“The Civil War…thanks a lot, Lincoln!”
I don’t know about you, but I am learning so much from the new president, or should I say, “Historian in Chief.” Apparently, as I always suspected, Abraham Lincoln was to blame for the Civil War. Andrew Jackson? Old Hickory? Just another “big-hearted” individual from those tender times known as the 19th century. Speaking of the aforementioned Civil War, there were over 600,000 American casualties due to that savage encounter, but thanks to the president, we now know that all of that could have been avoided if at least somebody had thought to negotiate a solution. Perhaps some sort of master deal maker could have ridden in at the last-minute and prevented this apparently needless slaughter. Of course, it’s really difficult to say if the Civil War could have been avoided since as the president pointed out, nobody has ever really thought about why the Civil War had to happen.
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I don’t know about you, but I do not understand how this gangly, backwoods sack of crap slept at night considering that his lack of negotiation skills caused the Civil War to happen. (Getty Images)
Now maybe, and of course I’m just spit-balling here, but perhaps the president, who to be fair is a busy man, certainly too busy to make sure that all of his statements are factual, might begin to start taking more care in the utterances he makes and the musings that he tweets. We can’t always expect our leaders to be flawless when they are speaking extemporaneously, but a basic command of our nation’s history would be…how should I put this? Refreshing?
Now I know what many of you are thinking. You’re out there saying, “Sure Rob, you sound like another elitist educator, a history teacher no less, obsessed with details, nitpicking a president who obviously was trying to make some sort of bigger point.” Well, perhaps I am being a bit snarky. Perhaps. However, don’t we all have a right to demand a little more from our president? Let’s remember something. The President of the United States is not only the leader of our country, he is also the leader of the so-called “free world,” and for all intents and purposes, the leader of the entire planet. Our allies as well as our enemies wait and react to the words and deeds of the President of the United States, and his words do matter, more than any other person on this planet, and I believe it’s time we hold this president accountable, even those who voted for him.
(What a gratuitous plug for Frederick Douglas, a guy who everybody knows hasn’t done a damn thing in years. You Tube)
The president has had a busy week, even by his own standards, so it’s hard to keep up, but let’s take a closer look at some of his more interesting observations and statements. For example, the president has been a bit preoccupied with the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. Trump recently mentioned that he was prepared to use military action in order to deal with the threat that North Korea poses in their part of the world. However, just the other day, the president did a bit of an about-face in regards to the “pudgy provocateur.”
“I’d be honored to meet Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances.” – This is a good example of Trump’s poor use and command of the English language. It’s Trump trying to make a bold foreign policy statement, however, the word “honored” causes the entire pronouncement to be rendered farcical. Here’s a list of people the leader of our nation should be honored to meet with:
Any foreign leader from a nation we are on friendly terms with and who isn’t a murderous dictator
Any sports team that has recently won a championship that he is welcoming to the White House. (Except for the Patriots since they have no honor)
The winner of The Apprentice
Now, here’s the real tragedy. If Trump had simply announced that he was willing or open to meeting with the North Korean despot, and thereby attempting to change long-standing U.S. foreign policy regarding our refusal to meet with North Korea unilaterally for talks, then that would have been fine. A new attempt at dealing with an old enemy when our past approach hasn’t worked all that well would be daring, bold, and even refreshing. However, his inability to articulate properly, causes the message to be lost, and creates doubt and worry here at home and abroad.
The president also had an interesting take on the role Andrew Jackson played in 19th century history. For example:
“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, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” Again, I don’t expect everybody to be an expert on “Old Hickory,” and I don’t really know that it’s vital that the president be an authority on the man the Native Americans referred to as “Sharp Knife.” However, his take on Jackson is so grotesquely devoid of accuracy, as a society, we would be remiss if we didn’t call him out. Calling Jackson a man with a “big heart,” is like saying Hitler was a gentle soul because he thought hunting was barbaric. Jackson was a cruel and particularly racist man, who was the owner of over 150 slaves. He also was known for disobeying a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Worcester vs. Georgia which sealed the fate of thousands of Cherokee Indians who were forced to leave their ancestral home in the southeast and begin the long and arduous “Trail of Tears.” This illegal eviction by the “big-hearted” Jackson led to the suffering and death of many of these peaceful loving Cherokees.
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One of the ugliest events in American history, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Andrew Jackson, a man who according to the current occupant of the White House, was a “tough guy.” (You Tube)
Trump’s interesting fascination with Jackson extended to his even more curious observation regarding the Civil War. Again, Trump claimed that Jackson was very angry about the Civil War, and that Jackson said that there was no reason for it. Well, I’m sure Jackson would have been disheartened by the Civil War, as most Americans were, except that HE WAS DEAD! In fact, Jackson had been dead for 16 years. Now, in fairness to the president, it is true that Jackson was faced with a secession crisis regarding South Carolina’s attempted nullification over a despised tariff act that had been passed by congress. Jackson didn’t like the tariff either, but he told South Carolina that they had no right to nullify a federal law. When they threatened secession, under the leadership of their “favorite son” and vice-president, a man by the name of John Calhoun, Jackson threatened to basically go down to South Carolina and hang everybody in sight. South Carolina backed down, and disaster was averted. However, the country had changed a lot by 1861, and I’m not sure that Jackson or anybody else would have been able to prevent the war. Or could they?
