This post is written just a few days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
In the past few days there has been a number of articles focussing on the outgoing 44th President Barack Obama. One of the most interesting of these was “Obama’s secret to surviving the White House Years: books”.
Obama is a keen reader and has made sure that he has read books regularly in his two terms as President. He has been a champion of independent bookstores and has regularly issued a summer reading list of his favourite books.
This contrasts greatly with the incoming President who,as far as anyone can make out, does not read books!
Now this difference in the characters of the two men would perhaps not seem to be the major difference that people may concern themselves with but I feel that it says so much about the kind of men that they both are.
Despite the failings of the promise of the Obama years, Obama himself has always come across as a humane person who is very concerned about the plight of the less fortunate in society and is aware of the massive divisions caused by race and religious bigotry in his country. He has championed the idea of empathy in respect of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and walking around in them” (to quote Atticus Finch in my favourite book “To Kill A Mockingbird”).
He has said that he learns from books and loves novels as much as non-fiction. Having done some research into the reading habits of past Presidents I found that many of them enjoyed reading a book in their spare time, even George W. Bush!
This contrasts greatly with the incoming President. The fact that he admits that he does not read books says so much about him. He does not come across as someone who has developed any type of empathy. His reading material is limited to memos, business reports and a lot of Tweets!
Reading fiction and non-fiction changes us in subtle ways. It allows us to see someone else’s point-of-view. Reading as widely as possible is an education in itself.
I worry about someone taking over as the leader of the world’s most powerful nation who seems to glory in not reading books. This aspect of his personality says so much about his narrow point-of-view, his lack of understanding about what it feels like to be poor, powerless and without hope. His male chauvinism, attitude to minorities, and towards those of a different sexual persuasion.
The problem for us all is that he will be the President and his White House will be a very different place with very different attitudes to the literate place that it has been for the last eight years.