As liberal Democrats for the most part, United States historians have no doubt been having a field day with Donald Trump’s recently reported clueless comments on United States history. The president’s moronic take on the nation’s past was front-page news last Tuesday in liberals’ and academics’ favorite newspaper, The New York Times. Times reporters Peter Baker and Jonah Engel Bromwich told readers about Trump’s historical idiocy, seen in the president’s:
+ Suggestion that Andrew Jackson had been “really angry”about the Civil War, which did not break out until 16 years after his death.
+ Assertion that the Civil War could have been prevented by smart policymakers who should have just gotten together and cut a deal.
+ Apparent belief that the great 19th century Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass is still alive.
+ Apparent surprise at learning that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
+ Putting up a golf course plaque marking a Civil War battle that never happened.
The Times quoted Princeton “presidential historian” Julian E. Zelizer, who thinks that “Presidents should have some better sense of the nation’s history as they become part of it.”
Historian Paul Starobin told the Times that “Trump seems almost uniquely ill equipped to process history, whether because of his lack of empathy, his allergy to complexity, or his tendency to keep distant from anything that might carry the whiff of defeat…History is not tidy. Trump likes tidy. He likes slogans. History doesn’t offer any.”
So, yes, Trump is a dummy about American history, too. I could almost hear the sneers and chuckles across the faculty rooms in academic history departments from coast to coast.
United States of Amnesia
Great, but once they’re done laughing at Dunce Cap Donald, the nation’s academic historians might want to reflect on the broader and unsettling historical ignorance that stalks the United States – and their own roles in enabling it.
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