If You Could Have Donald Trump Read Any One Book What Would It Be?

Inspiration from Today’s Best and Brightest

Like many people, I was first shocked and then despondent over the election results this year. Unlike most people, I was fortunate to be completely distracted from my malaise for the two days immediately following the election results. Instead of drowning in despair, I spent two days talking with some of the most inspiring young people in America. By the end of the week, I had renewed hope for America and for our future. If you are still in a post-election depression, please read on. It may helpful a little.

As background, my first suggestion is that you take a look at what the electoral map would have looked like if only 19–25 year-olds voted. Maybe the future will be brighter even if we do nothing. (See http://coed.com/2016/11/09/how-the-electoral-map-would-have-looked-if-only-voters-aged-18-25-counted-photo/)

But I think we’re all tired of electoral college maps and — God help us — polling, so let me talk about some real individuals. Last week, I served as a member of a regional selection committee for the Marshall Scholarship program. Marshall Scholarships finance young Americans of high ability to study for a graduate degree in the United Kingdom. As future leaders in the U.S. and throughout the world, these students are talented and independent and encompass a wide-range of academic interests and public service. Past Scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Dr. Ray Dolby, Inventor of Dolby Sound; Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist; Harold Koh, Legal Adviser of The Department of State and former Dean Of The Yale Law School; Bruce Babbitt, former Governor Of Arizona and Secretary of The Interior; Kathleen Sullivan, former Dean of Stanford Law School; Peter Orszag, former Director, Office of Management and Budget; Richard Cordray, former OH Attorney General and current Director of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Nobel Prize winner Roger Tsien; and Reid Hoffman, Founder of Linkedin…just to name a few. You get the picture.

Interviewing these students is a privilege. All of them tend to be a reflection of our time. A few years ago, many candidates wanted to be the first person to land on Mars. Others wanted to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. But always almost all express a strong interest in working for the public good. This year, we had a number of candidates who wanted to devote their lives to combating climate change. Another handful were already leaders in the fight against human trafficking. Of course, we had the requisite quantum physicist who is exploring the Big Bang, the researcher who is studying a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, and the historian who is studying the 19th century Hyderabadi courtesan, Mah Laqa Bai Chanda. But a surprising number this year were deeply involved in the current migration crisis, both in the U.S. and abroad. All were brilliant and all were cautiously hopeful about the future.

Given the timing of the interviews — immediately following the most contentious and extraordinary presidential election of our time — I thought it timely and appropriate to ask each student what they would say to President-elect Trump if they could talk to him during the transition. Many focused on their field of study: “more money for scientific research,” “more evidence-based policy-making,” “fight human trafficking,” or (most often) “reconsider his position on climate change.” But a surprising number paused, thought for a few seconds, and then said they would ask the President-Elect to consider the importance of reconciliation now that he was to be our President. They want America to succeed and they want every American to be included in that success. They said they would ask him to reconsider his rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, and other minority groups and to understand that these people are in the U.S. because they believe in the American Dream and want to be part of it. But most importantly, they all believed that Mr. Trump could change, that he could heal the country, if only he would talk to these various groups and begin to understand who they really are. Not generalizations or caricatures, but real human beings with the same aspirations and dreams we all have. The subsequent announcement of recent Cabinet Secretaries may make them re-think their optimism, but it was clear to me that even these actions will not dampen their commitment to making this a better country — regardless of who is in the White House.

Finally, I asked them all which book they would recommend the President-Elect read between now and Inauguration Day. Remember, they had no time to prepare for the question, which means they were likely speaking an unvarnished truth arising from works that have formed who they are. I found the list enlightening and I recommend it to all of us. I know I’ve already submitted this list to Amazon (and my local book store) myself and look forward to pouring through them all in the next couple months. Happy reading!

1. A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Nicholas Kristof

2. Mexico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization, by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla

3. Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread, by Alex Pentland

4. The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers, by Harry Bernstein

5. The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, by Robert E. Lane

6. Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, by Richard E. Neustadt

7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West

8. Republic Lost, by Lawrence Lessig

9. What Money Can’t Buy, by Michael Sandel (alternatively, Sandel’s other great book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?)

10. Free Market Fairness, by John Tomasi

11. This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future, by Sen. John Kerry

12. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott

13. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

14. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson (my favorite, for obvious reasons)

15. Any works written by Ancient Christian Monks (to teach humility)

16. The Koran