Asked how to explain one of President Donald Trump’s latest incredulisms — I think I just made that word up — a CNN commentator said she was at a loss. The issue was Trump’s belief that, had he been around at the time, President Andrew Jackson could have staved off the Civil War, a war that didn’t have to happen and a war for which our president wasn’t quite sure how and why it happened. Or so he said.
After a few pundits took a stab at trying to tell us what Trump might have really meant to say — to little or no avail — the last commenter said the issue wasn’t about what the president was trying to say. It was really about what he wasn’t trying to know. The solution, she declared, was an immediate need for Trump to “crack open a book.”
She implied willful ignorance, and I am pretty sure it was a negative comment.
But I am not here trying to be negative, I am merely picking up on the concept of reading a book. You know, the age-old remedy for ignorance that our parents and their parents and their parents used to instill in each of us as we were growing up. It used to be encouraging words like “let’s look it up in the encyclopedia” or “let’s take a walk over to the library.” The point is simple: We can learn from books, and some of us have a lot to learn.
I mention this television encounter from last week because while listening to CNN I was finishing a book by my friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Tom Friedman. It is called, “Thank You for Being Late” and if ever there were a book that needs to be read by everyone and right now — especially our president — it is this book.
I don’t know if Tom can be labeled as a conservative or a liberal — he seems to be in both camps depending upon the issue and where the camps are at any given time — but I do know him to be extremely smart. This is his seventh book. Most of you will remember when he wrote “The World is Flat” in 2005 in which he described the incredible competition to U.S. pre-eminence by countries like India and China in creating jobs in the 21st century. He was 100 percent right about what would happen. And, yes, it has happened already.
In “Thank You for Being Late,” Tom shares some valuable insights about the accelerating world around us that is powered by cloud computing and which, in a very short period of time and for the first time, has caused a disruption in the social and economic fabric of our country. For everyone trying to understand “what the hell is happening,” Friedman’s description of the anxiety, frustration and anger that has been welling up across America is spot on.
I understand that not everyone likes to or has the time to or even wants to read a book. But, as we are learning almost daily, making stuff up instead of dealing with facts and figures as a basis for our beliefs is a dangerous way for Americans to conduct our democracy.
As Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and philosopher, so aptly put it, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
In “Thank You for Being Late” the author shares with us his growing up time in Minnesota as a child of the baby boom generation. The lessons of his youth created in him — as our early life’s lessons shape most of us in one way or another — to be the eternal optimist. So in a book that can be so plain spoken about the many things that are challenging the life we once knew, there is reason for optimism and hope. If only we can look back far enough to see what worked for our parents to imagine a future that will work for our kids.
We don’t have to make America great again; it is already full of great people who just need to understand the paths toward success and failure. Inclusion and cooperation create greatness. Exclusion and fear of the other lead down a different path, a road that leads toward diminution of the American dream, or almost any dream for that matter.
I mention Tom’s book as a must read because we are at a point in the United States where people have so defined themselves as belonging to one camp or another that it is impossible to see how we can function going forward. We need to have some common understanding of what has made and continues to make America a country that is not only great but good: a source of light unto the other nations of the world; a roadmap to that place in our future where we are better because of who we include in our world rather than those we exclude.
You pick the slogan, the point is that we all want to be part of a good and growing and prosperous United States. And it seems we need a little help getting there.
Friedman titled his book as a way of suggesting that we all need a little time in our fast-paced and hectic world for ourselves. We need to step back from our daily lives long enough to reflect on what we want for our future and the futures of our children and grandchildren.
If, in doing so, you take the time to read Tom’s latest book, you will not only have a better understanding about how we got here, why we feel like we are in this mess, where we may have taken an unproductive detour or two and, yes, some ideas about how to move forward focused on what made us great and not what makes us petty.
So, I will end where I almost began. With a quote. This time with one attributed to Mark Twain.
Whether you are a president trying to lead a country to greatness or just an ordinary human being trying to do your best to be great, a good book is a wonderful place to start to fulfill that destiny. That is my quote.
A quote often attributed to Mark Twain says, “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”
Pick up a book and be thankful for people who are late.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.