Tracking the Trumpster: Ignorance of History

If you are a progressive blogger, there’s an embarrassment of riches right now. A tidal wave of scandals, crimes and high misdemeanors. The Comey firing, the idiotic blurting out state secrets to Russians, appalling late night twitter messages, the obstruction of criminal investigations, the unexplained delay in firing Michael Flynn; the list goes on and on. Not since the daily shocks of the Watergate crisis has there been such a constant stream of appalling news out of Washington D.C. All magnified by the instantaneity and inanity of social media.

How to choose a topic to research and write on?

Today WC will look in to the Trumpster’s claim at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation, “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”1

Amy Davidson, writing in New Yorker, called that a “Splendidly ahistorical reminder of how fine the line is between self-aggrandizement and self-pity.”

Let’s examine Trump’s claim.

The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, is practically a saint today, but in his own time? Mark Bowden reminds us:

No matter what Lincoln did, it was never enough for one political faction, and too much for another. Yes, his sure-footed leadership during this country’s most-difficult days was accompanied by a fair amount of praise, but also by a steady stream of abuse—in editorials, speeches, journals, and private letters—from those on his own side, those dedicated to the very causes he so ably championed. George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.

And those were his fellow Republicans. Those brilliant speeches we admire, study and even memorize today, the First and Second Inaugural Addresses, the Gettysburg Address? After the Gettysburg Address, a Pennsylvania newspaper reported, “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” A London Times correspondent wrote, “Anything more dull and commonplace it wouldn’t be easy to produce.”2

If Trump had the intellectual curiousity of a banana slug, or knew the slightest thing about American history, he’d know that Lincoln was vilified in ways that Trump, for all his self-inflicted injuries, cannot beginning to claim.

Of course, that was 150 years ago. Maybe Trump met more recent times. Let’s examine, say, Barack Obama.

Despite being the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Obama’s critics doubted his intelligence. Despite a birth certificate, Obama’s critics accused him of being an alien. Despite working as hard or harder than any president in history, Obama’s critics accused him of endlessly loafing through vacations at taxpayer expense. And chief among Obama’s critics, the banner-carrier for these claims, was Donald Trump.

It’s not just Obama. Hillary Clinton was dragged through an endless, ultimately futile Whitewater investigation; an endless, ultimately futile, Benghazi investigation; and an endless, ultimately futile and pointless private email investigation, to name just three. And Donald Trump was  a cheerleader for all of them.

But when he’s the focus? This thin-skinned, oblivious lout takes refuge in the Nixonian claim, blaming others, blaming the media.

In fact, the Trumpster is like the guy who shoots himself in the foot and then blames someone else because the weapon was loaded. Except, of course, we’ve all watched Trump reload and he gives himself still more self-inflicted wounds.

The difference between a nihilist and a revolutionary, the late Bower Aly told us one time, is that a revolutionary understands history and is working to change things in the context of that history; a nihilist doesn’t and simply tears things down and blows things up. Trump campaigned as a revolutionary. He has turned out to be a force for chaos, a nihilist, ignorant of history.

Trump’s combination of utter ignorance of history, bottomless self-pity and single-minded vanity is nauseating. The worst treatment of any politician in history? Not even close.



  1. WC will regretfully set aside the President’s malapropism – “great surety” – and the utter incongruity of a U.S. President bemoaning his self-inflicted wounds to a group of newly graduated young soldiers. But, wow, this clown of a president is gold mine of blogging material. 
  2. By all reports Trump doesn’t read much; in some ways he seems to have a kind of learning disability. But even if Trump doesn’t know it exists, WC’s readers should check out the outstanding two-volume study of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008), by Michael Burlingame, the professor of Lincoln studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.