When Ignorance Is Irrevocable

Andrew Jackson: White supremacist, ethnic cleanser, time-traveler.

When people who lack knowledge consider a question they’ve never thought of before, they ask, “I wonder how other people have answered this question?”

When fools consider a question they’ve never thought of before, they ask, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

Our President is in the latter group. He generalizes his own ignorance, attributing it to humanity. So because the President hadn’t bothered to do a google search or read a book, “nobody” knew how complicated health care was. Same for North Korea. And because the President has never thought much about the Civil War, no one else has either:

TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that — he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

This aggressively ignorant posture is funny. Unfortunately, it’s also deadly serious. It has become a defining feature of this presidency. The problem is not that Trump lacks knowledge. We all do. People who are wise can gain knowledge. But Trump possesses that special brand of foolishness that makes it difficult or impossible to know things.

Trump’s narcissistic ignorance is so encompassing that he appears unable to imagine what he doesn’t know, and unable to get up to speed even when it would obviously be in his interest to do so. For instance, yesterday, in an interview with John Dickerson, we learned that Trump still doesn’t know what’s in his health care bill. That is…astonishing.

Most Presidents try to situate their actions in a broader context of historic presidential behavior. If they can claim the mantle of one of the great presidents, all the better. President Obama’s repeated allusions to Lincoln were along this line. Self-serving, sure, but done with full self-awareness and purpose. Trump has obviously received the message that he is supposed to be a Jacksonian figure, but his ham-handed efforts to invoke Jackson’s legacy could not be more different from Obama’s thoughtful appeals to history.

Interviewers, ask Trump what he thinks about the Indian Removal Act, or Jackson’s banking policy, or really anything about Jackson at all. The answers are likely to entertain. We can all laugh and forget for a moment the extraordinary dangers of having a biblical fool as president.