Trump’s Civil War Comments Exemplify Why He’s Such A Complete Disaster

How can you lead the country forward when you have no idea what you’re leading it forward from?

One of my most prominent memories as a professor was teaching in the South and happening upon an entire class — college level, mind you — that could not tell me what the American Civil War was. I kid you not. The exchange went something like this:

Me: This is similar to what happened in the American Civil War. 
Class: ?
Me: You know, the Confederate flag? The war between the North and the South?
Class: ??
Me: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis? Generals Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee?
Class: ???
Me: Guys, there’s literally a huge main street in Mid-City named after Robert E. Lee.
Class: OK AND? TF that has to do with us? Anyways, Kim Kardashian…

My mind was completely and utterly blown, then promptly reinflated with a level of righteous indignance that could only come from someone born and raised in Northern California. How was it that an entire class of students had no concept of one of the most pivotal moments in American history? A moment that had certainly set the tone for resentment, racial propaganda, state-sanctioned abuse, and unchecked violence against Black folks, indigenous folks, and frankly all communities of color who have put roots in this country, even today? White supremacy preserved and encouraged systematic racism after the Civil War (documentaries like 13th and The New Jim Crow examine this history in detail) — and the more oppressed communities learn about these inner workings, the closer oppressed communities can draw to becoming surgeons of their own fate.

In this class, I was staring White Supremacy right in the face. It gleamed at me, so purposeful and cruel, holding Louisiana’s education hostage, depriving communities of knowledge just so an entire state could continue to bask in a system of racial inequality and pass it off as a natural and inevitable existence.

How was it that an entire class of students had no concept of one of the most pivotal moments in American history?

I turned to my class and erupted into a rant that lasted the entirety of lecture, going on about the South’s vigilant dedication to immortalizing Confederate heroes while purposefully and systematically keeping its populace horrendously ignorant. How could not one of you know what the Confederacy was when you live in it? “Chill, Miss Hood!” they told me. I did not chill. I assigned them a 3,000 word essay on how the American Civil War came about.

Three years and counting later, I still hear from those very students more than any of my other classes. They send me emails like, Hey Professor Hood! I just graduated! Hey Professor Hood! Did you hear how all the Confederate statues are being taken down? Hey Professor Hood! Remember when you flipped out on us for not knowing what the Civil War was? Turns out our president doesn’t know either LOLWTF!

“Hey Professor! Remember when you flipped out on us for not knowing what the Civil War was? Turns out our president doesn’t know either LOLWTF!”

Yes, it was one of those very students who gleefully sent me a link of Donald Trump blathering through another interview, this one with Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito where Trump goes on to to gush about how apparently awesome the late President Andrew Jackson was, which leads into a soundbite that I’m quite sure Trump genuinely thought was profound. “People don’t realize, you know,” Trump says, “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?”

You read that correctly. Our Basic-in-Chief seems to be under the impression that nobody has taken the time to figure out why America had a Civil War. Nunca una persona since 1865, not a soldier, nan president, nan freed slave nor abolitionist nor the thousands of people who suffered through the failed Reconstruction — none of them ever called into the void, whhhhhyyyyy could it have not been worked out? And no voices of reason ever echoed back, BECAUSE FUCKING SLAVERY OK.

Our Basic-in-Chief seems to be under the impression that nobody has taken the time to figure out why America had a Civil War.

Trump, never one to be outdone by even himself, also mentioned that he felt Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War if he’d been president “a little later.” But since he wasn’t, he was just “really angry…he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’” First of all, let’s just take a moment to marvel at that oak-tree-level shade Trump threw at Abraham Lincoln, implying that he allowed or encouraged a “meaningless” civil war. Who shades Abraham Lincoln though, like, who does that? Not that the man was perfect, but Lincoln did hold his head firm and steady in the face of half the country seceding at his mere election, while Trump had an emotional meltdown when he saw some photos of his inauguration looking real sparse on CNN. That’s all I’m saying. Also, how was Andrew Jackson talking mad shit about Lincoln’s bitchass running the country into the ground though the man had already been dead for sixteen years? Surely the answer is that someone around here is a witch and not that Americans voted into office a gormless windbag with so little self-awareness that he would purposely rattle off historical inaccuracies in order to shape his own narrative.

Meeting Andrew Jackson on the astral plane aside, Trump’s adoration of the late president is comforting in the most discomforting way possible. It’s easy to see how Trump tries and tries and tries and fails to emulate Jacksonian democracy (aka borderline fascism), characterized by a pitbull of a White House that believed federal law was God and had no problem muscling states into submission. Just ask South Carolina how not paying them federal tariffs went. Whether it be the pathetic Muslim ban or the reprehensible Trail of Tears, Trump likens himself to Andrew Jackson because he sees Jackson as power. He uses the Jackson legacy to justify blowing through taxpayer dollars for his own comfort while signing executive orders left and right, flexing on jelly-spined Paul Ryan and the media, not to mention his lowkey threats to start war in the face of the Russian investigation.

Our country is on the brink of evolution or revolution, and at its steering wheel is a man who cannot evolve because he doesn’t even know what the hell to evolve from. Consider for a moment if George Washington had no concept of the Revolutionary War as he became the first President of the United States. Do you think, for one minute, that Abraham Lincoln would have cared about the secession of the South if he hadn’t known that the 13 colonies’ defeat of a superpower to gain its independence as the United States of America wasn’t in itself a goddamned miracle that needed to be honored and preserved? Trump has no concept of our country because he doesn’t even know how we as a country got to our current state.

Not only is he ignorant of it, he’d rather pretend than learn. But if you don’t learn you cannot grow, and when you cannot grow, you do shit like talk about how great Andrew Jackson’s ol’ genocidal ass was, or how amazing the ’50s were because milkshakes cost like a dollar, jukeboxes were the mp3s, and you could rape a woman during work hours then stop by after work for a local lynching. Or you elect an under-qualified raving charlatan into leadership position over an overqualified and highly experienced politician because the image of a white man in the Oval Office was much more comforting than even our own safety.

If you don’t learn you cannot grow, and when you cannot grow, you do shit like talk about how great Andrew Jackson’s ol’ genocidal ass was.

It took me a day to respond to my student who had sent me the link on Trump’s lapse of basic citizenship test knowledge. Eventually, I tapped a reply on my phone: “If this is what a president looks like, know that you are worth more than a president.” What else was there to say? I would trust that student with the fate of the USA more than I ever could with Trump. In fact, I would trust any of my students over Trump. Any of them, with their police records and broken homes, bad credit, rap music, baggy pants, and cartoonishly devastating amount of student loan debt, all of them with every last inch of their societal imperfections that make wholesome midwestern families cringe — they would all make better presidents than Trump. Because in that moment, three years ago, when faced with their own ignorance about the Civil War, unlike Trump, my students had the courage to admit that they didn’t know jack shit.

And then they evolved.

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