Could you pass this history test? Could the president?

tags: education, Trump

Charles F. Bryan Jr. is president emeritus of the Virginia Historical Society and the author of “Imperfect Past: History in a New Light.” Contact him at

Several influential commentators have argued that we face a crisis of historical amnesia in America. Lynne Cheney, wife of the former vice president, has declared “a refusal to remember the past is a primary characteristic of our nation.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough has warned, “We, in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans, who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate.”

A former president of the American Historical Association lamented that “the public ignorance of our cultural heritage has alarming implications for the future of our nation.”

I have questioned the assertions that historical illiteracy is a new problem. I am not convinced that previous generations of Americans were more knowledgeable about history. But it seems that a basic understanding of American history should be an important requisite for certain people, particularly anyone holding the nation’s top elected office….

How about our current president? His recent gaffes over Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and American diplomatic history concern me. As columnist George Will recently observed: “What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.”

President Trump has made immigration reform a major part of his agenda, arguing that people seeking citizenship should receive “extreme vetting” before being allowed to join the American family.

One could argue that candidates seeking the presidency should also receive “extreme vetting” to demonstrate their qualifications for the job. Therefore we should expect our president to have at least a basic understanding of American history.

With that in mind, I suggest that any person seeking the presidency be required to pass the same test given to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. The current one requires immigrants to answer numerous questions covering American history and civics….

Read entire article at The Richmond Times Dispatch

comments powered by Disqus