Donald Trump doesn't know who runs Senate. Do voters?

Donald Trump is being roundly mocked for tweeting that GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell should be next Speaker ... of the House, a job currently held by fellow Republican Rep. John Boehner.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/FILE
Donald Trump speaks at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington. Trump was roundly mocked on Twitter for saying that Sen. Mitch McConnell should be the next House Speaker.

Does Donald Trump know how the Senate and House work? He said something on Twitter today that indicates he might not. Specifically, he tweeted this: “Why would the people of Kentucky want a rookie Senator – they have Sen. Mitch [McConnell] who may be next Speaker & bring $’s to KY?”

He’s commenting there on the Kentucky Senate race, which pits Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes against Republican incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell is Senate minority leader right now. If the GOP captures control of the Senate, he’ll be Senate majority leader.

He won’t be “Speaker.” That’s whoever runs the House of Representatives, which is, uh, another chamber. There’s already a Republican Speaker. His name is Rep. John Boehner, in case you didn’t know.

So Trump’s lack of knowledge (or poor typing) is getting widely mocked on social media. Here’s an example from Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of the political newsletter Crystal Ball, that’s typical, except for the fact that it’s more civil than most: “Memo to Donald Trump: There’s only one Speaker in US government, and he/she isn’t in the US Senate.”

In The New York Times they did it with a sort of double-snark backflip, by pointing out that, technically speaking, anyone can be elected Speaker – House rules don’t specify the position must be held by a member.

“We’re sure that’s what Mr. Trump meant,” writes the Times’ Nick Corasaniti.

Yes, of course you are.

Here’s the problem with making fun of Trump: Most US voters might make the same mistake, or a similar one. Illiteracy about the structure of US politics is very widespread. That might make picking on The Donald a tiny bit unfair.

We’ll start with one of our favorite examples, even though it’s kind of old: In 1998, a National Constitution Center poll found that more US teens could name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. (The split was 59 to 41 percent, for you polling wonks.)

And before you say that just shows kids aren’t learning, a 2007 survey from the same place found that two-thirds of adults couldn’t name the three branches, either.

We’ll run down some other results from a good Salon piece about this subject: Only 40 percent of Americans know there are 100 senators. More than two-thirds of Americans don’t know how many senators it takes to override a filibuster. Twenty-five percent believe the Constitution actually says Christianity is America’s official religion.

In 2007, a Pew survey found that 68 percent of Americans correctly identify the letters “GOP” with the Republican Party. That’s great, right? Maybe, but it also means that 32 percent don’t know, or aren’t sure.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.