Whenever we observe that President Donald Trump answers questions like an eighth-grader who didn’t do his homework and has to BS his way through an exam, part of me thinks he’ll eventually conjure some discipline and admit he’s not up to speed on whatever the topic happens to be.
Or maybe he’ll do what most politicians do, faced with a zone of ignorance: Reject the premise of the question and pivot to the message of the day. Deflection often worked for Ronald Reagan, but Trump always — always! — takes the bait because he has apparently deluded himself into believing he’s an expert on everything. In this regard, he’s the perfect chief executive for this era in which every anonymous screecher on social media thinks he or she knows everything about everything.
When asked about Andrew Jackson by SiriusXM’s Salena Zito, Trump lapsed into a familiar routine: pretending to know more than he does, consequently embarrassing himself and revealing that, yes, in fact he knows nothing. In this case, he not only delivered a typically hagiographic overview of Jackson, who was at best a sociopath and at worst a genocidal madman, but the president also seemed to suggest that Jackson was still alive during the American Civil War. On top of everything else, Trump told Zito that the bloodiest war in American history could have been avoided through a political solution brokered by Jackson himself.
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Trump began by saying he agreed with Jackson that politics killed Jackson’s wife shortly after the 1828 election: “They destroyed his wife and she died.” There’s no way of knowing whether the election exacerbated Rachel Jackson's cardiac condition, leading to a fatal heart attack. Jackson always believed that, but that doesn’t make it true.
In the middle of lamenting the death of Rachel Jackson, Trump shoehorned into the proceedings the fact that he had visited Jackson’s grave in Tennessee, as if we’re supposed to be impressed by that. It reminded me of the time in 2006 when George W. Bush told a German reporter that the “interesting” thing about George Washington was that Bush had read “three or four books” about him. (This actually happened.)
Then without prompting, Trump launched into a completely bungled rant about the Civil War, noting that Jackson hated the war and would have concocted a solution had he still been president. In other words, Trump seemed to think Jackson was still alive during the war or perhaps had died just before it began — and furthermore that it was a war Jackson apparently opposed.
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said. “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War.” In the real world, Jackson died in 1845 — almost 16 years before Confederate artillery under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter.
In an effort to reverse engineer Trump’s ignorance, loyalists have correctly noted that the existential debate that led to the war went on throughout the first half of the 19th century. But Trump was much more specific, citing the war by name. He wasn’t talking about the debate over slavery, otherwise he would have said “the debate over slavery.” Trump was talking about the war itself. Jackson was long dead before secession fever ignited after the 1860 election, rapidly disintegrating into unprecedented carnage. It's almost like saying that Franklin D. Roosevelt hated the Vietnam War or that Richard Nixon opposed the invasion of Iraq.
Case closed. Trump knows nothing, right?
But wait: There’s more. Trump went on to claim that Jackson had said, "There’s no reason for this,” with “this” apparently meaning the Civil War. Um, no. Andrew Jackson never examined the circumstances of the Civil War because, to repeat, he was dead.
“People don’t realize,” Trump continued, “you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”
I . . . I just . . . This is madness. First of all, yes, millions of people “realize” what caused the Civil War. For more than a century, revisionists pushing the “lost cause” mythology sought to whitewash Southern slavery and secession by injecting “states’ rights” into history books as a sanitized excuse for the war. In the modern era, it’s widely accepted outside neo-Confederate circles that slavery was absolutely the original sin that sparked the war.
There’s a great deal of pedantry orbiting this topic, but contrary to what Trump said, people are literally always asking about what caused the war. What the hell leads him to believe that no one asks questions about it? It could be that Trump thinks he’s always the first human being in existence to learn about a topic and that everyone else is dumb about it. This is the behavior of a clinically delusional man. Oh, and by the way, there are at least 1,210 books about the causes of the Civil War. “People don’t ask that question,” Trump said. Mind-blowingly, galactically stupid.
Trump also seems to think the political conflicts of mid-19th-century America could have been “worked out” before the Southern states seceded and hostilities erupted. The only deal that could have been reached to avoid the war would have involved preserving slavery into the indefinite future — and in all probability expanding it greatly. Otherwise, no deal. The South was not prepared to relinquish the cornerstone of its economy: unpaid labor, bound for life.
Much like Trump supporters today who are unmoved by facts or reality, Southern leaders were similarly uncompromising, driven by racist and anti-abolitionist propaganda of the worst kind, marketed by “fire-eaters” — the Victorian equivalent of today’s Fox News punditry. Regardless of all that, Trump, perhaps by accident, seemed to say he would have been amenable to a pre-emptive solution that might have prevented the war. Does he even realize that any such deal would have meant continued slavery on the North American continent?
To make matters worse, Jackson was a slave-owning Southerner with absolutely zero interest in the rights of African-Americans. If Jackson, per Trump, had said, “There’s no reason for this,” it was probably because by the time he was inaugurated, he owned 150 people, including women and children. I challenge Trumpers of any variety to logically explain Trump’s cockamamy Jackson theory to Civil War scholars: Slave owner Andrew Jackson — had he been, you know, alive — would have come up with some solution to the Civil War that would have abolished slavery while preserving the Union. Can you explain how that might have worked? If you can’t, we have no choice but to conclude that Donald Trump would have been cool with preserving the institution of slavery in order to avoid the war.
Nevertheless, Trump blindly accepts Jackson as his spirit animal, perhaps not being aware of the fact that President No. 45 has little in common with No. 7, beyond the fact that both men are flawed, sinister and deeply deranged characters. Despite being America’s first despot, Jackson famously kept the White House open to public visitors, complete with his big block of cheese in the lobby. Trump, while insisting he’s the people’s president, cut funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; he shut down the sidewalk in front of the north portico of the White House, keeping the people far away; he has allowed mining corporations to dump toxic sludge into rivers and streams that provide drinking water to people; and he has supported various versions of Trumpcare that phase out the expansion of Medicaid as early as next year. Man of the people? Bull crap.
Not to bury the lede here, but Andrew Jackson did something Trump openly dreams of doing: Jackson defied the Constitution by overruling a decision of the Supreme Court. The result was the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their ancestral lands in Georgia, a notorious act of genocide committed with total impunity.
This is Trump’s hero?
Our president isn’t very smart. We get it. But what does this latest idiotic outburst say about Trump and his belief about genocide, slavery, states’ rights, the American Civil War, secession and the “lost cause” mythology? There’s no other way to describe this latest bit of insanity other than intellectually violent. On which side of history does Trump reside? Someone should ask him.
Meanwhile, since he is actually the president, perhaps Trump needs to spend less time hanging on every word of Fox News' Steve Doocy and more time reading about the history of the United States and how its government functions. You never know: He might learn something.