James Hohmann’s piece at The Washington Post chronicles all the ways that a knowledge of history might have come in handy for Donald Trump.
Here is a taste:
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump believed he could convince China to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear activities. Then President Xi Jinping tutored him on the history of the region.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, recounting the session at Mar-a-Lago. “You know, I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it’s not what you would think.”
This comment is funny because, in 2011, Trump claimed that he has read “hundreds of books about China over the decades,” including works by Henry Kissinger, American journalists and Chinese novelists. Looking to do more business with Beijing, he provided a list of 20 books about China to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, that he said had helped him understand the country, its politics and its people. “I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind,” Trump said six years ago. His list had some surprising titles on it, including “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”
Color me skeptical that Trump has read anything by Amy Chua.
— Even if he has, the fact our president needed an introductory tutorial on Sino-Korean relations to understand how hard it is to contain Pyongyang is just the latest illustration of one of his blind spots: He and his inner-circle have very little sense of history.
And there’s more. A lot of good stuff here on Trump’s use of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, John Lewis, Adolph Hitler.
OK, here is a little bit more:
— Trump has admitted that he is not intellectually curious. In a moment of candor, he told The Post’s Marc Fisher last summer that he has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday but never has time. Then he explained that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” Trump told Marc he is skeptical of experts because they can’t see the forest through the trees and lack his good instincts.
— This is a break with many of his predecessors. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all invited elite historians for private dinners at the White House. Each thought deeply about his place in history as he mulled weighty decisions. Bush, who majored in history at Yale, heavily employed historical analogiesin his speeches. John F. Kennedy even hired Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to be his in-house historian.