George Washington bust in The Karen Buchwald Wright Reading Room.
Courtesy the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

Trump displays his knowledge of history during Mt. Vernon visit

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he’s a fan of history, though we’re occasionally reminded that this may not be altogether true. Politico published this gem this morning.

President Donald Trump had some advice for George Washington.

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn’t understand why America’s first president didn’t name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

Leave it to Donald Trump to visit Mt. Vernon and focus his attention on the limited reach of George Washington’s brand.

Of course, smart or not, Washington didn’t name his home after himself, though he appears to be remembered anyway. The nation’s capital city is named after him; there’s a state named after him; his face is on American currency; a prominent university is named after him (I went to GW); and there’s a giant obelisk in his honor near the White House.

Politico’s report added that Trump’s disinterest in Washington made it difficult for the tour guide – who later described the experience as “truly bizarre” – to “sustain Trump’s interest” for 45 minutes. The French president and his wife, meanwhile, “were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president.”

Alas, this was not an isolated incident. Whatever strengths the Republican may bring to the presidency, knowledge of history isn’t among them.

It was, for example, just two weeks into his presidency when Trump declared, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Soon after, on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Trump tweeted out a fake quote from the 16th president.

Trump later butchered some basic details about Andrew Jackson, whose picture currently hangs in the Oval Office, and just last week, he reflected on the Civil War during remarks to the National Republican Congressional Committee:

“I said to somebody that’s been here a long time, you people would know better than anybody, some of you that have been here, ‘Has [partisan division] ever been this bad?’ And they said, ‘Well,’ they said, ‘Yes, it was.’ They said, ‘During the Clinton impeachment hearings it was worse.’ They said, ‘There was another time in the 1880s when it was worse.’

“A couple of people were shot, you know. Even new people wouldn’t do that. And the Civil War, who could forget? I would say the Civil War was bad.

“And by the way, speaking of the Civil War, where is Doug Collins? You’re another warrior? Where’s Doug Collins? Where the hell is Doug? Man, he’s up there fighting….”

As the nation’s first amateur president, Trump has a strong incentive to take history even more seriously, since he needs some kind of guide. Unfortunately, he’s taken the opposite course.

Donald Trump and history

Trump displays his knowledge of history during Mt. Vernon visit