When Donald Trump reflects on his understanding of history, trouble soon follows. After all, the president has talked about Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the U.S. civil war, and in each instance, Trump ended up embarrassing himself.
And yet, the Republican continues to think he knows enough about history to make astute observations. Take this morning, for example, when Trump published this to Twitter:
“In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’
“Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history…and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!”
Let’s not dwell on the minor factual errors, including the fact that the current economy isn’t even close to being the “greatest” in history. In fact, it’s not quite as strong as it was in 2015.
What’s more important is the fact that Trump is offering an interesting peek into his expectations. In his mind, a healthy economy should necessarily immunize a president from criticism. After all, the president argued, that’s the way it worked in the “old days.”
In case this isn’t obvious, no American president has ever been “immune from criticism,” regardless of the economic conditions of the day. Bill Clinton was president when the economy boomed, and he not only faced criticism, he was also impeached (for misdeeds that pale in comparison to Trump’s misdeeds).
More recently, Barack Obama rescued the economy from the Great Recession, but that didn’t stop some clown from running around peddling a racist conspiracy theory about his birth certificate.
But the problem isn’t limited to Trump’s ignorance about political standards and history. Rather, what I think is important about this is what it tells us about the president’s authoritarian instincts.
If Trump wanted to push back against criticisms with a defense based on facts, that would be normal and in line with American traditions. But Trump doesn’t want to simply dismiss the criticisms as wrong, so much as he thinks the criticisms shouldn’t exist.
It’s almost as if the Republican sees GDP reports as an almost literal get-out-of-jail free card.