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.

19 thoughts on “Literacy and Dementia and Trump

  1. I suppose this is tangential, and I think that I commented on it a few months back. 

    Early in his presidency, Donald Trump was surrounded by family members who frequently seemed to be  running interference for him.  It seemed to me that establishing a defensive perimeter around him was habitual and reflexive on their part.

    A useful observation about disability is that it doesn't just happen to an individual, but, also to family and loved ones.   It's possible for people gradually to assume more and more responsibility without being fully aware of it.  The coping mechanism at hand is denial.  

    As time has progressed, some of the care and defense has been delegated to others who are more knowledgeable about the demands of politics.  But, there is something about Trump's inner circle that rings a bell.  They appear both adept and habituated to the demands of making the man and the "Trump brand" seem normal and intact.

  2. Also severely ADHD before current debacle.


    The last 2 and one years  boil down to where is my Roy Cohn to get me out of this mess?

  3. I was hoping it wasn’t this.  Trump is a good poster child for the sociopathy spectrum.  It’d confuse things for those trying to explain personality disorders to the less experienced.  Trump isn’t doing briefing room interviews either.  Good leaders may leave all the nebulous details to well chosen wonks, but most sociopathic types consider things like wonkish competency to be a waste of time, the domain of “losers”.  They’d rather drive the big rig than know how it works.

  4. Depending on what is done at Trump’s “routine” health examination, some cursory evaluation of mental status should be expected. One standard question asks the examinee to name the president, and the one before him, going back as far as possible! Whether specialized tests are done could be optional and may lead to some contentious discussions.

    There is a bewildering array of neuropsychological tests of what is formally called “executive function,” including, but not limited to, the following:

    Behavioral Assessment of the Dysexecutive Syndrome (BADS)

    Delis–Kaplan Executive Function System (DKEFS)

    Functional Assessment of Verbal Reasoning and Executive Strategies (FAVRES)

    The BADS requires the individual to complete six functional activities involving planning, organization, cognitive flexibility, attention, problem solving, decision making, and self-monitoring. The DKEFS tasks include trail-making, verbal fluency, card sorting, and color-word interference, which are supposed to reflect frontal lobe functioning. The FAVRES also tests functions such as planning, organization, attention, problem solving, and decision making.

    These have been used in acquired brain injury patients, and there are numerous other basic tests of cognitive function like the digit span test to assess immediate and short-term memory.

    There are controversies regarding the diagnostic performance of these tests; even though they are “objective” measures of executive dysfunction, there does not seem to be a wide consensus regarding  the predictive value of the tests. So watch out if they are used and published!

  5. Is Trump going to have a real physical exam or is his "doctor", who looks like the victim of too many bad LSD experiences, rubber stamp the physical exam "results" written up by Sarah Huckabee-Sanders?

  6. Have any studies been done on the long term effects of narcissism? It's quite possible that the skill and ability of reading can atrophy over time because the narcissist can't be bothered to acquire information through a laborious process. Why read when you're gifted with a superior intelligence and you know more than anybody else about any subject?

    Like understanding taxes better than any CPA, or innately having more knowledge than any professional who has dedicated their life's work to any subject. And naturally being in possession of the "best words" can certainly diminish the necessity to read.

  7. Thanks for this, Maha.So many things we go through personally become too painful to witnesss our country suffer.

    Maybe this is our time to realize that individuals we may be, but we are not alone.  Kindred spirits abound.

  8. Swami, even his ability to lie seems diminished.  Maybe if an NPD gets into a position where they are cheered for their lies, they lose the ability to care about how competent they even are at lying?

    If there’s any strategic lying ability left, he may have been trying to discard/discredit the used/spent Bannon, while trying to retain the Bannonite followers.  And that book was his chance.  Unfortunately he didn’t plan very well how he’d get his minions on board.  And now we have the interesting situation where SarahSanders is calling the book a big old pack of lies… except for all the Steve Bannon quotes.

    I'm wondering where Kelly is in all this mess.  Oh wait… there he is, hiding under the table bashing his head against the floor.

