Donald Trump: Not a Reader

October 20, 2016

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Dear Donald Trump,

They say you’re not a reader; that you don’t have time for books.

“I never have,” you told the Washington Post this summer. “I’m always busy doing a lot.”

Wow. I can’t imagine walking out the door every morning without having read some part of a book to start my day. (Imagine, actually doing things without reading!) Oh, but wait—what’s that you say? You do read magazines, and have written an actual book. That would be impressive, Donald. But magazines aren’t books, and the magazines you do read all happen to have your picture on the cover. Plus, the book you say you wrote was written by someone else.

It’s a pity you don’t have time to read, because books are so much fun. Through literature, you can gain new insights into the real world beyond the silo of your own personality. You can find out how the world has changed, how societies develop, and how nature works. Perhaps you think you know this already. After all, you must have read some books in order to get that degree from the University of Pennsylvania back in 1968. But then again, maybe not.

My point, Donald, is that a well-read candidate for president is much better than a candidate who doesn’t read at all. A healthy interest in other people’s ideas–and the ability to be conversant in as many ideas as possible–is as much a prerequisite to political leadership as, say, the ability to change a tire is to being an auto mechanic. For one thing, reading makes you smarter. Even if you had read nothing but classic philosophers like Plato, Rousseau, and Voltaire (with, say, Swift and Orwell thrown in for satiric good measure), you probably wouldn’t be the world’s biggest asshole. If you read the poems of Walt Whitman, or anything by William Faulkner, I’m betting you wouldn’t be such a loudmouth posterboy for greedhead capitalism. And how about those women authors? Yes, Donald, women have brains, and they write some pretty good books, too. If you dipped into Margaret Atwood or Susan Sontag in the non-literal sense, I’m sure you wouldn’t be the sexist, racist, fascistic vulgarian that you are; you would have redeeming qualities. And if, during your time at Wharton College, you happened to have come across Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, or Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, who knows? Perhaps you might have developed a sense of citizenship that precludes putting your name on buildings.

A life rich in books is one with a heightened sense of irony. Have you ever read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho? Bet you haven’t. The author, I can tell you, was not glorifying the ladder-climbing ways of corporate Masters of the Universe but exposing that culture’s pathological narcissism and sense of entitlement. If you read the book now, I’m sure you would encourage your two eldest sons to come up with a different look, since they’re both dead wringers for the protagonist as played by Christian Bale in the film. (If I had a son, I wouldn’t want him to look like the kind of slick-haired Wall Street psychopath who, after putting on a raincoat, lays plastic on the floor of his upscale Manhattan apartment so he can chainsaw prostitutes to death while deconstructing Phil Collins music—all without soiling the carpet or his expensive Armani suit.)

Reading gives you perspective, Donald. It makes you want to travel. I don’t mean business travel, where everything’s done for you. I mean journeys of discovery: putting yourself in foreign lands where the culture is unfamiliar and you have no choice but to make mistakes, adapt and learn. The more you read, the more courage you develop to do this kind of thing. If you had been a great reader as a younger man, Donald, I’m sure your speeches would have fewer “I” statements, and you would certainly dial down the hyperbole: the “greatest” this and the “best” that. People who read books have something to measure their own perspectives against, so they try not to be such blowhards.

Reading lots of books makes you want to be a better person. I know you love the Eighties, but your whole brand stinks of that decade’s worst clichés. If you had read Latin American authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, or Isabel Allende, would you have so earnestly adopted all those tacky Gordon Gecko-ey fetishes (the urban edifice complex, the trophy wives, the private jets, the putting gold on everything)? If you were into South African writers like J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, or Europeans like Milan Kundera and Jose Saramago, would you still boast so shamelessly about your tax evasion, your bogus investments, and your evictions of all those black tenants? Would you still be cozying up to Vladimir Putin, demonizing Muslims and Mexicans, and treating women like blow-up dolls? Somehow I doubt it.

Your supporters think you “tell it like it is.” Of course, you don’t tell it like it is. You tell it like other angry, uneducated white Americans who don’t read books and have never been anywhere want to hear it, if only to confirm their preconceptions and reinforce their prejudices. If I were an American, I would never vote for a president who doesn’t read books. And that’s interesting, because every U.S. president has read books to some extent—even George W. Bush. A lot of people think he wasn’t a big reader, but that’s not true. (Karl Rove claims that Dubya read 186 books during a two-year period while in the White House—although some argue he spent too much time reading biographies of Lincoln that weren’t all that helpful for getting out of Iraq.)

Hillary Clinton’s a big reader—she’s read lots of books—which is probably one reason she wiped the floor with you in all three of your debates and is poised to become the forty-fifth president of the United States on November 8.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John November 3, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Good piece Dan

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