My thanks to Joanna, one of the long-time commenters on this blog, for posting this in one of her comments.
In this piece from the David Pakman Show, Pakman and one of his producers, Pat, discuss the considerable evidence that Trump is functionally barely literate. There are clips of Mark Fisher, an American journalist, discussing how he asked Trump if he was preparing for the presidency by reading the biographies of the great American presidents. Trump said something about reading one about Nixon, and another, but Fisher himself doubted he had ever read a book from cover to cover. Trump also said that he had never read a biography, but regretted this. Visitors to Trump have remarked that there weren’t any books on his desk, or on the shelves at his home or indeed anywhere else. Jeffrey Schwartz, who ghost-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, stated that he didn’t believe Trump had ever read a book since he was in school. Washington insiders have said that The Donald actually has difficulty reading the documents and executive orders placed in front of him. He usually just scans the first page. Further evidence for this comes from clips from a court case, in which the opposition lawyer asks Drumpf to read a lease. Trump’s own lawyer objects to it, and Trump looks it over, remarks on its length, and then proceeds to give a summary of what’s on the page. Apparently, he doesn’t even send his tweets himself. He dictates them to a secretary in the next room, and she sends them for him. There’s also a clip with the writers from the comedy show, Saturday Night Live, in which they talk about how Trump had difficulty reading the scripts when he was guest host. And it’s also been said that the reason why Trump watches so much television, and gets so much of his information from it, is because he can’t or doesn’t read books and papers. There’s also a clip, which shows Trump very obviously not using a teleprompter at one of his rallies. Pakman argues that this isn’t because he’s particularly keen to speak ad lib. It’s because he has difficulty reading what’s on there.
Pakman’s producer, Pat, finally makes the point here that what’s shocking isn’t Trump’s inability to read, but his lack of intellectual curiosity. He doesn’t even send away for talking books, so he can hear things read to him.
This is truly astonishing. And frightening. People have been making jokes since forever and a day about the stupidity of politicians, but many have been people of real intellectual distinction. Churchill wrote his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. JFK apparently could write a sentence of Latin with one hand while writing a sentence in Greek with the other. Even Nixon was no intellectual slouch. He was crooked and a monstrous imperialist thug, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of untold millions in the Vietnam War and Fascist coups across the world, and he really wasn’t intellectually capable of being president. But he wasn’t thick either. Bill Clinton was far from stupid, though he was also responsible for some of the worst policies passed by an American president, such as gutting further what remained of the American welfare system after Reagan, quite apart from highly questionable foreign policy decisions.
On the other hand, there are a long line of chiefly Republican presidents, who have been suspected of being thick and incompetent. Like Ronald Reagan, even before the poor fellow was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not The Nine O’clock News sang songs about his epic stupidity. There was a long-running sketch on Spitting Image, in which his aides go in search of his missing brain. Then in the early part of this century, he was followed into the Oval Office by George Dubya, who had been an illiterate drunk smashed out of his skull on recreational chemicals. Dubya at least gave up the booze and drugs, and was credited as reading. He still struck everyone as being so stupid, that when one person made up the rumour that he only had an IQ of 85, it was widely believed. And at one point it looked like America would get a female vice-president in the shape of Sarah Palin, who has a reputation for monumental stupidity. One American commenter described his candidacy for the presidency or vice-presidency to a ‘post turtle’. What’s a post turtle? He explained that if you go to the Deep South, ever so often on the roads you see a turtle stuck on a fence post. The turtle’s got no right to be there, doesn’t know how it got there, and you don’t know what moron put it there. And that summed up Palin’s bid for supreme power.
And now we have Donald Trump, a sexist, misogynist, islamophobic Fascist, a narcissistic megalomaniac, who seems unable to read or comprehend the documents put in front of him.
He is massively unfit for office, and the fact that he’s in it points to a deeply troubling strand of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party. The late comedian Bill Hicks used to joke that there was a streak of anti-intellectualism in America, and that it began the same year Reagan was elected. He had a point. Reagan got into power by presenting the image of a down-home ordinary bloke, offering his folksy wisdom in place of the complicated and simply wrong ideas offered by those affecting to be cleverer than the rest of us. And this is a powerfully attractive approach. No-one likes the feeling that they’re being condescended to by someone impressed with their own intelligence, or being treated with contempt. And the right, both in America and in Britain, try to capitalise on this anti-intellectualism. You think of all the times the Tories have tried to persuade the public that you don’t need to know about fancy economic theories to understand the economy, just commonsense household management. Left-wing economists have tried to point out that, in fact, you do need to understand economics as it is definitely not like balancing a household budget. But still they carry on, using the metaphor of household budgeting to justifying cutting services and privatising the NHS.
And now Trump, who appears to be barely literate, is in the White House. Pakman points out that it seems that Trump spoke at the level of a fourth grade schoolboy, not because he was trying to talk to ordinary Americans at their level, but because his reading level is that of a fourth grade schoolboy. It’s been said that politician is the one job that doesn’t require qualifications. Well, intelligence doesn’t guarantee that someone will make the right decisions. But in a complex world, in which power relationships between countries are so delicate that a misstep could start an international incident or even another war, we do need intellectual ability in our leaders and their advisers. We need politicos, who have the ability to obtain the knowledge of world affairs they need, not just from the broadcast news, but from foreign policy documents, even simply from reading the papers.
Trump seems incapable of this, and it puts us all in danger. He really does need to go.