Real estate magnate Donald Trump says lots of outrageous stuff, but none of it seems to slow him down. His latest gaffe, however, ought to give some pause to his fans in the Religious Right.
Trump was asked by a reporter with Bloomberg News about his favorite book, which is allegedly the Bible. Asked to name his favorite verse from that tome, Trump stammered, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal.”
The reporter, John Heilemann, then asked Trump which he prefers more, the Old Testament or the New Testament. Again Trump faltered, putting forth this gem: “Uh, probably equal. I think it’s just an incredible – the whole Bible is an incredible – I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it’s my second-favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.” (The Art of the Deal, in case you’re not aware of it, is one of Trump’s own books.)
As Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog noted on Saturday, at this point a few things seem likely: Trump hasn’t actually read the Bible. He can’t name a favorite passage because he doesn’t know any of them well enough. He might not even know the difference between the Old and New Testaments. (Free advice to Trump: In the future, just say John 3:16 is your favorite verse. The fundamentalists love that one!)
Now, I’m not going to knock Trump too much for being biblically illiterate. Plenty of Americans haven’t read the Bible. Many people constantly sing its praises but are only dimly aware of what the book actually says. Even conservatives admit this.
Yet I am dismayed that we’ve come to the point in American politics where virtually any candidate, if asked to name his/her favorite book, immediately replies, “The Bible!” (Cue Hillary Clinton’s recent admission.) Politicians on autopilot say this even when they are clearly not familiar with the book. Like Trump, that sets them up for an embarrassing game of Gotcha! Remember when Howard Dean was asked to name his favorite book from the New Testament and replied “Job”?
It’s tiresome. And unnecessary. Please, members of the media, stop asking candidates to name their favorite book. It is meaningless because we know they’re going to say the Bible.
It’s time to ask a better question: Aside from the Bible, what is your favorite book? Or maybe this: What is your favorite work of fiction?
The latter question has the potential to tell us something useful. For example, if a politician can’t name even one novel that has informed his or her life, that’s a sign we’ve got a person on our hands who doesn’t read fiction. I realize that literature is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you hope to lead this nation, you would do well to be informed by real literature that presents thorny issues and complex moral dilemmas – you know, books that make you think.
Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking only out-of-touch eggheads read the Great Books. Sure, we all like a beach read every now and then, but anyone who aspires to lead the Free World should be able to meet the challenge of real literature. We’ve had anti-intellectual presidents before. How did that work out?
This question is highly relevant. If the answer you get is something like, “Oh, I just adore Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged” that tells you something about how that person might govern. Or, a candidate who responds, “The works of Charles Dickens challenged me to think about the needs of the poor” is giving you useful information.
The follow-up questions should focus on non-fiction: Do you read history? What is your favorite work in this genre? What about biography? Have you read a basic treatise on economics? More importantly, what have you learned from these books?
Unless it’s Jimmy Carter, who knows the Bible so well he teaches Sunday School lessons about it, I believe the country has heard enough talk from political leaders about how much they love the Good Book.
Sure, the Bible is your hands-down favorite. We’ll take that as a given. What else have you read lately?