My reading at night is sequential — about four books, a chapter or perhaps more in each before I close that book and pick up the next one.
A week or so ago, in my nighttime fashion, I found myself reading two non-fiction books new to me: Ben Wittes and Susan Hennessey’s Unmaking The Presidency: Donald Trump’s War On The World’s Most Powerful Office, and primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?
I started with Ben and Susan’s book.
Ben is my cousin; I am thus predisposed to think he and Susan are superior observers of political doings. (Years ago, Ben described Trump’s presidency as “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Most dazzling aphorisms like that fade with time. Ben’s seems to be etched in stone, forever.) Here, in their book, they observe Trump in his office from an unusual oblique angle. Their observations of Trump are detailed — even minute.
They offer a succinct history of the presidency and place Trump within this history.
Although their language is remarkably level and dispassionate, I’m finding this review of Trump’s tenure (starting with his inauguration) as disturbing as it was when I first absorbed its reality. It was a horror then; it remains a horror now.
So, at the point of incipient nausea, I switch to de Waal’s book which is about the startling intelligence of animals. Oddly, it has become for me a comparison to Ben and Susan’s portrayal of Trump.
At first, I poured myself into the animal book as a warm and inviting relief to things Trump. But the more I read of both books, it became clear that a whole range of animals — apes, birds, reptiles and more –are more intelligent than Trump.
I know you think I’m being sarcastic. I’m not. I’m also not being anthropomorphic. I’m only on page 105 of both books, but what I’ve learned is that some animals plan things and, before acting, develop concepts for managing the future for their own benefit. Animals do not generally act impulsively, or impatiently. In adapting objects they have been given, they manufacture tools and use those tools so effectively they make me gasp.
Trump is the antithesis of the animals I’m reading about. Trump does not envision a future beyond the minutes in which he tweets — and he does not even use that tool effectively.
Animals have what we value as intelligence, and senses of humor. Trump has neither.
Compared to animals, Trump is stupid.
There have been many revelations during the Trump presidency. I find this one oddly soothing and satisfying. Not sure why. Maybe it’s because I feel we can escape from the Oval and enter our fauna family, where our compatriots are sane, smart, warm and funny.
And you know what? There are many more such animals in our world than there is one Trump.