On Monday, in an interview with
the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, President Donald Trump questioned why the American Civil War took place, and insinuated he’s the only one to have asked that. He also brought up his favorite presidential bro-hero, slave owner Andrew Jackson, and claimed Jackson could have avoided what was the bloodiest internal war in American history.
There were some problems with Trump’s history. Jackson had been dead for 16 years by the time the Civil War began. Trump, in his mind, placed the ghost president back in to the Oval Office trying to make peace with his measly ghost hands.
In Trump’s interview with Zito, Trump says, “People don’t realize, the Civil War, if you think about it, why. People don’t ask that question….Why could that one not have been worked out?”
Social media, politicians and professors, shot back hard against Trump’s historical illiteracy, and overwhelmingly answered Trump’s query with one word: Slavery. Many expressed tweets of anger and exasperation, but some also tweeted about Trump’s amazingly poor understanding of American history with illustrations, memes and even a GoFundMe page.
Listen to Trump’s comments here, then read the funniest tweets on the Civil War and Andrew Jackson below.
Math, writing and history: not the Donald’s strong suits.
One of the most glaring pieces from Trump’s comments was that Jackson was alive during the Civil War, which took place from 1861 to 1865.
“He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War—he said ‘there’s no reason for this.’ ” This is an actual quote by the president about a previous president, and it’s straight-up false.
Jackson died June 8, 1845. Jackson’s term as president ended 24 years before the Civil War began, so even if Jackson had been alive during the conflict, there wasn’t much he could have done. Trump thinks Jackson’s the best thing since white toast, and even has his portrait hanging in the Oval Office, so you’d think he’d have those facts down pat.
This isn’t the first time Trump has been accused of placing historical figures wherever he sees fit in his personal space-time continuum. Trump also seemed to think Frederick Douglass, the speaker, abolitionist and former slave, was alive today, saying he “is getting recognized more.” Perhaps he is getting recognized more by a president who maybe didn’t even know he existed until a few months, but Douglass wasn’t exactly obscure before hand.
Twitter didn’t miss a beat, and some combined previous fact debacles by Trump and adviser Kellyanne Conway’s “fake news”into one glorious tweet:
Trump called Jackson, the president who presided over the Indiana Removal Act and the Trail a Tears, a chivalrous hero who helps others in distress. In real life the 7th president didn’t have much in common with the grandly mustachioed heroes of The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Mask of Zorro. You can call Errol Flynn a swashbuckler. Johnny Depp has been known to swash a buckle or two, even if he’s not actually that chivalrous in real life.
“He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart,” Trump said about Jackson in the interview. Well, that person with a “big heart” also owned about 150 slaves. And, you know, drove thousands of Cherokee to their deaths during a forced march out of the Southeast.
Trump may have seen the error in his ways, but it’s more likely a member of his staff offered some educational advice, because later on Monday night, Trump tweeted about the Examiner interview to clarify. Yes, Jackson had died long before the Civil War began, but by god, Jackson saw that bigly thing coming, and if he had been alive, he would have stopped it, dagnabbit. Believe me.
Some tweeters thought Trump shouldn’t be alone in his misery, and included members of Trump’s Administration in the discussion as a not-so-gentle reminder of his hires’ skewed educational experiences.
While we might not know Steve Bannon’s, Jeff Sessions’ and Mike Pence’s full opinions, Education Secretary Betsy De Vos, who should unequivocally know all there is to know about the Civil War, instead thinks guns should be used in school to combat the ever-present threat of grizzlies.
And Ben Carson? Well, he’s just stuck in an elevator.
Twitter didn’t forget to include lowly White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. But how could we forget him? His entire job is spending countless nights drenched in sweat, wondering how he’s going to stem the next tide of skewed comments from his commander in chief. Or maybe he’s all “This Is Fine Meme” and just eats more cinnamon gum.
Ian Millhiser, author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, has started a GoFundMe page to get to the very bottom of this question. So far his parody crowdfunding campaign has raised $48 of its $1 million goal of funding a project to find out whether Trump really was the first to ask this question. Millhiser says he’ll use the money to actually research what Trump said, and donate the rest to the ACLU.
Can you even call it a debunking if the original claim was transparently wrong? Anybody who’s ever made it through elementary school should know that historians have spent a very long time asking and trying to answer this question. “First of all, historians have actually talked about the reasons for the Civil War quite a bit,” said Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse, in a Yahoo News story nobody ever should’ve had to write. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor at University of Virginia, was blunt: “He’s saying that he’s never asked about the origins of the Civil War.”
Those who seek citizenship in the United States must take a civics test. As more than one tweeter noticed, its practice test includes the question: “Name one problem that led to the Civil War.” The answers (multiple choice, mind you) include A: Slavery. B: Westward expansion. C. Oil. D. Sugar. “Dead swashbuckler ghost” is sadly not offered on this multiple-choice list.
Trump’s remarks seem to have sparked a new social media debate on why there was a Civil War in the first place, and people sensed the ridiculousness from miles away. Scholars have debated it since it was happening. It’s in standard school curriculum. Large, dusty tomes cover the subject end to end. The Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865—more than 150 years ago. Up to 750,000 soldiers died in the war, which led to the Reconstruction period, and … Really, the Civil War doesn’t need to be debated again. Really. It is one of the most basic and most explored stories from our nation’s history. Somehow our president doesn’t know that.