He either really doesn’t know why it was fought or he was willing to deal on slavery.
Trump told historian Jon Meacham last year he believes he could have used his negotiating skills to avert the Civil War. Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed Trump’s boast in an interview Tuesday morning on MSNBC.
Yesterday, Trump claimed in a radio interview that President Andrew Jackson could have avoided the Civil War, on account of his “strength.” Trump did not mention that Jackson was a slaveowner nor that he died 16 years before the war.
In a separate interview Monday night, Meacham, who wrote a biography on Jackson, called Trump’s comments “disturbing.”
There are two explanations for Trump’s strange commentary. The first is that President Trump knows little about American history —including that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. As Meacham succinctly described it, Lincoln was willing to let southern states maintain slavery, but opposed allowing it to expand it to new states. The South nevertheless “ultimately felt the walls closing in” on the issue of slavery and began to secede. Perhaps Trump is unaware of these basic historical facts.
And that’s actually giving Trump the benefit of the doubt.
The only other possibility is that Trump does does understand the Civil War was fought over slavery — and that he’d have been willing to “cut a deal” on slavery were he President at the time. It’s unclear what kind of deal he thinks he could have made or what a slaveholder like Jackson could have done if he’d lived another few decades. It’s not as if, as Meacham pointed out, compromises weren’t actually attempted at the time.
A deal to avoid the Civil War would likely have required the expansion of slavery into new western territories and/or a significant promise to allow it to endure in the South. There is really no way Trump, Jackson, or anybody else could have made a deal that didn’t involve compromising on slavery. So if he actually knows what the conflict was over, his belief that he could have averted it is an admission that he has anti-abolitionist sympathies.
Based on the information available, those seem to be the only two choices: neither show Trump in a positive light.