For the Republican National Convention this year I am featuring a Republican each day from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.
Monday I focused on the need for character and shone a light on Gerald Ford. On Tuesday Abraham Lincoln was featured with an eye on leadership and empathy. Wednesday I wrote about the need for strong international alliances highlighted by Dwight Eisenhower. Today I present a trait that any president must possess if wishing to be not only an informed leader but a well-rounded person. Richard Nixon proves my point.
It was Marcus Tullius Cicero who wrote, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
If there is one overarching quality that Donald Trump lacks it is a stunning dearth of curiosity about what he does not know and a total lack of interest in reading. The absence of both has created what we see and hear on a daily basis from this White House. The facts about Trump’s disdain for reading have been well-sourced and reported.
“He didn’t process information in any conventional sense,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate.”
Wolff quotes economic adviser Gary Cohn writing in an email: “It’s worse than you can imagine … Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”
While Trump and his allies, as well as some mainstream journalists, have attacked the accuracy of Wolff’s book, Trump’s allergy to reading is among the most fully corroborated assertions Fire and Fury makes.
Ahead of the election, the editors of this magazine wrote that the Republican candidate “appears not to read.” Before the inauguration, Trump told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In February, The New York Times reported that National Security Council members had been instructed to keep policy papers to a single page and include lots of graphics and maps.
Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was a highly cerebral and mentally cultivated man. Reading and learning were central to his life from an early age. In February 1972 Nixon spoke to the press about the upcoming history-breaking trip to Mainland China.
In mentioning Andre Malraux, I do not want to reflect on many of the other experts-and there are many experts in this field of China–whose books have been brought to my attention. I do not want to indicate I have read them all but I have been exposed to a great number. I asked him to come because there was an interesting coincidence.
In 1969, when I met with President de Gaulle in Paris, Mr. Malraux at that time was the Minister of Culture in the de Gaulle Cabinet. We had a discussion prior to the dinner on the subject of China generally, and I was particularly impressed with his analysis of the leaders. His book, at least the one I have read—he’s written many–but his book, the one I particularly refer to was his “Anti-Memoirs.” I would commend it to you not only for what it tells about China and its leaders, but also about France, its problems, and the whole World War II and post-World War II era.
But here it is essential to do an enormous amount of homework just to come up to the starting line. I don’t want to say that after having read as much as I have, and as much as I will be reading between now and the time we arrive, that I will be an expert, but at least I will be familiar with the men that we will be meeting and the problems that may be discussed.
We must never again allow anyone to sit in the Oval Office who does not have the desire to be a better person through the printed page.