This is a question that was during the campaign and since his inauguration. It is a disturbing question when we hear about reports that he does not read 70-page intelligence briefings, that his staff members use short presentations with bullet points, and the obvious difficulty he has when using a Teleprompter.
It is entirely possible for an otherwise reasonably intelligent person to function in school, in business, and in everyday life and still not be able to read or comprehend the written language without some type of help. People who suffer from dyslexia, for example, encounter this problem. According to the Mayo Clinic “Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words….” They go on to report that it occurs in “children with normal vision and intelligence. Sometimes dyslexia goes undiagnosed for years and isn’t recognized until adulthood.”
This is not to say nor to diagnose Trump as suffering from dyslexia. Such a determination can only be made by a trained professional. But for someone who says he attended an Ivy League school and has the “best words” it should be troubling to most Americans that he claims he never reads books, except the ones he writes. The major stumbling block to this claim is that we now know that he, in fact, did not write his books. He used ghostwriters. His use of language in interviews is even more dysfunctional. He rambles along in incomplete sentences, jumping from one subject to the next, and nearly always bringing the conversation back to himself. The term “word salad” could have been invented just to describe his way of speaking.
His use of Twitter demonstrates another one of his failings. The man cannot spell simple words, even with spellcheck on his phone. “Honor” becomes “honer.” Unprecedented” became “unpresidented.” This is also a common failing of people with dyslexia. The reading public can now easily distinguish between tweets written by Trump and those written by someone on his staff. You don’t need to know which phone was used to figure it out. The staff-written tweets contain complete sentences and correctly spelled words. They rarely, if ever, contain exclamation points. Twitter has been a perfect medium for Trump as he never has to write more than 148 characters. And don’t forget that this is a man who also never uses e-mail, something of a startling admission now that most business communications are conducted via e-mail.
For those who might question how he was able to get through college, there are a number of possible answers. He could have had people take notes for him and write his papers. He could still learn through listening to lectures and having others coach him for tests. There are foreign-born students who face similar challenges and some of them use tape recorders during class to listen to and study afterwards.
Perhaps, and this is just perhaps, the reason Trump wants Ivanka near him in the White House is because English is her native language, unlike his wife. Trump has been enabled his entire life. His family and close advisors may still be enabling him. But they are doing neither Trump or the country a service. The President is required to read dozens of documents a day, from intelligence briefings to correspondence from foreign governments. He simply cannot run a country using the telephone and Twitter It may also explain his failure to understand the Constitution He may not have read it. Literally.
A number of studies have assessed the writing levels of many of the political candidates for 2016. While most scored between 6th to 8th grade writing levels, Trump comes in at around the 4th grade. In other words, his writing is, at best, elementary school level. This did not seem to be a problem during the campaign, where Trump famously announced that he “loved the poorly educated.” But it does pose a problem for the leader of the free world. If Trump wishes to make his arguments for his policies for America on the world stage, he must be able to at least compete in the television program “Are You As Smart As A 5th Grader?”
[Author’s Note: This is an updated version of an article “Is Donald Trump Functionally Illiterate?” originally published in February, 2017]