Since becoming president, Donald Trump has had a lot more occasion to talk about American history. He likes to remind people that "you know, I'm, like, a smart person," but he doesn't always seem to get it right. Here are 19 instances of Trump and his surrogates giving weirdo history lessons.
1. On Frederick DouglassDuring a Black History Month breakfast in February, after mentioning several African American historical figures Trump said, "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice." We're not saying Trump didn't know who Douglass was, but despite his remarks, the famed abolitionist died in 1895.
2. On Trump’s Civil War Battle Golf Course
Trump’s Virginia golf course on the Potomac River includes a plaque stating the location was the site of a Civil War battle. “Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” the inscription reads
. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’” Historians say nothing significant took place at the site.
3. On Abraham Lincoln’s Political PartyTrump brought up Abraham Lincoln at the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner in March. "Great president. Most people don't even know he was a Republican," Trump said. "Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that."
Lincoln, of course, is famously the first Republican president, although the party has changed significantly, both geographically and ideologically, from when it was started in 1854. Trump went on to suggest
, “Let's take an ad, let's use one of those PACs,” to educate people about Lincoln’s link to the party. He apparently was unaware the GOP very often refers to itself as “the Party of Lincoln.”
4. On His Electoral College Victory
Since winning the 2016 presidential election, Trump and his team
have repeatedly called the win “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” It wasn’t. In fact, only two presidents have received fewer than Trump’s 304 electoral votes since 1972 — Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. And Trump’s 304 is less than both of Barack Obama’s wins, at 365 in 2008 and 332 in 2012.
5. On His Inauguration Crowd
Trump and his surrogates have maintained he had the biggest inauguration crowd in history, citing both the people on the ground at the National Mall in Washington D.C., and watching on TV and online. “When I looked at the numbers that have come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches,” Trump told ABC News
. Going by the crowd and TV numbers, though, Trump’s inauguration crowd was definitely not the biggest ever.
Nielsen ratings for the inauguration put TV viewership at about 31 million, or 19 percent fewer than the number who tuned in for Obama’s inauguration in 2009, The Independent reports
. And a PBS timelapse video
shows the National Mall was never full during the entire event, while shots of Obama’s inaugurations show the mall packed. Trump’s inauguration might make up the difference with online streaming viewers, but those numbers aren’t known to the public or the media.
6. On Andrew Jackson and the Civil War
In a Sirius XM interview with a reporter from the Washington Examiner
, Trump said President Andrew Jackson would have stopped the Civil War. “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn't have had the Civil War," Trump said. "He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said 'There's no reason for this.'" Jackson, of course, died in 1845 — 16 years before the Civil War began.
Trump took to Twitter
to clarify his comments on Jackson. “President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!” In fact, Jackson, a slave owner, probably would have fallen on the Confederacy’s pro-slavery side.
7. On the Civil War, Why
“People don't realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” Trump continued during the same interview
. “People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” Of course, plenty of people have asked “the Civil War, why?” The answer: slavery.
8. On Medieval Times (Not the Restaurant)
In February 2016, Trump explained his view of torture and terrorism in an interview on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos
.” “We are living in a time that's as evil as any time that there has ever been,” Trump said. “You know, when I was a young man, I studied Medieval times. That's what they did, they chopped off heads.” Trump went on to say he would authorize measures “beyond waterboarding” when asked if the US would chop off heads under Trump.
Screen Capture/The Guardian
9. On Sweden and What Happened There
Trump brought up immigration in Europe during a rally in February 2017. He appeared to mention some immigration-related event
“last night” in Sweden that hadn’t actually happened. "We've got to keep our country safe," he said
. "You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.”
Trump later clarified the statement, yet again on Twitter
. He said he wasn’t referring to a news event that happened “last night” in Sweden, but rather, a Fox News story. “My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden,” he wrote.
10. On being treated the most unfairlyDelivering a speech to the graduating class at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Trump said, "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly." That apparently includes politicians who have actually been assassinated, which seems like it should count for being treated "unfairly." Maybe he means he's been "unfairly" given more passes on bad behavior, like admitting sexual assault, than any other politician.
12. On the Panama CanalIn a meeting with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, Trump seemed to kind of, sort of take credit for the Panama Canal. "The Panama Canal is doing quite well. I think we did a good job building it, right — a very good job," Trump said, to which Varela answered, "Yeah, about 100 years ago." While what Trump meant by "we" was probably "the United States," as Varela's comment suggests, there's still an air of Trump glomming on to past accomplishments that had nothing to do with him.
13. On how much legislation he's signed
Trump likes to say things are historic without actually ever checking (or maybe caring) if it's true. He's said repeatedly that he's signed more legislation than any other president, and specifically called out Harry Truman
. In fact, he ranks last in legislation signed as of December 2017
14. On his "historic" defense spending increase
Trump also said at a July 2017 rally the increase to defense spending he advocated was historically high. It isn't. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both increased defense spending by more, for two quick examples
15. On how his approval rating was not historically low
One thing about Trump's administration that he claimed wasn't historic was his approval rating after six months in office. An ABC News/Washington Post poll put Trump's approval at 36 percent, which he tweeted "wasn't bad."
As it turns out, it was the worst of any president
in the last 70 years.
16. On the Pulse nightclub shooting
As part of his push against gun control in the wake of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Trump has advocated for arming teachers and others to stop mass shootings. As Politifact reports
, he also said that another shooting, the one in June 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people, could have been prevented if someone else there had been carrying a gun.
The trouble is, someone was: there was an armed police officer working at Pulse the night of the shooting, who even exchanged gunfire with the shooter, Omar Mateen. Trump has actually claimed before that if there had been more people armed at Pulse, the shooting could have been stopped, in 2016. At the time, Trump claimed later on Twitter
that what he'd meant was that he wished there had been even more people with guns to stop the Pulse shooting.
17. On the War of 1812
Trump has been pushing to enact new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which are affecting not just China and other countries Trump sees as competitors to the U.S., but also allies such as Canada. In a phone conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that got somewhat heated over the tariffs, CNN reports
, Trump brought up the War of 1812, claiming that Canadians burned down the White House during that conflict.
Trump wasn't wrong that the White House was burned down in the War of 1812 -- that did happen. Blaming Canada doesn't make a ton of sense, though. It was British troops that burned down the White House, since the U.S. was at war with England for the two-year conflict. Canada was a colony at the time, and so was pulled into the war. A lot of it was also fought in Canada. But blaming Canada for the White House doesn't actually track.
18. Kellyanne Conway On the Bowling Green Massacre
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway invented a terrorist attack that never happened when she mentioned the “Bowling Green Massacre” in a February interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Conway was attempting to justify Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and claimed the media hadn’t covered the attack. As the Washington Post
reports, Conway also mentioned the massacre, which never took place, in two other interviews.
19. Sean Spicer On the Holocaust
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer got into trouble when he compared Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Adolf Hitler when discussing Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airfield in response to a gas attack against civilians. “...Someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said during a daily press briefing
. Of course, the use of gas to murder millions of German Jews and other minority groups from within Germany and Europe was central to the Holocaust.
Spicer went on to clarify that he did, in fact, know about the Holocaust. "I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said. "I mean, there was clearly, I understand your point, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. There was not in the, he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that." The historically accurate term for "Holocaust center" is "concentration camp," and at least 200,000 people killed in them were Jewish German citizens.