A Brief Lesson in Semantics
Donald Trump is president. A working knowledge of grammar is key for unpacking that sentence. Notice I did not say our president; I refuse to claim democratic liability for a Russian puppet who only received 25.5 percent of all Americans’ votes.
You might also note that I did not capitalize “president,” for I cannot in good conscience dignify a man lacking class and poise with a proper pronoun. These are subtleties, of course, that Trump would arguably miss.
He tends to respond to more overt criticism, such as Alec Baldwin mocking him on “Saturday Night Live” or CNN reporters conscientiously analyzing his every precarious move. These are methods of condemnation his feeble brain is able to process.
But you have to wonder if he reads his print detractors at all, for Trump has made it clear several times in interviews that he does not read. He’s even said he doesn’t like reading memos that top three pages.
To really give you an idea of how little this man has read, he once said his favorite book is “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a novel read almost exclusively by ninth graders under duress, a painful ordeal I imagine an acne-ridden Trump also endured.
Considering past presidents’ reading habits, his attitude toward books is almost unprecedented. Obama not only is an avid reader, but also a published writer of both prose and poetry.
Even George W. Bush had contests with Karl Rove to see who read the most books each year. Trump, in contrast, was recently asked if he had any book recommendations and answered, “I like a lot of books.”
To the same people who questioned the location of Obama’s birth certificate, I ask you this—where is Trump’s library card?
Empathy and Leadership
This might be what scares me about him most—his unwillingness to engage with literature. It may be his most dangerous quality.
A person who doesn’t read is a person who lacks empathy, or at least possesses a stunted amount of it. Empathy grants one the ability to see past exteriors, something Trump proved himself incapable of with his recent immigration ban. How else could he turn away refugees in good conscience?
His myopic vision disables him from viewing people from the Middle East as anything other than terrorists—even the five-year-old boy separated from his mother at the Dulles Airport, an octogenarian couple in wheelchairs and a Ph.D. student at Stony Brook, all of whom were detained at airports because of Trump’s executive order.
Muslims are not the only group toward whom Trump has displayed open aggression. From insulting Georgia senator and civil rights hero John Lewis to mocking a disabled reporter, he has proven time and time again that he is incapable of compassion, of simply shutting up and listening.
An out-of-touch billionaire who would rather buy self-portraits than books, he has not developed the empathy required to relate to the public he now serves.
But Trump could never see himself as a servant. Based on his hostility toward journalists, my assumption is that he views himself instead as a commander, an enforcer with a mandate, a tyrant molded in Putin’s own image. Remember that journalists in Trump’s beloved Russia have a habit of turning up dead.
I seriously doubt our own administration will turn to such drastic measures of maintaining silence, but with its proposed elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities (which comprise a microscopic .003 percent of our federal budget), Trump has made himself painfully clear: his administration has no room for artists. It has no tolerance for dissent.
How, then, do we cope with having a non-reader in the White House? We further develop our own empathy.
This means listening to the immigrants and refugees Trump has turned away, learning their stories and refusing to define them by their countries’ borders.
This means paying close attention to the journalists Kellyanne Conway recently said should be fired for criticizing the president. If we are so bold, we might even become writers ourselves, growing and cultivating the population of the United States Trump fears most.
When Trump doesn’t like a journalist’s portrayal of him, he cries fake news, a tactic I’d accuse him of stealing from 1984 if the man actually read. But he doesn’t. If he read “Macbeth”, he might understand that hunger for power can be fatal. If he read “King Lear,” he’d be wary of the fate that befalls callous, self-obsessed leaders.
If he read any literature at all, he might know how to construct a grammatically-sound sentence on Twitter, or maybe he would have developed the critical thinking skills necessary to govern a country.
If he deigned to pick up a novel, he might recognize for the first time the sheer number of diverse voices in America and all over the world, and maybe, just maybe, he would listen.