Deliberately Irrational and Dangerously Ignorant

Donald Trump said at CIA headquarters January 21: “Trust me, I’m like a smart person,” and “I love honesty.” If he is not “professionally unprepared, intellectually ill-informed, morally compromised, and temperamentally unfit” to be president, as columnist David Brooks said Jan. 20, his blathering incoherent puffery before the assembled CIA staff failed to prove otherwise.

Former CIA director John Brennan said right afterward that Trump’s verbal meander a “despicable display of self-aggrandizement.” The editorial board of the New York Times declared that he has “grossly uninformed perceptions of reality.”

The man Doonesbury calls our Gropenfürher said to the assembled staff at CIA HQ, “I love you. I respect you. There’s nobody I respect more.” The agency’s professional personnel are paid to keep up with current events, to distinguish fact from fiction, and to stay alert to threats to its hegemony. They were all keenly aware that Trump had just 10 days earlier accused them of using Nazi-like tactics. (CIA director says Trump crossed ‘the line’ by comparing CIA officers to Nazis, Washington Post, Jan. 17, 2017) So Trump’s smug toadyism, delivered in front of the CIA’s solemn Memorial Wall, came off as simulated boot licking from an apprentice groveler-in-chief. Maybe they’ll let him live.

Trump’s gross exaggerations — there were “3-to-5 million illegal voters;” the inaugural crowd “looked like a million-and-a-half people” — are so easily disproved,1 that “Members of his team are already good at pretending that Trump doesn’t mean what he clearly does mean,” David Brooks reported. White House lying with so-called “alternative facts” is what’s truly akin to Nazi scheming, the deliberate use of irrationality, employed to befuddle the press and confuse its opponents.

Some reading might help

News that Trump doesn’t like to read (“Donald Trump doesn’t read much….,” Washington Post, July 17, 2016) is something of an alibi for him, but not for his staff and cabinet. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is called aliteracy and tens of millions are like Trump in this choice. “The inevitable consequence,” according to the late Duluth native Townsend Hoopes, president of the Association of American Publishers, is that such people “seem satisfied with their own initial, shallow interpretations of what they do read, and deeply resist requests or instructions to explain or defend their points of view with any reasoned analysis or cogency.”

A 2008 study reported that 45.7% of adult Americans did not read a book not required for work or school during 2002.2 Some 90 million US citizens over age 16 lack reading and writing skills needed for employment. According to the 2006 American College Testing (ACT) report “Reading Between the Lines,” only 51% of students who took the college entrance exam were reading at the college level. The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress report found that only 38% of US high school seniors read at or above the proficient level.

Daniel Boorstin, a former chief Librarian of Congress, has warned, “Our democracy is built on books and reading. This tradition is now threatened by the twin menaces of illiteracy and aliteracy.” Trump’s 14 seasons at The Apprentice, and his single season of campaign rallies give his boosters the false impression that they know something about him.

Hoopes said aliteracy poses a serious threat to the country. The late Prof. Bernice Cullinan, a literacy advocate at New York University reminded her students, “Thomas Jefferson believed that informed citizens are the best safeguard against tyranny.”3 Anticipating Trump, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “People who have stopped reading base their future decisions on what they used to know…. If you don’t read much, you really don’t know much. You’re dangerous.”

2 Office of Research & Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts, “Reading on the Rise,” January 2009, pp. 7, 8, findings based on early results from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.

3Independent Reading and School Achievement,” Bernice E. Cullinan, School Library Media Research, Vol. 3, Nov. 2000, 

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.