President Trump vouched for his own character Wednesday by citing his diploma from the University of Pennsylvania, claiming it proves he is not as bawdy as the media portrays him.
“I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One for a trip to Texas. “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. You know, the fact is I think — I really believe — I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”
Note that Trump did not say he is civil; he said the media depicts him as more uncivil than he actually is. He did not describe himself as a kind person or a polite person; he described himself as an intelligent person.
Trump is certainly smart enough to know what he was doing — deflecting a question about one personality trait by addressing another.
What's striking about the president's claim that “the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person” is that Trump prides himself on shaping his own image through social media. And it is on Twitter — where there is no media filter — that Trump often appears to be at his most uncivil.
Trump's remarks assume that more-educated people are also gracious people, which is, of course, not always the case. Trump voters — 69 percent of whom do not have degrees from any colleges, never mind Ivy League institutions, according to the American National Election Study — surely would disagree with the president's logic.
The surprising thing about Trump's comments is not that he cast blame on the media or employed a straw-man argument but that he betrayed a mind-set that is anathema to so many of his supporters. If, as Trump said, “people don't understand” that he graduated from Penn, it is because as a politician he has worked hard to cast himself not as an elitist but as an everyman. The president praises himself regularly but seldom talks about his educational background.
Regaling voters with the story of how he, a millionaire's son, arrived on Penn's stately campus in a flashy convertible in 1966 somehow never made it into Trump's stump speech.
Put on the spot Wednesday, however, Trump reached for a credential that he considers impressive. And it had little to do with civility.