President Trump has peppered his first months in office with periodic announcements about the history of the nation he now leads, which he shares in the apparent presumption that others will be similarly amazed and astonished. In February, he marked Black History Month with a rambling speech, name-checking a variety of historical figures. “I am very proud now that we have a museum, National Mall, where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things,” he said. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
“Great president,” he told the congressional campaign committee of the Party of Lincoln back in March. “Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know?”
But more striking than these episodes in the education of Donald Trump are the lessons he chooses to draw from these snippets of the past. On Monday, he was speaking to SiriusXM’s Salena Zito about his admiration for Andrew Jackson, a favorite theme of Steve Bannon’s, and veered dramatically off course:
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?
There is, as my colleague David Graham has noted, a tremendous amount to unpack in those short few lines. Most charitably, Trump may have been contrasting Jackson’s successful resolution of the Nullification Crisis in 1832 with President Buchanan’s fecklessness a few decades later, making the case that a strong leader could have imposed a deal that would have averted the war.