Trump not being able to read, or only being able to read at a fourth grade level, raises some serious concerns about his ability to serve as president. And not for the reasons that everyone else might suggest. Yes, reading sharpens mental acuity and provides one with the factual knowledge necessary to engage in higher order thinking. And yes, not being able to read may increase the chances of someone signing off on orders they do not understand, such as when Trump appointed Steve Bannon to a seat on the National Security Council. But people can still be great leaders even if they are not great readers. As an explanation for Trump’s apparent difficulty reading, Kristine Moore suggests that Trump may have dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome. The ranks of the most successful entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists are littered with dyslexics and people with other learning disabilities. And Winston Churchill, who had Irlen Syndrome, became a great reader, writer, and leader. But the difference between Trump and Churchill is that the former is fixed mindset oriented, and the latter was growth mindset oriented.
Because Trump places so much value on inherent abilities and talents, he does not see the need to focus on developing them. And because Trump places so much value on what others think of him, he does not want anyone to recognize that he is flawed in any way. And he likely views his inability to read as a glaring flaw that he cannot psychologically afford being exposed to the wider public. Or he convinces himself that he is too important to waste his time reading. In order to overcome this deficit, Trump goes out of his way to beat his chest about how smart, intelligent, and educated he is. He loves to boast about his attendance at the Wharton School, and about the education pedigrees of those in his family. He wants to believe, and wants you to believe, that degrees, even those earned by family members, are a better measure of his intellectual capabilities and curiosity than the ability to read is. But he cannot afford for you to believe that he cannot read. So he fakes it.
The danger of insecurity
Insecurity in oneself is a natural outcropping of a fixed mindset, whether or not the fixed mindset people realize it. Trump comes across as excessively confident in his ability to produce great outcomes in whatever endeavors he chooses to engage in. For example, he constantly reminds people that he will “make America great again,” and that only he can make America great again, despite having never served in public office before. But because he is so resistant to learn from his mistakes, or admit that he is not talented in every possible way, he fails to benefit from the tremendous growth that is available to a man with his power and privilege. This leaves him quite insecure, in spite of his seeming confidence. This is visibly apparent when he tries to read in front of others, or discusses the topic of reading.
The danger of insecurity lies in the potential response to insecurity. We have already highlighted how Trump responds to criticism; he evades and attacks. He evades by denial and attempts to change the subject. Historically, he has attacked through threats, lawsuits, and public beratings. However, now he has the tools of the presidency at his disposal. And for someone who feels it is more important to fake being able to read than actually learning how to read, this is worrisome. How does someone who is not fully capable of being president on day one, as nobody is, fake competence? Trump gave us insight into how he may try in his first ten days in office. Trump’s appeal to many of his supporters was that he would make America great again, whereas Obama was a failure and Clinton could only offer them more failures. In his eagerness to prove himself superior to Obama, who he called the worst president in history, he allowed his staff to convince him to approve a risky military operation in Yemen by suggesting that Obama would never be so bold. That raid was a disaster, leaving both an 8-year-old child and a Navy SEAL dead.
Trump’s inability to handle criticism coupled with the stresses of being president is likely to take a tremendous toll on him. Given Trump’s fixed mindset, as people continue to question Trump’s actions and positions, and as he fixates on their opinions through social media and cable news, his attempts to convince people of his competence and intelligence may become more and more desperate. He has already publicly questioned the integrity of the judges who presided over lawsuits against him and who blocked his executive orders, and he has threatened to destroy the career of a Texas politician who opposes asset forfeiture. Would he be willing to direct federal agencies to go after political enemies? Would he be willing to punish corporations that do not show allegiance to his administration or refuse to do business with any of the Trump organizations? Would he be willing to engage in trade wars with countries that do not fall in line? Would he be willing to escalate international disagreements into military conflicts for the sake of rallying the American people around his presidency?
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
~ Hermann Göring
Trump’s fixed mindset orientation is a significant barrier to his growth. Such a mindset has left him unwilling to learn from his mistakes, and unable or unwilling to read. There is no such thing as an average person, much less someone who excels in all aspects of life. Many people have weaknesses, and many people have overcome challenges, just as people with dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome can and do lead remarkable lives. But in order to do so, they have to be willing to seek out the resources and tools that will help them thrive, and they need to recognize that learning differences or disorders, or one’s station in life, are not badges of shame. This is a hurdle Trump cannot get over. But as dangerous as his fixed mindset is to his growth, it is far more dangerous to society.
Graphic: From Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
1. Carol Dweck, Mindset
2. I am not unique in noticing Trump’s fixed mindset. “The Mindset That Leads People to Be Dangerously Overconfident,” Harvard Business Review; “Trump and Hillary Show Totally Opposite Success Mind-sets,” New York Magazine; “This Election Comes Down to Who Has the Better Mindset,” Inverse
3. “Donald Trump believes he was born to be king,” Los Angeles Times
4. “Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills,” USA Today
5. “Trump's 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee,” USA Today; “The ~20 Times Trump Has Threatened To Sue Someone During This Campaign,” FiveThirtyEight
6. “An Exhaustive List of the Allegations Women Have Made Against Donald Trump,” New York Magazine
7. “This Election Comes Down to Who Has the Better Mindset,” Inverse
8. In Mindset, Dweck highlights the ignominious fall from grace of multiple individuals, including Lee Iacocca, Al Dunlap, Kenneth Lay, and Jeffrey Skilling. She could have easily provided profiles of politicians whose fixed mindsets led to their downfall, as well.
9. “Uh-Oh: Does Donald Trump Know How to Read?,” The David Pakman Show; “WOW: Trump Fails Basic Literacy Test,” The David Pakman Show
10. “Schools Focus on Teaching Shallow Knowledge, But Fail,” Abrome
11. “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles”, New York Times
12. “Can Donald Trump Read Beyond a Fourth Grade Level? [Opinion]”, The Inquisitr News
13. “Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that,” The Washington Post
14. “Donald Trump's myths about himself,” Chicago Tribune; “'I'm, like, a really smart person': Donald Trump exults in outsider status,” The Guardian
15. Trump’s repeated references to his attendance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which he transferred to after two years at Fordham University, are well documented. For examples, see the sources in the prior note and in the article, “Trump flaunts Wharton degree, but his college years remain a mystery,” The Daily Pennsylvanian. Trump has also been documented focusing on the intelligence of family members to suggest that he is intellectually gifted, particularly a well-respected uncle who taught at MIT. “Donald Trump’s Nuclear Uncle,” The New Yorker
16. “WOW: Trump Fails Basic Literacy Test,” The David Pakman Show
17. “Donald Trump's staff get him to agree to policies by saying ‘Obama wouldn't have done it’,” The Independent
18. “Trump Says Judge’s Mexican Heritage Presents ‘Absolute Conflict,’” Wall Street Journal; “Trump lashes out at ‘so-called judge’ who temporarily blocked travel ban,” The Washington Post; “Donald Trump Threatens to ‘Destroy’ Texas Senator,” The Daily Beast
19. “Any System Designed Around the Average Person is Doomed to Fail,” Abrome
20. Richard Branson has dyslexia, Temple Grandin is autistic, Mark Zuckerberg had social anxiety. The list of people who have overcome hurdles in their lives to achieve extraordinary levels of success is far too long to list out.