It’s not unusual for an American president to try and learn from this nation’s history. But the lessons that President Donald Trump has apparently drawn from his studies border on the surreal.
The current president shared his thoughts on his predecessor Andrew Jackson in a Sirius XM interview set to broadcast on Monday afternoon. Those thoughts bore only a very casual relationship to anything that Andrew Jackson actually did.
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said. “He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’”
Of course, Jackson couldn’t have been that angry over “what was happening with regard to the Civil War.” He died in 1845, a full 16 years before the start of the Civil War.
It’s unclear why Trump believes Jackson would have prevented the Civil War if he had been “a little later.” After all, “Old Hickory” famously threatened to send federal troops into South Carolina after the state claimed it had the right to nullify a federal tariff. But maybe Trump believes that Jackson, an unapologetic supporter of slavery, would not have given the South cause to secede in the first place.
After praising Jackson, Trump waxed philosophical about the Civil War itself.
“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” he said. “People don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”
Many people do ask why the Civil War took place, and its causes are among the most thoroughly documented and analyzed subjects in American history. Its root cause was the Confederate states’ desire to preserve slavery, as Confederate leaders acknowledged at the time. The subject of slavery receives extensive treatment at the National Museum of African American History, which Trump visited in February; it’s unclear how much information the president absorbed from his trip.
The president’s grasp of 19th century American history may be sketchy at best, but he has nonetheless repeatedly praised Andrew Jackson. In March, he visited Jackson’s Tennessee home in an apparent attempt to position himself as the torch bearer for Old Hickory’s populist legacy.
“It was during the Revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,” said Trump during remarks at the house. “Does that sound familiar to you? No wonder why they keep talking about Trump and Jackson, Jackson and Trump.”
It’s a less flattering comparison than Trump seems to believe. Jackson, in addition to being pro-slavery and a slave owner himself, was an unrepentant genocidaire. His forced relocation of American Indians, known as the “Trail of Tears,” killed thousands of people.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Andrew Jackson is a favorite of the white nationalists who have flocked to Trump’s standard. Top White House adviser Steve Bannon, former proprietor of the far-right news outlet Breitbart Media, is reportedly the man who inspired Trump’s fascination with Jackson’s legacy.