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President Trump dodges ugly truths about his hero, Andrew Jackson

A portrait of former President Andrew Jackson hangs on the wall behind President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, in the Oval Office at the White House in late March. | Andrew Harnik/AP file

President Trump is ignorant and apparently proud of it.

When a man has his finger on the nuclear button, does it really matter if he thinks Andrew Jackson was alive during the Civil War, or could have served the nation better as president than Abraham Lincoln?

History. Now there’s something worth pondering, or not.


The man who sits in the White House wondered out loud why people had never thought about the Civil War and wondered, “Why?” Yes, that’s what he said.

Slavery really wasn’t the only issue. There were major economic differences between North and South. There were people who felt the states should not be subservient to the federal government.

And there were many men who considered themselves moral who rationalized that a compromise, even one on an issue as repugnant as the ownership of another human being, was preferable to Civil War.

I can understand why many people today are unaware of the history. It is confusing. Complicated. Full of troubling stories that seem to contradict the myths we have created surrounding legendary political figures.

Even people like Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson, may not seem so great if you study history.

Take President Jackson’s annual message to Congress in 1830 proposing the removal and relocation of Native Americans.

He said, “…is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.”

I can see why President Trump would admire Jackson. Our current president might find such reasoning comforting as a justification for some of his own decisions.

As a billionaire who has enjoyed all of the advantages this country can provide, some might hope the president would have a greater interest in understanding what exactly makes this nation different than those run by dictators and monarchs.

Perhaps none of this matters. “Hamilton” has been a huge success, but my guess is that many of the people who saw the musical never knew about the man’s role in writing the Constitution or creating the federal banking system.

History seems to have no relevance in our daily lives. If there is a need to know anything, we can always Google it or ask Alexa.

Reading history can be drudgery. I get it. President Ronald Reagan preferred movies, and I would recommend to Trump a single scene from a TV series called “Gettysburg.” It’s a speech by General Joshua Chamberlain to his troops.

“If you look back through history you will see men fighting for pay, for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, power, because a king leads them or just because they like killing. But we are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.

“…here you can be something. Here is a place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There is always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value — you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end, is each other.”

To paraphrase a famous quotation, those who do not learn history are doomed to become incredibly wealthy, attract legions of admirers and write history themselves.


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