Trump waxes incoherent on Andrew Jackson and the Civil War

Throughout his brief political career, President Trump has demonstrated an ignorance of American history almost as profound as his ignorance of the Constitution.

Now, in fairness, many of the stupid things he says are simply the result of his being inarticulate to a degree that makes George W. Bush look like Demosthenes by comparison. I continue to me amazed by the number of Americans who still haven't tumbled to the fact that ever since the first debate his utterances have generally been a semi-coherent verbal salad, full of bluster, sound and fury but usually pretty much content-free.

To some degree, this article involves the kind of "gotcha" journalism we became all too familiar with in the pages of Washington Post and the New York Times during the administration of the younger President Bush. You know the drill:  the writer seizes upon things he subjectively decides (often wrongly) that a president he doesn't like has implied and treats them as if he had actually said them. Let's be very clear here: while Mr. Trump's inability to string two thoughts together coherently opens the path to a willful misrepresentation of what he said about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War, by no fair reading can he be understood to have either stated or implied that Jackson was alive when the war was fought. To suggest otherwise is as silly as it is malicious. It's a cheap shot just like the ones the liberal media thrived on during the Bush years, and any journalist unprofessional enough to take it should be ashamed .

But that doesn't mean that is what Mr. Trump actually did say shouldn't raise the eyebrows of anybody who passed American History in grammar school. It's certainly true that Jackson- a slaveholder himself- bent over backward to protect Southern sensibilities where slavery was concerned, arguably to the point of compromising the First Amendment rights of Northerners whose rhetoric on the subject he deemed inflammatory. While I can see why Mr. Trump would identify with that sort of thing, does he really think that stifling the voices of slavery's critics could have prevented secession? Is it possible that he thinks that the "irrepressible conflict" could have been repressed by what amounts to a kind of reverse political correctness?

On the other hand, slaveholder though Jackson was, and solicitous of the sensibilities of the slaveholding South, he would have no truck with secessionists. To say that his conciliatory attitude evaporated once the question of disunion arose would be an understatement. As this informative article from NPR points out, Abraham Lincoln kept a portrait of Jackson on the wall of his office, during the Civil War,  and not without reason.

So does Mr. Trump truly think that the South in 1861 would have rolled over meekly in the face of this attitude toward secession and the extreme view of state's rights which led to secession? Far from "working things out"  with the South, Jackson's approach would have probably been to hang Edmund Ruffin, John Calhoun, Robert Rhett and others like them, in his own phrase,"higher than Haman." If Lincoln's merely calling for troops to put down the rebellion of the seven original Confederate states caused Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to join them in secession, does Mr. Trump really think they would have been pacified by Jackson's approach?

So either way, Mr. Trump's comment is kind of ridiculous. He doubtless read an article about Jackson once and then never bothered to think about what he had read. That seems rather typical of the degree to which he's acquainted with the most basic themes of our history and constitutional heritage. That is not merely worrisome, but appalling- almost as much so as the ease with which so many Americans either manage to stay ignorant of that fact or dismiss it.

President Trump's bizarre statement about Jackson, like so many of his other bizarre statements, indicate on one hand that his ignorance of the subject matter is not absolute, but that on the other hand, his knowledge is at best superficial, and not at all internalized to the point where he can talk about the subject in a way that makes sense.


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