What Trump’s View of History Tells Us About His Political Agenda

f7950-jacksonA lot has been written over the last day or two on Donald Trump’s claim that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War.  Historians have completely demolished Trump’s claims.

Jeet Heer of The New Republic offers a slightly different take.  Heer argues that Trump’s “bizarre and mistaken beliefs about the past are a window into his mind–and serve his political agenda.”

Here is a taste:

Trump adheres to an extremely crude version of the Great Man theory, which posits that exceptional figures are born to lead during key moments in history. This can be seen not only in Trump’s admiration for Jackson, but also his frequent allusions to military generals like John Pershing, George Patton, and Douglas MacArthur. Trump often attributes to these men almost superhuman powers of leadership, as in a false story Trump is fond of telling that Pershing defeated a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines by dipping bullets in pig blood. This admiration for strong men is in keeping with Trump’s disturbing authoritarian tendencies, including his habit of praising autocrats like Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To be sure, Trump is not alone in adhering to the Great Man theory. After all, biographies are the most pervasive form of popular history. But when Barack Obama read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the lesson he learned was about organizing a strong cabinet, not being a strong man. And when Hillary Clinton evoked the musical Hamilton, it was in the service of praising the ideal of an engaged citizenry. In other words, what sets Trump apart is not that he has historical heroes, but that he admires heroes who are “tough” and push people around, whether it be Jackson in the nullification crisis or various generals in running the military. Patton and MacArthur were the most authoritarian of American military leaders, known for bullying their troops and disobeying the rules.

Read the rest here.