raising money politically made me into anti-Calvinist, persuaded that God gave money to the least interesting and least appealing of her creatures. This may sound harsh, but believe me: Having to feign interest while listening to another wealthy individual's wacky theory about how an unnoticed cabal of left-handed Presbyterians were plotting to destroy America by imposing the metric system or increasing his family's tax rate on capital gains would drive you, as it often did me, to drink.
These encounters did convince me that, as Fitzgerald wrote, the rich "are different from you and me." Those with a lot of money are paid an unearned respect and deference by people (e.g. yours truly, while chasing campaign funds) seeking their favor. The opinions of the rich — even those that are foolish and without merit — are almost always greeted with apple-polishing approval and praise. But if we don't challenge one another's errors, facts or flawed logic, then it's a good bet we'll think we are a lot smarter than we really are. And because we are so obviously "knowledgeable," our natural curiosity will wither.
Which brings us to the 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The front-runner Donald Trump has a fatal flaw: He is a man who has been unchallenged by flatterers and sycophants for so long, that by now he is almost terminally uncurious. How else can we explain Trump being so unaware than by referencing MSNBC's Chris Matthews' determined questioning of Trump on the nation's 40-year unresolved debate over abortion? Did he ever consider that over the past decade, Gallup has asked Americans every year "do you consider yourself pro-abortion or pro-abortion rights?" and the nation has been almost evenly split every year?
The fact is that Americans remain ambivalent on this painful issue: As a whole, we are somehow simultaneously pro-abortion choice and anti-abortion. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of adults in the United States consider abortion to be morally wrong, while only 15 percent believe abortion is morally acceptable and 23 percent don't see abortion as a moral issue. But according to a 2015 Gallup poll, a solid majority 54 percent of women now identify as pro-abortion choice.
That Trump has considerable natural intelligence, even his severest critics would not dispute. But in a 2015 interview, he did not know that the U.S. nuclear triad refers to its capacity to deliver nuclear weapons by plane, by submarine or by land. What's more, when "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd interviewed him, he asserted that Kuwait should have, but never did, pay us for leading the coalition that drove Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait in 199. But in fact, Kuwait paid the U.S. billions of dollars. Trump shows himself to be both a man who has gone unchallenged too long, who lacks any real curiosity about the nation he seeks to lead or the world, which looks to the U.S. for leadership. Trump has survived up to now in spite of his narcissism, his vulgarity and his brutishness. American voters will now ask the arrogantly uncurious Trump a simple question: If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.