You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Donald Trump doesn’t know why we had a Civil War.

Trump is not exactly a student of history. He loves Andrew Jackson and that may very well be because he does not actually know very much about Jackson. His professed admiration for our racist and genocidal seventh president is a transparent exercise in legitimation: Trump is an atypical president and he reaches back to Jackson, another outsider president, because he thinks it normalizes his presidency. (Jackson was also an egalitarian populist—for white people.) But not knowing what he’s talking about has never stopped Trump before and, in an interview that will air on Sirius XM on Monday, he offered his thoughts on his hero, Andrew Jackson:

Hoo boy! Let’s start at the beginning. It’s not surprising that the story of Jackson’s wife would stick with Trump. Rachel Jackson died days after Jackson was elected. She married Jackson before her divorce to her first husband was finalized—making her a bigamist and and an adulterer—and Jackson blamed her death on his enemies, who repeatedly slandered her during his presidential campaigns in 1824 and 1828. This—the story of good people being torn down by dishonest opponents—is Trump’s most important political narrative and was the basis of his bizarre campaign rally on Saturday.

But Rachel Jackson’s death seems to be the only thing that Trump knows about Jackson. Because the rest of his answer is complete, offensive nonsense. It’s not clear why Trump thinks that Jackson—a slaveowner who, though a moderate at the time, was hardly an abolitionist—could have solved the Civil War. He could not have even been angry about it, because he died in 1845, 16 years before Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter. And, if he was angry, he certainly didn’t do anything in his lifetime to help solve the problem of slavery—in fact, by advocating for the annexation of Texas, he arguably helped make it worse, since the question of whether new states would be slave states or free states was a constant source of enmity between North and South.

And then you get to the money quote. “People don’t realize, you know, 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?” The answer here is painfully obvious: There was a Civil War because slavery existed.

Donald Trump’s presidential library will be the first to contain no books.