Hello, My Name Is Donald and I Can't Read

I’ve been concerned for some time about Donald Trump’s unstable temperament, as I’ve written about before. However, there is another related issue which is equally troubling, one that keeps cropping up more and more. I have increasingly come to believe Mr. Trump is functionally illiterate. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds.  According to the US Department of Education, 14% of the adult population cannot read at all, while up to 23% are functionally illiterate, reading and comprehending at a fourth grade level. This problem is not necessarily confined to the poorer socio-economic levels, but crops up in all social levels, depending on a variety of factors, including dyslexia and other reading disabilities. Many adults have somehow plowed through college educations using a variety of means without getting found out or getting help, because of social stigma and shame, and the wealthier you are, the easier it is to gloss over or hide the problem.

As a former school librarian, reading specialist, educator and writer, there are many warning signs and tells that have led me to the conclusion that Mr. Trump is functionally illiterate.  Others have noticed some of this behavior as well, Samantha Bee and David Pakman have been quite vocal about it, as well as bloggers, journalists, other media people, and even Tony Schwartz, who co-authored The Art of the Deal with Trump, said, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” While that may be true, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t, but it might be difficult if his reading ability was around fourth grade level, unless the book in question was Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

Let’s take a look at some of the behavior that I believe points out the problem. Trump himself says, “I don’t read big reports”; for foreign policy information, he told Chuck Todd, “I watch the shows”; “I dictate my tweets to my executive assistant and she posts them” (except for those misspelled and grammatically incorrect ones he does himself around 4 AM); “I’m a smart guy, believe me” in response to why he doesn’t need to read intelligence briefings; dismisses teleprompters as unnecessary when the real reason is he can’t read them. I watched video of Trump at a deposition in June 2016 where he seemed unable to read the lease in legal question, and finally saying he didn’t have his glasses. This is odd, since he’s never before or since used glasses for anything, even supposedly reading the executive actions he’s signed since being inaugurated. In fact, while signing some of these, he had to be told what they were when clearly all he had to do was READ the order, something he was unable to do. His vocabulary level is around fourth grade, he makes up words, i.e., “bigly” and prefer visuals to anything written. He doesn’t understand or know the Constitution, or the history of his office, and I am positive he hasn’t read the Constitution or even the Cliff notes version.

 Functional illiterates tend to ramble when talking or trying to make a point, get confused, go off-topic, and talk in circles, becoming dismissive and angry when questioned, all defense mechanisms to hide that they don’t know the facts because they haven’t read them. They tend to lash out at others or anyone who they think criticizes them. Trump watches TV obsessively, getting his information from others in sound bites, but dismisses written information, full of details and nuances that put information in perspective for thoughtful consideration.

So what’s the big deal? Well, pretty much the last sentence above. Thoughtful consideration. On the shelf with comprehension, knowledge, comparison and the ability to make decisions and choices based on all of these. Trump makes decisions off the cuff with little to no information, or based upon the decisions of his staff, like Miller and Bannon. They tell him what they want him to hear, or what he wants to hear, and this information is not necessarily the truth or encompasses known facts, from scientific data to military operations. For all we know, someone might be drawing illustrations and bubbles for him. I don’t expect him to be literary, that would be too much to hope for, but having the ability to come to your own conclusions based upon what you’ve read and thought about is a necessary quality in a leader. That isn’t happening here.

If I’m right and I truly believe I am, this is a very dangerous and volatile situation. Combine functional illiteracy with narcissism and arrogance and you have a bullying, frightened, unstable person who is now our 45th President.

We are in big trouble and we need to fix this immediately. It’s not even funny to me anymore, Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy aside. It’s easy to mock the afflicted, as Trump has already shown us. It’s much harder to do something about it, but we must. The man in charge is simply not capable of doing the job.