Trump’s repeated ignorance of history

Published: July 12, 2019
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US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: AFP/FILE The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and can be reached at amoonis@hotmail.com

In his speech on 4th July at National Mall, Washington, President Donald Trump said, “We will always be the people who defeated a tyrant, crossed a continent, harnessed science, took to the skies, and soared into the heavens. We are one people, chasing one dream, and one magnificent destiny.”

Donald Trump became the first American President after Harry Truman to speak on the occasion of the American Independence Day, on 4th July, at National Mall, and he used this occasion to praise the US military for protecting American borders and overseas interests. Trump’s speech at National Mall — which was delivered under the cover of bullet proof glass — is an aberration of the principles followed by American presidents while delivering their Independence Day speeches. Critics argued that Trump used this event for political consumption, and the flypast of F-18 jets was a mere reflection of his obsession with American patriotic zealousness under the banner of ‘Salute to America’.

Devoid of political acumen and knowledge about basic facts concerning his country and the world, Trump gave his speech before the rain-soaked crowd of a few thousand people. As reported by The Guardian, President Trump showed his ignorance about history when he stated that the army in 1775 took over the airports from the British, only that there were no airports at the time of the American War of Independence! He thundered, “In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York… the Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware, and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.” By committing such a blunder in his speech, Trump became the first American President to expose his terrible ignorance about the history of his own country, on the occasion of Independence Day.

Donald Trump is the president of the world’s only superpower and his ignorance of history, geography and basic knowledge of facts poorly reflects on the country he represents. When he boasts about his country’s pre-eminence in science, space technology, industrial production and education, one wonders how the same person can be so naïve and oblivious to basic facts. How can a person claiming to be the world leader utter such ill-informed words at such an important occasion. There was no embarrassment on Trump’s part as he uttered such words and his confidence remained unshaken.

The worst is that Trump is not the least knowledgeable world leader. There are many others who are as ignorant about history and geography as him, or maybe even more. Recently, a country’s head of government displayed his ignorance of geography as during a speech he stated that the border region of Germany and Japan have joint industries hence they would not have bad relations — mistaking France for Japan.

Trump’s repeated ignorance of history can be analysed from three angles. Firstly, in comparison with the American presidents elected from the Democratic Party. Those elected from the Republican side are less knowledgeable and articulate. John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all intellectually-sound and well-read presidents elected after World War II. Jimmy Carter, although not comparable to the above in terms of oratory, was a firm believer of peace and human rights.

Secondly, Trump’s ignorance influences his thinking. According to The Guardian issue of May 9, 2017, “Trump declared recently that Andrew Jackson was furious about the civil war even though he died 16 years before it began. Trump seems unaware Jackson was a slave owning white supremacist. Meeting with black leaders in February, Trump said that Frederick Douglas was an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more. Douglas died 122 years ago, not that Trump has a clue that was an abolitionist newspaper publisher, pastor and orator.” There are countless examples of Trump’s obliviousness of American history. It seems to be a miracle that a person with below average intelligence, calibre and knowledge succeeded in becoming the president of the world’s most powerful country.

Speaking about trade in London during his European tour in June 2017, Trump told British Prime Minister Theresa May, “We are your largest partner. You’re our largest partner. A lot of people don’t know that. I was surprised. I made that statement yesterday, and a lot of people said, ‘Gee, I didn’t know that.’ But that’s the way it is.” In fact, the largest trading partner of the US is China, not Britain.

At a state dinner in Japan in November 2017, Trump confidently stated, “After I had won, everybody was calling me from all over the world. I never knew we had so many countries.” If American policies remain confrontationist with Iran, China, Russia and many other countries, it reflects the failure of the American President in dealing with contentious issues in a wise and prudent manner. His mindset and approach is parochial and inward, showing his inability to understand history and state facts correctly. Trump’s ignorance is also very dangerous because he has appointed people who believe in an exclusive approach rather than an inclusive one, particularly regarding vital issues such as immigration. That is why his earlier team left; they simply could not cope with Trump’s poor political acumen.

Furthermore, when Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited the White House in July 2018, Trump congratulated him on his ‘tremendous victory’, even though Conte had never campaigned for office as he was a product of compromise between the top two parties after the elections.

Given the blunders, whether Trump will be re-elected in 2020 remains to be seen. However, with such a gap in the president’s knowledge, one can expect further decline in the American leadership. The worst part is his ignorance of factual errors and his confident repetition of these mistakes.

Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H Bush and George W Bush were also American presidents who were elected from the Republican Party. However, all of them had performed better than Trump. They all leaned right, but were not hostile to immigrants and political opponents as Trump is. The decline in the calibre of the Republican Party leadership also reflects the downward trend in American society as far as ethics and morality are concerned.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2019.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Asma Tanoli
    Jul 13, 2019 - 1:24PM

    It would be very interesting to hear the recording of the discussion between Trump and Imran on international affairs, when they meet later this month.Recommend

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