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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Trump Is Ignorant of History

Trump recently needed the Chinese president to school him on North Korea. His ignorance is both unusual and consequential, as James Hohmann writes at The Washington Post:

He mentioned Abraham Lincoln during a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee last month. “Most people don't even know he was a Republican,” Trump said. “Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that!” (Most likely, every person in the ballroom knew and has attended at least one Lincoln Day dinner.)
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“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” he said at a Black History Month event. (Douglass died in 1895.)
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Sean Spicer’s cringe-worthy comments this week that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions were worse than Adolf Hitler’s suggested a more endemic problem of historical illiteracy in the White House. The press secretary has since apologized for saying that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” He also referred to concentration camps as “the Holocaust centers.”
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Trump has admitted that he is not intellectually curious. In a moment of candor, he told The Post’s Marc Fisher last summer that he has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday but never has time. Then he explained that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” Trump told Marc he is skeptical of experts because they can’t see the forest through the trees and lack his good instincts.
This is a break with many of his predecessors. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all invited elite historians for private dinners at the White House. Each thought deeply about his place in history as he mulled weighty decisions. Bush, who majored in history at Yale, heavily employed historical analogies in his speeches. John F. Kennedy even hired Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to be his in-house historian.

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One important reason the new president has flip-flopped so much in recent days is because he has never grappled deeply or seriously with most issues. Trump has typically staked out whatever position was most politically expedient at that moment and then confidently argued for it, untethered by core convictions beyond a desire to make money, build his brand and win elections. “He's learning the job,” Mitch McConnell told Newsmax TV in an interview that aired yesterday.




At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:


What is key though is to understand that this is not just ignorance. Ignorance is just the first stage of Trump’s fairly advanced problem. He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance. This is compounded by a seeming inability to understand that everyone else isn’t equally ignorant to him. Those of us who are parents know the wonder of discovery experienced by small children. They find out there were things such as dinosaurs or close primate relatives called lemurs. As loving parents we indulge them, sometimes feigning ignorance of things we actually already knew to support a child’s joy in discovery.

But Donald Trump is a 70 year old man. And not a terribly nice man.