David McCullough: President Trump's Disregard for History Is 'Utter Nonsense'

Historians in the News
tags: David McCullough, Trump



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This is an excerpt from a lengthy interview published in Time Magazine.

What should history classes focus on to be the most useful in today's world?

History is about people. History is about cause and effect. History is about leadership or lack thereof, or twisted vision that inflicts its mistakes upon leaders. As I point out in the book, the best of our presidents, using the presidency as a model of leadership, were all avid readers of history. Several of them were historians. Woodrow Wilson was professionally, a professor at Princeton. Theodore Roosevelt wrote one of the best histories of the Naval War of 1812. John Kennedy wrote three works of history, one of which, Profiles in Courage, is still a very good book. Dwight Eisenhower wrote one of the best books ever written on World War II. And he wrote every word himself.

Even if you do nothing it has an effect. It isn’t just that the effect comes from action. It can come from inaction. Some of the best decisions ever made by our presidents are when they decided not to do something. Harry Truman decided he would not use the atomic bomb in Korea. General Eisenhower decided not to go into Vietnam. John Adams decided not to go to war with France when it would have been disastrous, and it made him very unpopular. So when you take that job, you have to not only understand how the government works, but you have to understand how human beings work, and that people are imperfect. We’re so inclined to portray the heroes of the Revolutionary War era as all perfect. No, they weren’t perfect. ...

President Trump has expressed admiration for Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. What does that say about the type of leader he aspires to be?

He's said he does not read history, or presidential biographies, because, as he said, he has a mind that can reach beyond all that. That’s utter nonsense. That’s ego-centric illusion. To me, it’s as if we’ve put someone in the pilot seat who has never flown a plane or even read about how you do it. So we have to cope with it, by counteracting that, with young people coming along that realize that this is a lesson in how not to be a leader. ...





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