However things sort out for our beleaguered President Donald Trump, never let it be said that he didn’t help out hundreds of thousands of American high school students — including my son.
All across the country, college-bound high schoolers have been taking those high-pressure Advanced Placement tests for courses that can both boost grade-point averages and satisfy a college credit.
Last week, one of those tests was the AP Language and Composition Exam, a test that included multiple-choice questions related to excerpts of non-fiction texts as well as free-response questions that prompted students to write essays that demonstrated their ability to “create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.”
The prompt for Question No. 3 on this essay portion of the test was as follows: “The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail.”
After the exam, I asked my son about how the test went.
“They wanted us to write about Trump,” he explained.
Well, maybe. Somebody who watches Rachel Maddow every night might give the top grade of “5” to a well-reasoned essay on “Donald Trump, the master of artifice.” But a Sean Hannity grader might give it a “1.”
“What happens if you get a Republican grader?” I asked.
“I think everybody wrote about Trump,” my son said.
And as it turns out, a lot of the nearly half-million high schoolers who took the test did. And we know, because they wrote about it on social media soon after taking the test.
Seamus Patrick, a high schooler in Alaska wrote on Twitter: “So we all roasted Trump on that #APlang essay, right?”
“I knew it wasn’t just me,” wrote another test taker.
“Probably got a 1, but at least I got to roast Trump in my essay,” North Carolina teen Kara Westmoreland posted on Twitter, and then received 2,100 “likes.”
And it was like that, over and over again. Teens feeling like the test had given them an opportunity to chime in on Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, or as one teenager put it, “If your third essay wasn’t about Trump, you ain’t woke.”
OK, that last one has some language issues of its own.
And yes, there were some who completely missed the point: “I thought ‘artifice’ meant art and I wrote about interpretive dance and pop music,” one test taker wrote.
As for the prompt, it comes from an essay called “America the Illiterate” by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Princeton University professor and ordained Presbyterian minister.
The 2008 essay it came from doesn’t mention Trump, but instead focuses on the coarsening of American politics in an increasingly post-literate society that leans on dumbed-down language and arguments to “manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses” to elect political leaders who “no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest.”
OK, that shouts Trump to me. But still, if your aim on a test is to get the highest grade possible, it could be a risky strategy to write a full-throated Trump deconstruction that ends up in the hands of a grader who is still clinging to the belief that Trump’s going to make America great again.
And this is where President Trump has really stepped up to help the AP-test-taking high schoolers of America.
The exam was taken last Wednesday, a day when the official word from the White House was that FBI director James Comey was fired by Trump due to a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Trump was just following Rosenstein’s recommendation. That was the word from the Vice President Mike Pence and other White House surrogates. It was all Rosenstein’s idea, and it had nothing to do with the FBI’s pending investigation on links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
But then Trump came out the next day and said, no, it was actually his idea to fire Comey. And yes, it did have to do with Russia.
That switcheroo is a pretty solid piece of artifice. But we’re not done.
Then on Monday, there was the story about how President Trump had divulged super-secret classified information to Russian diplomats meeting with him in the Oval Office.
Once again, White House surrogates were dispatched to call that story false. And once again, on the next day, Trump reversed course by confirming that the story was true, adopting a new argument that it wasn’t improper for him to spontaneously release classified information on the spot, even to adversaries.
So, that’s just two examples in a week. And that’s not even counting the whopper he told The Economist magazine, bragging about how he invented of the term “priming the pump” last week — a term that has been in economic glossary since The Great Depression.
So every high school kid who teed off on Trump for that exam ought to be thankful. The president continues to make your case, day by day.
And by the time those graders get their hands on those AP Language and Composition essays in the weeks ahead, there are bound to be scores of more examples that would make it pretty hard to imagine that the “political theater” we’ve been experiencing isn’t due to electing someone who is quite comfortable in the “art of artifice.”