Bogus Bibliophiles Benito Mussolini & Donald Trump

There’s an oft-repeated tale, from Ernest Hemingway, about an encounter he had with Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, in which Mussolini – by Hemingway’s account – pretends to read a book:

At a time when the Western consensus was championing Mussolini’s potential to rehabilitate postwar Italy, Hemingway branded the Duce as “coward” with a “genius for clothing small ideas in big words.” He then reduced the “clothing” metaphor to a literal Blackshirt insult (the Blackshirts — camicie nere or squadristi— were fascism’s paramilitary force): “There is something wrong, even histrionically, with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.” But for Hemingway, one of the most revealing examples of Mussolini’s shifty character came when he spied the Duce at a press conference absorbed in a book: “I tiptoed over behind him to see what was the book he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary — held upside down.”

It’s a memorable anecdote, but for many years I’ve considered it apocryphal – an exaggeration from a brilliant writer.

Now, after Monday night when Trump awkwardly held a Bible in his hands during a photo opportunity, I’m persuaded that Hemingway’s anecdote may be accurate.

As it turns out, when Trump posed with a Bible someone in his entourage found somewhere, he seemed confused about how to hold the book:

He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC.

It unlikely that Trump is familiar with any book – maybe whole passages in the books ghostwritten in his name are mostly unfamiliar to him.

Perhaps Hemingway’s tale about Mussolini in the 1920s was true, as much as our own doubts about Trump’s reading habits are true.

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