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“Mr. Lincoln, have I told you how angry I am about this Civil War? Don’t you know that something could have been negotiated? Luckily for you, I missed this by about 16 years, but you need to work on your deal making skills sir! (Getty Images)
The president has certainly been exercising his “history muscle” lately. As he pondered the greatness that was Andrew Jackson, Trump began to wonder about something that apparently only he had ever considered. What existential question had the president all of a sudden stumbled upon? Hey, who am I to speak for the leader of the “free world?” I’ll let him tell you.
“People don’t ask that question. But why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” You know, as a history teacher for 27 years, I’m kind of embarrassed that I’ve never once asked this question, or even challenged my students with the question of why there was a Civil War? Oh wait, perhaps I did…on practically every test I ever gave! Would it come as a surprise to the president if he was told that there are some people who spend their entire lives studying the causes of the American Civil War? Yes, there are Civil War aficionados, and they have dedicated years of research and study to the reasons why our nation fell into such a state of acrimony. Eventually, we had reached the stage as a nation where it would appear that we had no choice but to fight a brutal and bloody war which pit brother against brother. These Civil War scholars have have studied the causes of this conflict from every conceivable angle. Sure, they have had to sacrifice such things like interaction with women, and other such distractions, but I do believe they have quite sufficiently considered the question of “Why was there the Civil War?”
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“Can anybody here tell me just why we are fighting this here war?” (You Tube)
It’s nice to know that the president believes that the Civil War could have been avoided. You also have to be impressed with the fact that he offers a solution for this unnecessary mess that led to so many lost lives. According to historian Jon Meacham, Trump told him last year that he believed he could have negotiated a deal to avoid the Civil War. Now that is novel thinking. I’m sure the president is puzzled over the fact that nobody tried to negotiate a settlement. After all, everything is negotiable. Donald Trump has been a busy man most of his life, and so he probably was judging a beauty contest or something, rather than reading up on the fact that there were three major compromises “negotiated” between 1820 and 1854. The Missouri Compromise, The Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 were all attempts made by great statesmen like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster to avert Civil War.
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“Of course, negotiate a deal, why didn’t I think of that?” said “The Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay…never! (Getty Images)
As any mediocre 11th grade U.S. History student knows, the seeds of the Civil War were sown in 1776, when Thomas Jefferson attempted to include a line in the Declaration of Independence about eliminating the slave trade. The Southern Colonies balked at this suggestion, and threatened to walk out of the convention if it wasn’t removed, which of course it was. This was just the start of the many conflicts that served to drive a wedge between the North and the South.
Imagine then the chutzpah, the hubris, and the utter lack of humility that an individual would have to possess in order to believe that they could simply negotiate away an event as complex and multi-layered as the Civil War. Then consider that this same individual has literally no political experience, zero historical depth and understanding, and little or no comprehension of the forces at work that helped to tear this nation apart. How much of a narcissist would you really have to be to believe that you could have waltzed in at the 23rd hour, and figured out a deal that would have satisfied the North’s need for high tariffs, the South’s dependence upon slave labor, the debate over the spread of slavery into the western territories, not to mention the never-ending battle between state vs. federal authority.
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“Honest Abe, you allowed the Civil War to happen on your watch, you’re a loser, and I’ve also seen Mary Todd, she’s a three at best. #crazy, #fatty.” (You Tube)
Trump’s basic misunderstanding of the Civil War, and much of American history is an utter embarrassment to our nation. His claim that a settlement could have been negotiated over slavery, tariffs, and federal vs. state power is pathetically naive to the point of being infantile. It’s almost as if he’s laying the blame for the war at Lincoln’s feet, as opposed to acknowledging what every person who has ever cracked open a history book knows to be true, as well as any and every credible presidential historian of the past 150 years, and that is simply that Lincoln is the greatest president in American history. He didn’t lose the Union, he saved it, and if he had lived, it’s quite possible that life for all people in this nation would have been markedly better over the next 100 years.
I understand Trump has his supporters and that’s fine. He is not an uneducated man, but he seems to relish the idea that his ignorance regarding things he does not know, is not a vice. Harry Truman was not an educated man, but he was a learned man who understood humility. When the time came for him to fire General Douglas MacArthur, he read about how Lincoln had fired General George McClellan during the Civil War. Those who believe that there is nothing to learn from the past are not only condemned to repeat its mistakes, they run the risk of misinterpreting events from the past, and applying the lessons incorrectly. Worse yet, Trump’s lack of curiosity, his inability to admit that there might be things he does not know, and his dismissiveness regarding information that is pertinent to his job, make him not only a severely flawed leader, but a poor role-model for the young people of our country who we are constantly pushing to educate themselves and improve their station in life.