Trump’s Crude, Ignorant Theory of American History

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tags: Trump



Jeet Heer is a senior editor at the New Republic.

Donald Trump has made some puzzling remarks lately about American history, but they can be explained by two harsh truths about the president: He’s learning much that is new to him, and has a narcissistic habit of imputing his own ignorance on everyone else.

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” Trump asked in an interview with Sirius XM radio. “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War?” While these remarks sound less coherent than the inebriated ramblings found on Comedy Central’s Drunk History, they are best understood by realizing that the question of why the Civil War started, although taken up for more than a 150 years in countless books, is something Trump himself has only started thinking about recently, perhaps under the sway of the informal history tutorials provided by his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. 

Trump’s status as a novice student of history is also evident in his Black History Month remarks that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” What Trump surely means is that Douglass, long dead, is someone that Trump himself is starting to recognize for the first time. Precisely because Douglass is new to him, Trump naturally adopts the present tense, even though the great abolitionist leader is long dead. When Trump said that “most people” didn’t realize that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, he was again speaking more about himself than the general population. 

What CNN describes as “Trump’s wacky history lessons” are in fact a fascinating window into his mind because these are remarks about topics he is unfamiliar with, so he speaks about them in an unguarded way, almost with a childlike innocence. As such, they tell us more about Trump’s mental reasoning than his now-familiar political sales pitches, the talking points he repeats by rote. ...




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