President Donald Trump betrays a superficial understanding of many of the topics on which he's asked to comment, but few topics conjure up more incoherent and vacuous statements by him than history.
Trump has expressed admiration for Andrew Jackson, but he doesn't seem to know much about the nation's seventh president -- a slave owner who died 16 years before the Civil War began.
"I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War," Trump told the Washington Examiner's Salena Zito. "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.” 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 the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
Trump has been roundly criticized for his lack of understanding of the country that elected him to serve as chief executive -- but he's previously made even less erudite comments about historical figures.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward asked Trump last April to comment on why the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, had been successful and why Richard Nixon had not.
"Well, I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons," Trump said. "He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But he was a man of great intelligence, but he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time. And Nixon failed, I think to a certain extent, because of his personality. You know? It was just that personality. Very severe, very exclusive. In other words, people couldn’t come in. And people didn’t like him. I mean, people didn’t like him."
Woodward, whose reporting helped break the Watergate story, reminded Trump that Nixon broke the law and resigned.
"He broke the law, yeah," Trump said. "Yeah. He broke the law. Whether that’s insecurity .... yeah. Whether that’s — right, and he broke the law."
Less than a year later, Trump seemed to have forgotten the Republican Party was known as "The Party of Lincoln."
"Great president, most people don't even know he was a Republican," Trump said at the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner. "Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that."
The president also seemed unsure of the significance of another Civil War-era figure, Frederick Douglass, earlier this year during a Black History Month event.
"Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice," Trump said. "Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.”
He displayed similarly superficial knowledge of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at that same event, before changing the subject to a more familiar topic -- himself.
“Last month we celebrated the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history,” Trump said. “You read all about Martin Luther King when somebody said I took a statue out of my office, and it turned out that that was fake news. The statue is cherished. It’s one of the favorite things -- and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King.”