Literacy and Dementia and Trump

In WaPo, Ruth Marcus says she asked Trump point blank, “Do you read?”

Mika Brzezinski and I had a tense meeting with Trump following what I considered to be a bumbling debate performance in September 2015. I asked the candidate a blunt question.

“Can you read?”

Awkward silence.

“I’m serious, Donald. Do you read?” I continued. “If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?”

Taken aback, Trump quietly responded that he could while holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. He then joked that he read it all the time.

I am apparently not the only one who has questioned the president’s ability to focus on the written word. “Trump didn’t read,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to . . . He was postliterate — total television.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Trump doesn’t read. If you google “Trump doesn’t read” you get a ton of links to articles testifying to that. And then there’s this, from May 2017 Newsweek by Chris Riotta: “Trump Doesn’t Read His Daily Intelligence Briefings; Prefers Big Pictures Instead.”

Almost every day at about 10:30 a.m., President Donald Trump sits with the heads of the intelligence community and a fresh Diet Coke to discuss some of the world’s most highly classified information in the Oval Office. He prefers “killer graphics,” like pictures, videos and charts, and often interrupts the meeting with questions and unrelated asides, according to CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats.

The president also favors tiny “nuggets” of intelligence that pop out at him during his daily briefings, and information that can be boiled down to a single page. “That’s our task, right?” Pompeo asked in a Washington Post article published Sunday. “To deliver the material in a way that he can best understand the information we’re trying to communicate.”  …

… The president prefers “big pictures” during his intel meetings in more ways than one: Trump doesn’t care to read long narratives about developing events around the world, instead preferring imagery he can better understand.

This led to some speculation that perhaps he couldn’t read. He has been known to use a teleprompter from time to time, but not very skillfully.

It’s hard to imagine someone graduating college, even with so-so grades, without being able to read at all. But there’s another element to this reading thing; it’s a skill one can lose with dementia.

I’m thinking of my mother, who was very bright. In the 1940s he completed a five-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Missouri. After a long career as a hospital nurse she ran a Licensed Practical Nursing program at our local community college. Although math was her strongest subject, she certainly could read perfectly well (including doctors’ handwriting).

I flew home for a visit in early summer 1999. My father was very ill and would die of congestive heart failure in a few weeks, but he was still living at home. He and my mother had been engaged in a long disagreement about the best places to go out to dinner. He liked to go to proper restaurants where he could sit down, order from a menu and be waited on. She always wanted to go to buffets.

At one point she and I went out to dinner. I am inclined toward my father’s preferences, and we ended up at a sit-down restaurant. Mom was quiet and seemed uncomfortable, and she barely looked at the menu. After I ordered from the menu she told the waitress that she would have the same dinner I was having.

Her Alzheimer’s wouldn’t be diagnosed for a few more months, although my brother, who was a psychologist, told me she had it the day after Dad’s funeral. That was when I realized she couldn’t read menus. And she was embarrassed to let anyone know.  So she preferred buffets, where she could see the food. It was a coping mechanism.

Oddly enough, she could still write. A professional to the hilt, she had been keeping nurse’s notes on my father’s medicines and treatments to the end. But she couldn’t read menus. And bills and bank statements confused her. But she could understand the labels on the pill bottles, at least for a little while longer. She also continued to do crossword puzzles, although with diminishing success.

I’m just throwing this out as something to think about. Of course I don’t know if Trump has Alzheimer’s or some other mental impairment. But it would explain a lot.