  9. Old adage:

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

    New adage:

    A picture is necessary, because the president doesn't know a thousand words – let alone read them.




  10. One thing we can all be sure of is that it's not going to end well for Trump. 

    "And the truth goes marching on"

  11. This thread recalled an image from a documentary about sharks that I saw decades ago.  My memory might be faulty, but, the metaphor seems apt.

    A shark with a damaged brain or spinal cord was placed in the water where there was a fairly swift current.  Despite the damage, the shark continued to swim in place against the current for nearly two days.

    Amorality, a lack of empathy or curiosity and a simple "me versus them" mentality can all provide certain advantages in the world of commerce.   A  description of an additional advantage, borrowed from "Car Talk," is "unencumbered by the thought process."   

    Our president has never been a cerebral man.  I wonder if any of us can recall an instance where his words or actions betrayed even the slightest depth of thought, compassion or insight.  (I'm certainly drawing a blank on this one.)  But, he excels at being a creature of the moment, fueled by pure instinct.  He may well be the greatest con-man that nature ever shaped.

    I've had the misfortune to have known some people with NPD, or one of the other Cluster B disorders.  They didn't waste time cerebrating and strategizing, they were creatures of instinct too, ready to spring at the slightest provocation or opportunity.

    So the deterioration and loss of whatever mental capacities Trump ever had have not affected his capacity for predation and survival, which is his essence.  Despite having lost its brain, the shark continues to swim and hunt. 



  12. I wonder if any of us can recall an instance where his words or actions betrayed even the slightest depth of thought, compassion or insight.  

     I've had that same thought. There is no depth to his thinking. I do remember Obama explaining the Iran deal and thinking how thorough a view of all aspects in considering that deal. And to have Trump come along and without any consideration just dismiss it as the worst deal ever. How stupid Trump is.. He did the same thing with TTP. Just destroyed all that effort and hard work without even understanding the complete implications and benefits. Trump is a complete fucking asswipe, and it boggles my mind how anybody could support him. Something is seriously wrong with whatever power that allows Trump to continue without some sort of intervention. He's got some severe mental issues and he's damaging our country in ways that we don't yet see or fully understand. God help us all!

  13. maha… I think I summed it up perfectly when I described Trump as a big bag of shit.. I don't think people really understand how comprehensive that description is. Less is more?

  14. Simple question: would you let Trump drive your car? Me neither. Neither would any DMV; there’s a written test. Thinking back to those “Trump as toddler” pictures in the cab of a semi in Spring ‘17.

    On Swami’s point, Trump can’t even get the superficials right on any policy question. Remember when he said the Paris accords were a bad “deal” for America? It’s not a “deal” at all; it’s “do you want to save the planet for your children or not”? And, now the Idiot wants offshore oil, everywhere. Well, even Republican Florida is going to sue his a** over that. And win.

  15. Y'all have proven with your comments that it doesn't take a psychiatrist to see that there is something terribly out of balance with this president.  It appears that his ability to mature got stunted or frozen at some point.  In any case it's easy to see the narcissistic tendency.  As a psych nurse, I didn't have much experience with this diagnosis.  That may be because they would never seek help.  For insurance companies to pay for treatment, there has to be an Axis I diagnosis and personality disorders are Axis II.  That said, Trump  does have some paranoia and/or delusions of grandeur.  The law prevents me from diagnosing but I have tried to think what his Axis I diagnosis might be.  It can't be schizophrenia or bipolar because he could not have gotten this old without being diagnosed.  So I am leaning more toward antisocial or sociopathic.  I have not had much experience with those types but that seems to fit.  Trump seems to have gotten through his life by being able to control it.  He is now in a position where he cannot control events and people around him and it is driving him crazy.  Crazy is not a medical term but it is understandable.  I like to keep things simple so I accept Swami's analysis.

  16. @goat herd. 

    "He may well be the greatest conman nature ever created"


    I think it less about the high quality of the conman, and more about the low quality the suckers. I'm reminded of a guy who lost 26K on Trump University, described it in retrospect as a scam, but said he would probably vote for Trump because he felt he could trust him.

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