Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 5:34 pm | Overcast 63º


Jamie Stiehm: Donald Trump Following Wrong North Star of U.S. History

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War.”
— President Donald Trump

American history is a grand sprawling canvas. Scholars spent their lives writing about the Civil War. But President Donald Trump has given us a whole new window on it. He clarified that we needed a tough Southern slave plantation owner to hold things together.

President Andrew Jackson has become his north star in a sea of ignorance.

After visiting the National Archives on the National Mall, where Trump’s tweets will join the Emancipation Proclamation, my father asked me, “How many of these Smithsonian museums do you think he’s visited?”

Only a few, I said, in his hundred days. What a fresh out-of-towner’s question. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted Trump during the Days of Remembrance in April. Good job, Mr. President.

The spring sun and wind fell on the sculpture garden as the Mall stretched out before us. Free culture, true stories, enlightenment, even the real Star-Spangled Banner a Baltimore woman made, for all.

The new National Museum of African American History & Culture, made of bronze lattice, rises near the obelisk Washington Monument. It says: We were here on the American journey; make room in the national narrative.

The collection speaks of slavery, but not only slavery. It celebrates landmark moments in music, sports, the military, preaching, marching for freedom over lifetimes of oppression.

The gown which contralto Marian Anderson wore when she sang on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, summons her spirit. She sang after the Daughters of the American Revolution snubbed her.

That was a shimmering hour in 1939, a harbinger of the civil rights movement. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in that same place and delivered his mighty “I Have a Dream” speech.

George Washington was a rich Virginia planter with many slaves; he freed them in his will. It’s fitting that the NMAAHC is located in dialog with his monument. And Trump got there in February, Black History Month. Maybe to make up for praising the late great abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” that same month.

In conversation as the Civil War raged, Douglass appealed to Abraham Lincoln to bring black soldiers into the Union Army. Lincoln listened and did it.

Trump’s generation has its own memory on the Mall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a somber reflective wall with 58,000 names etched into it. Easy to miss for Trump, because it lies low to the ground, without bombast.

It is a healing place to grieve for the lost and mourn the nation’s only “lost” war, the Vietnam War, which never should have been fought. America’s innocence was lost because our leaders lied to us.

Trump, class of ’68, never served in Vietnam because he got five deferments for college and for bone spurs. Maybe he’ll visit on Memorial Day, to pay his respects.

So many lessons to learn, within walking distance of the White House. If only Trump would get out more and watch cable less. Right now, Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, is staging an exuberant Ragtime, which celebrates a nation of immigrants teeming with famous characters, class and racial tensions set a century ago.

Back to Jackson: beloved general, frontier lawyer and master of The Hermitage. To his credit, he was a true Union man. He left office in 1837 and died in 1845. Lincoln became president in March 1861. The nation went to war with itself in April.

The trouble started in South Carolina. Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, came from that rebellious state and set the stage for the Civil War. He authored doctrines such as states’ rights, secession and nullification, which asserted state power over the federal government.

His lifework was defending slavery. And Jackson came to hate him. He later said he regretted not having Calhoun hanged.

Jackson was right, but not for the right reason. He cursed Calhoun’s defiance of the Union. But he championed slavery — and “Indian removal.” The Trail of Tears traces to him.

Trump’s hero was a Southern white supremacist with a common touch. As philosopher George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >