The Problem with Ignorance
By now you know about the Fabulist-in-Chief’s assertion that Andrew Jackson was appalled by the Civil War and, had he been President, it would have been prevented. (According to 45: "He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, 'There’s no reason for this'")
More disturbing, however, is his question: “why was there the Civil War in the first place?” couched in a “People don’t ask the question” format (And, of course, no one had ever asked that question before it lighted in this Mensa member's cranium). In the President’s mind “it could have been worked out,” as any good dealmaker knows. Beyond the glaring ignorance of the statement (right up there with the “amazing job” Frederick Douglass is doing or his campaign quoting of “Two Corinthians”) is the far more troubling notion that not only doesn’t this man read (which we already knew) or have any curiosity about anything that doesn’t contain the word “Trump” in the sentence, but the issues which have propelled so much of United States history --- slavery and race --- is not even on his radar! Growing up in his wealthy bubble, with his racist father providing the role model, we have evidence of his “unconscious” racism (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here) --- from his railing against having black accountants to his obediently following Daddy’s orders not to rent to “those people.” Stoked by Steve Bannon’s white nationalism and provided with a historical hero in Andrew Jackson, Trump does what Trump does: he makes things up and expects to get a free pass.
What is deeply disturbing about his historical “error,” though, is that it reveals the man not only doesn’t know his U.S. history (many people don’t, of course) but that he fails to grasp that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and still shapes the world we live in. His belief in a “strong leader” (“I alone can fix it”) apparently applies retroactively --- Jackson, a vicious Indian-killing slave owner (thanks for that Trail of Tears) would have simply asserted his will and prevented the war. (Jackson's critics at the time did refer to him as King Andrew and he did blatantly & illegally defy the Supreme Court) Would Jackson have been the Great Emancipator? Not likely. Is Trump even aware that slavery was the cause of the Civil War? It seems not. Judging from our President’s sidling up to authoritarian and dictatorial leaders in the past few weeks --- Putin (opposition media shut down), Kim Jong Un (the “smart cookie” he’d be “honored” to meet with), President Xi (human rights violator but now our North Korean “back channel”), Dutarte (White House invitee), Erdogan (congratulations on increasing dictatorial power), and Al Sisi (bloody coup leader, White House visitor) --- as well as his continuing war on the “enemy of the people,” the press, we are given insight into a leader who only recently discovered that being President is a hard job.
Running the United States government is not at all comparable to wheeling and dealing from Trump Tower. For all those who somehow believe “business people” know how “get things done,” it may well be because those business people can assert their autocratic temperament, fire those they deem “incompetent” or “disloyal,” and write off their mistakes thanks to business friendly tax codes. Governing was difficult enough when we had two parties that opposed one another but at least understood the need for compromise. Starting with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 we have seen the rise of the “culture wars” and identity politics create greater and greater gaps between the citizens of our nation. The ascension of “hippy-type” Baby Boomer Clinton, following the “Greatest Generation’s” war hero, Poppy Bush, and conservative deity, Ronald Reagan, created the first fissure. The Supreme Court election of a man born on third base (who thought he hit a triple) opened that gap wider, particularly after the WMD fabrications and endless wars. Obama’s election was the final straw in drawing the line in the sand between the party of white, Christian male domination and the tree-hugging, ethnic/immigrant loving, gun-controlling, big government Lefties. That Obama was black was no small factor either.
In an insightful op-ed in Tuesday's NYTimes, Robert P. Jones notes that “polls show that only 27% of Republicans (compared to 80% of Democrats) believe that African Americans ‘experience a lot of discrimination’, while 43% of whites do and 48% say the same of Christians.” When 80% of one party’s population sees an issue one way and only 27% of the other party sees it the same way, we have a huge problem --- particularly when that 27% party also believes white people, and Christians, in particular, face greater discrimination than African Americans. This is a culture war and identity politics that rivals the Civil War this President knows so little about. The Jones piece, America’s Political Disunion, provides a compelling look at how “we’re losing our shared identity to diverging political narratives” and, while not offering a solution (like Health Care, “it’s complicated”), he does offer an honest critique of our political landscape, comparing this period to the Civil War, the waves of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, and the tumultuous ‘60’s. In all those cases the nation was faced with severe change but, as Jones astutely points out, white male Christians were the majority, sitting comfortably at the head of the table. “White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership for an equal seat.” On the Democratic side, he notes, the party stands to lose a large chunk of white (working class) Christians “who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the context of identity politics.” And therein lies the dilemma --- neither party seems willing to make room at the table for the other and both find it almost impossible to accommodate those who don't fit their prescribed "profiles."
It’s clear, of course, where the current President stands in this political landscape, having thrown all-in for the white Christian nationalist team. But his affection for autocratic “strongmen” and his war with the media do not bode well for bringing the warring sides and competing narratives to the table searching for mutually beneficial solutions to our problems. As it stands, we look to be in for a four year Cage Match, trying to annihilate the opponent --- but at what cost?