Questioning whether Trump is lying or telling the truth may be missing the point.
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The debate on that issue has been vigorous. But a recent tweet by New Republic Senior Editor Jeet Heer provides another perspective. Maybe Trump isn’t lying. Maybe Trump has no idea what is true and what is false.
Heer's claim took off from Trump's most recent bout of misspelling.
“Trump’s non-reading shapes him not just by content he misses out on,” Heer continued, “but also habits of mind habitual reading instills [such as] linear thinking and concentration which Trump, as non-reader, is deficient in.”
A person who reads is generally better able to judge the quality, sophistication and reliability of an argument, if even outside of her area of expertise. A person who does not read is often not only helpless in his purported area of expertise, but generally useless in many other fields too. (Trump’s only real skill is self-promotion that, unlike reading, requires no engagement with anything outside the self.)
It may well be that Trump is deliberately obfuscatory, and intentionally false. But it may also be that Trump, an intentional non-reader, faced with the onslaught of information that characterizes our modern age, lacks the ability to evaluate ideas, or issue any kind of informed judgment. As such, he falls back on his bias – what he prefers to be true, or what he lacks any mature ability to disprove.
Thousands and thousands of Muslims celebrated September 11 in Jersey City? It sounds like it could be true, and because he’s read many articles claiming it’s true, it should be true; he simply does not have the ability to tell us – or himself – it is not true. This is why it is easy for ideologues like Bannon to hijack his candidacy, and twist it to their own ends. It may even be that Trump does not descend to Islamophobia because he is convinced by it ideologically, nor does he wink at, nod in the direction of, or dog whistle to, anti-Semites, because he is deeply anti-Semitic.
He does these things because these biases accord with his crude worldview which, in many senses, has barely been affected by any education. Add in his fragile ego, his desperate narcissism, and his absurd sensitivity to any slight, joined to his almost embarrassing enthusiasm for those who praise him, no matter their moral deficiency, and we Muslims and Jews stand in the way of a tremendous opponent. A politician whose weakness is his strength. Woe to those of us, victims of his rhetoric, who overestimate him at our peril.
The challenge of Trump was evident in his early rise; few believed he was capable of winning, and therefore fewer still were prepared to confront his twitchy, erratic behavior. To call him a Twitter troll would be too generous. He’s probably closer to your Twitter feed, leaping from topic to topic with nauseating abruptness. The opposite of a book, which requires and produces sustained focus—with the product of another mind, another worldview. Books are the bane of solipsists.
His flightiness prevents his opponents from pursuing any long-term vision of their own; if even we are responding to him critically and powerfully, nevertheless we are still only responding to him, and not articulating what it is we want. That might be why Clinton failed.
It may be why the resistance fails.
Take that general truth and apply it to a more specific circumstance.
If Muslims and Jews should like to demonstrate solidarity against Trump, that is all well and good. But what are we fighting for? And in what ways shall we fight? If real ignorance is offensive, faked ignorance is pretentious at best, and suspicious at worst. We are right now in the middle of a minor golden age, a surprising conciliation between Muslims and Jews, standing up for each other, minorities under suspicion in vastly different ways. But how can a moment in time, a reaction to Trump, become an intended conviviencia?
Muslim-Jewish alliances grounded in temporary convenience or immediate and short-term horizons are likely to fall apart at the first moment of stress. What should happen to us, after all, if there is another war in Gaza or in Lebanon? Will our present compassion and concern for each other survive the onslaught?
What we need is the intensive engagement—the “linear thinking” and “concentration”—that classical humanism, including religious humanism, elicits, turning this into not just how we approach text, but the world; to build a scholastic and cultural response to Trump that purposefully circumvents him, first by reinforcing communities of knowledge, and then by building coalitions of equal depth and sophistication. We are only as strong as our individual parts.
The instinct at this moment is to respond to Trump in the manner of Trump. Don't put too much stock in your gut. To produce new leaders, we must produce true readers. The only way our communities can remain united against purposeful fascism is if we enjoy bonds that exceed our immediate circumstances. That coalition can only stand if its individual members know their own traditions, histories and communities, in order that they may extend the same complexity to other communities. That will take years to realize, but it looks like the challenge ahead of us will be around for at least as long.
There will be no purposeful alliance between Western Muslims, and Western Jews, until and unless there are Western Muslims, and Western Jews, whose roots drink deep, and whose ambitions soar accordingly. Lack one, or ignore the other, and neither community thrives. To fight Trump, we must be the un-Trump.
Haroon Moghul is a Senior Fellow and Director of Development at the Center for Global Policy. He is president of Avenue Meem, a new media company. Follow him on Twitter: @hsmoghul