Learning on the Job

History isn’t easy. There is a lot of it. No one can be an expert on everything. And, while I don’t expect the President of the United States to be a historian, I do expect him to know some basics. In the past few weeks, I’m pretty sure President Trump came into office not knowing the basics and is currently being given a crash course in World History 101 by members of his staff. Given what I’ve read about Trump, he’s not particularly well read and, in fact, likes to gather his information from the television. That’s why, given a couple remarks he’s made recently, I think he’s learning a lot of cool historical stuff as POTUS.

Take, for example, his speech in Poland on July 6. During his address in Warsaw, President Trump praised the Polish spirit to endure, citing proof of Polish hardships by saying…

…in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. That’s trouble. That’s tough.

Now, I don’t doubt Trump knows Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but my guess is that he didn’t know the Soviets did as well. And the reason I say that is because he says, “That’s trouble. That’s tough.” To me, that’s what someone says when they learn something horrible for the first time. “Did you know that…?” “No!, that’s trouble, that’s tough.” I can just see his speech writer(s) explaining it to him on the plane on the way to Europe: “So, there was thing called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and…err…well, the Soviets invaded Poland and took part of the country, too.” Trump: “That’s trouble. That’s tough.”

My second example occurred on the flight to France for Trump’s meeting with President Macron just the other day. Apparently, the press briefing with Trump on Air Force One was thought to be off-the-record, but that was changed by the White House afterwards. (Maybe Trump was extremely happy with what he said? Dunno.) So, he’s talking about China and North Korea and says:

“A big thing we have with China was, if they could help us with North Korea, that would be great. They have pressures that are tough pressures, and I understand. And you know, don’t forget, China, over the many years, has been at war with Korea — you know, wars with Korea. It’s not like, oh, gee, you just do whatever we say. They’ve had numerous wars with Korea.

They have an 8,000 year culture. So when they see 1776 — to them, that’s like a modern building. The White House was started — was essentially built in 1799. To us, that’s really old. To them, that’s like a super modern building, right? So, you know, they’ve had tremendous conflict over many, many centuries with Korea. So it’s not just like, you do this. But we’re going to find out what happens.”

Maybe, just maybe, I’m being too hard on the guy, but I think a “China and Korea have a somewhat complicated history that prevents an easy solution to the current crisis” type of statement would have sufficed. Instead, we got a mini history lesson of the kind that says, “Look what I’ve learned. Did you know that?” I mean, I can envision Xi Jinping having told him this over dinner at Mar-a-Lago a few weeks ago.

Again, maybe I’m reading too much into this. But maybe I’m not. And, if I’m not, this president has a lot more to learn.