President Donald Trump always ends his self-reverential rallies with the Rolling Stone song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Kinda fitting since, 102 days in, he has proved that point over and over. But after Trump’s intellectually deficient interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World (This Would Be)” could also apply. The first five words say it all: “Don’t know much about history.”
As is his wont, Trump heaped praise on Andrew Jackson, the slave-owning seventh president of the United States whose Indian Removal Act led to the “trail of tears and death.” But then Trump slipped the surly bonds of fact and truth to utter a word salad of nonsense.
TRUMP: Jackson was a swashbuckler. But when his wife died, did you know he visited her grave every day? I visited her grave actually because I was in Tennessee.
ZITO: That’s right. You were in Tennessee.
TRUMP: And it was amazing. The people of Tennessee are amazing people. They love Andrew Jackson. They love Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.
ZITO: He’s fascinating.
TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War - if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
Let’s diagram, shall we? First, “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ’There’s no reason for this.’” That’s pretty incredible since the Civil War started 24 years after the end of the “swashbuckler’s” term and 16 years after his death.
Then, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” That an estimated 750,000 died in the four-year bloodbath is proof enough that “that one could not have been worked out.” But, come on. Everyone knows why there was a Civil War.
Forget the “War Between the States,” “War of Northern Aggression” or “The Lost Cause.” They are euphemisms to make a war about maintaining the evil of slavery and the economy it built seem like a noble effort by a noble people. Hardly. As Daina Ramey Berry told me in an interview on my podcast “Cape Up,” they were fighting to keep a system where “the average enslaved person was sold about four or five times in a lifetime,” where “a woman’s value in slavery was wrapped in her fertility” and where “even in death and beyond slaves are still being commodified.”
When he saw a slave auction block while touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump reportedly said, “Boy, that is just not good. That is not good.” True. And the same can be said of the woeful lack of knowledge and understanding by the president of the United States about the complicated and nuanced history of the United States. It’s “sad.”