My father was a professor. My sister was a professor. My cousins were professors.
So when J. D. Vance—possibly the most hated “man of letters” in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Ohio’s current Republican nominee for U.S. Senate—dusted off the old Nixon trope “The professors are the enemy,” I was pert near required to take offense.
Not that that was the most offensive thing that Vance has spewed during his gold star campaign of shame. That prize has to go to his declaration that women should stay in violent marriages for the sake of their children, comments he made in front of a California high school audience last year.
But back to the diatribe against professors, who, I’ll just add, might also be women trying to survive abusive marriages. Vance, as most of you know, benefited from the instruction of professors at two of our nation’s most esteemed institutes of higher learning: Yale College of Law and The Ohio State University. His adopting Nixon’s old cry is disingenuous at best, dangerous and targeted at worst. Like so many of the most vocal haters and bigots on the populist right—Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley, Donald Trump—Vance has an Ivy League pedigree. I hope his caustic comments about the teachers he studied under will prevent those who agree with him from taking up valuable space in our post-secondary classrooms.
All of this pernicious rhetoric is part of a much more dastardly Republican plan to destroy public education and make empty-headed voters more susceptible to their lies and propaganda. And it’s working. Teachers are leaving their chosen profession in droves and fewer and fewer students are stepping up to fill the pipeline. States are drafting military veterans and current college students to stand in front of classrooms full of impressionable youngsters. State legislators are siphoning money away from public schools to fund charter schools that aren’t beholden to state education policies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers in Maine can be used to offset tuition for religious schools. What public school teachers can say in the classroom is being prescribed by state legislators and angry school board members. Books are being banned, library shelves emptied.
Our democracy is under attack. Our schools are under siege. Our nation is breaking apart.
And, still, J. D. Vance, in an effort to garner votes from Ohio’s electorate, stands on stage and excoriates the very teachers who gave him the confidence to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and escape the suffocating desperation of his family.
Does he not realize that Ohio, with 195 degree-granting postsecondary institutions, may well have one of the highest professors per capita among U. S. states? And that all of those professors have extended family who vote?
Perhaps he sought political advice from Kentucky’s one-term governor Matt Bevin, who antagonized teachers across the commonwealth with his persistent attacks on their integrity. Bevin attended Washington and Lee University, where he became fluent in Japanese and majored in East Asian Studies, solid preparation for leading a state where Toyota and its Japanese satellite companies changed the state’s economic trajectory. Like Vance, he clearly benefited from his professors’ tutelage.
Vance may well win this election, although I’ll put my money on Democrat and current U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan. Maybe if Vance had paid more attention to his professors, he could run on facts rather than be enslaved to his party’s propaganda and lies.