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Trump's Presidency

A President who does not Read: Returning to Plato’s Cave?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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I never read a book from cover to cover”–President George W. Bush, while at Yale University

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he quote above was overheard by a Yale professor when the future president of the US was still attending that renowned institution as an undergraduate young student. It does not portent a future scholar, but neither does it by itself, disqualify him from running from high office and eventually becoming president.

There are other necessary talents besides the passion for books and the ability to read them from cover to cover to become president. But what mitigates the schlock of that quote is that at least it does not proclaim oneself proud of never reading anything.

That is not the case any longer. We are now much further down the slippery slope of ignorance. What we have today in the White House is the sorry spectacle of somebody who is not only not embarrassed by that fact, but he is proud of it. When asked some time ago about the last book he had read, he replied that “I don’t have the time…I read areas, chapters, passages. I inform myself by watching TV shows” And of course he writes via tweets. In other words, his tweets are important as his oral words, but he does not much care for the words of others. Perhaps he does not have the adequate attention span to write anything over 140 characters. Let’s not forget, also, that he gave a 70 minute convention speech but failed to quote one single person other than himself.

This president has shown an extraordinary lack of interest in reading anything on anything. He has acknowledged never reading a presidential biography. He has at times declared the Bible his favorite book but has had difficulty quoting from it, and revealing a favorite verse, saying that it is too personal of a question to answer. Then in a radio interview he suddenly remembered one verse; this one: “An eye for an eye.” You get the picture.

To be sure, in American history we have had plenty of presidents who were hardly intellectuals in any shape or form. But most of them admitted to cracking open a book for sheer pleasure, from time to time. For example Ronald Reagan loved military fiction. Moreover, just about all the founding father had vast, well cultivated personal libraries, not to speak of Lincoln who read voraciously all his life. That is to say, a love for reading has always been considered an essential endowment of being an American president. Alas, that is no longer a requirement. We may reach a point when it will be a liability.

Be that as it may, take a leader of a country who is not engaged with its literature, and I’ll show you a leader who will not have the foggiest idea about the initial founding vision on which that country is built, nor will he know where the country is headed to.

Indeed, books are part of the Great Conversation that in Western Civilization begins with the ancient Greeks. They show us how diverse and multi-cultural the world is. They provide us with an historical sense and an appreciation of the complexity of the life which becomes boorish and meaningless without them. But is appears that Trump has a different agenda, indifferent to any Great Conversation, unreflective, contemptuous of others’ ideas except one’s own.

I’d like to suggest that this kind of contemptuous anti-intellectual attitude presently running the country, one never fully tried before, threatens the idealism and indeed the very survival of our country as our founding fathers conceived it. It’s like standing Plato on his head and declaring that having tried life outside the cave by the light of the sun, we now find it more convenient to return to the dark cave dimly lit by fire that we came out of; that is to say, the cave of vulgarity, boorishness and ignorance. For shame!

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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