Four constitutional scholars testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday; the three invited by Democrats — Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, Stanford Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan and University of North Carolina School of Law professor Michael Gerhardt — said that there is evidence that President Trump committed an impeachable offense by using his power to request that Ukraine investigate a 2020 political rival.
Republican lawmakers weren’t happy with what they heard — or the places from which they believe these views came.
While speaking at a news conference following the 8½-hour impeachment inquiry hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), a Baylor University Law School graduate, said:
“All I got to say is: If you love America, mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to go to Harvard or Stanford law school.”
Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), a graduate of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and the top Republican on the committee, opened the hearing stating: “America will see why most people don’t go to law school.”
And Rep. Matt Gaetz (R.-Fla.), a College of William & Mary Law School graduate, sought to paint the professors as out-of-touch offenders of everyday Americans.
Gaetz: On that do you remember saying the following? “Liberals tend to cluster more. Conservatives, especially very conservative people tend to spread out more, perhaps because they don’t even want to be around themselves. Did you say that?”Karlan: Yes, I did.Gaetz: Do you understand how that reflects contempt on people who are conservative?Karlan: No, what I was talking about there was the natural tendency, if you put the quote in context, the natural tendency of a compactness requirement to favor a party whose voters are spread out.Gaetz: I have limited time professor so I just have to say when you talk about how liberals want to be around each other and cluster, and conservatives don’t want to be around each other and have to spread out, you may not see this from the ivory towers of your law school but it makes people in this country…excuse me, you don’t get to interrupt me on this time.
The fourth scholar, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor, was the sole witness called by GOP committee members.
Seeing three lawmakers with law degrees attack legal scholars might surprise some. But these congressmen are conservatives — and, arguably, conservatives first. And data shows that attitudes toward higher education — and perhaps specifically intellectualism because of a growing disregard for expertise — have been trending negative among conservatives for a while.
A 2017 Pew Research Center survey reported that conservatives are less likely to believe that colleges and universities are a positive force in America.
While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year.
Some argue that this worldview has become even more prevalent in the era of Trump, who while campaigning for the presidency appeared to dismiss the expertise often found at institutions of higher education.
“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain, and I’ve said a lot of things,” Trump said in March 2016 on MSNBC, when asked who he consults on foreign policy issues. “My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”
Ironically, Trump also boasts about going to Wharton, an Ivy League school.
Washington Post columnist George Will said the move toward anti-intellectualism is a result of the rise of populism on the right, something Will, a conservative, argues is antithetical to conservatism.
“The principle of representative government, which is at the heart of conservatism, is that the people do not decide; the people choose who will decide,” he told the Atlantic in July. “And that’s why populism inevitably becomes anti-intellectual.
“Political leaders today seem to feel that their vocation is to arouse passions, not to temper and deflect and moderate them,” added Will, who earned a doctorate in politics from Princeton.
That certainly seemed to be the case Thursday when Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, lit into the academics — particularly Karlan, while talking to Trump supporters watching Fox News.
If you went to work today to manicure nails, to manicure lawn, if you went to work with a jackhammer, or a welding machine, or mechanics’ tools, or a carpentry belt, that woman yesterday looks her nose down on you, she thinks you are less than her!She thinks you’re less than her, and I’ve had it. Who the hell are you, lady, to look down at half of the country?
And perhaps this is the message that Trump and his allies want supporters to focus on more than anything in this impeachment process: “the Democrats — and their highly educated experts — aren’t like you. They think less of you and therefore do not want — or even know — what’s best for you. Only Trump does.”
And based on polling so far, conservatives are sticking with Trump — and that will probably remain the same moving forward, no matter what experts deeply knowledgeable of the Constitution say. In part, because for some Trump supporters, his presidency is about one thing more than anything else: moving the country in a direction where those who felt looked down upon by the elites now feel seen — even if it is by an Ivy League-educated billionaire with a penthouse on Fifth Avenue.