I am afraid the president of my son’s fourth-grade class may know more about history than the President of the United States.
I don’t think Donald Trump is stupid. He learns things. The problem is what he chooses to study.
He calls CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post “fake news” while pushing stories that have been debunked over the 18 months he has been retelling them.
Trump probably loves the George Washington cherry tree story and myth of the silver dollar being thrown across the Potomac. Those didn’t happen, but they sound so heroic.
Trump also has megalomaniacal fantasies of how he will wipe the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism off the map. When a white supremacist killed a woman in America, Trump pointed out the “fine people” who were also there protesting with him. When a Muslim terrorist did the same thing in Spain, Trump rebooted an old wives’ tale that makes him feel tough.
He tweeted that Spain should use the same method General John J. Pershing did in the Philippines. According to the myth, Gen. Pershing took a group of 50 (how lucky to have such a nice round number of terrorists) Muslim terrorists and soaked 50 bullets in pig’s blood and shot 49 of them execution style. The 50th Muslim faced the barrel of the gun with the tainted bullet and was instead freed to go back to whatever hive of Muslims this myth writer imagines he lived in, retell the tale and discourage others from joining his unholy cause. This led to either 25 or 35 years of peace depending on which day Trump is telling the story.
What a great story of “tough guyism” to make a man feel virile again. Who wouldn’t want to commit war crimes and desecrate the bodies of their enemies to scare them into submission?
The problem, of course, is that Trump’s tale is patently false. There might have been an incident where a Muslim insurgent was buried with a pig’s body after death, however, the 49 executions never happened and, alas, there was never any period of peace.
But why let facts get in the way of a good desecration story?
Trump is specifically wrong about that story and generally wrong on many other points.
Our president is wrong that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are morally equal to seditionists who fought against this country to preserve the slave-based agrarian economy. Abraham Lincoln is an American hero because he defeated these secessionists. Jefferson and Washington would be racists by today’s standards. But they created a country and laid a groundwork upon which the people they held as slaves would one day be freed. They were patriots who were misguided in the issue of slavery because of the prevailing moral and ethical standards of their day.
There is no reason to believe disgust directed at memorials to confederate leaders would lead to a deeper push to take down memorials to Jefferson and Washington.
Many founders owned slaves. That is true. But times had changed by 1860. That happens.
Proof of the change in society is the religious response to Charlottesville, Virginia, despicable march by racists and neo-Nazis in an attempt to save a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last weekend.
In the past, Southern Baptists — the denomination to which I belong — were seen as unrepentant racists. That is only something to be ashamed of if you remain racist.
The group of churches that was founded in the time of slavery and rallied around Jim Crow laws and fought against interracial marriage for far too long, has grown and developed culturally far beyond its unsavory past.
My local pastor tore up the final sermon in his series and preached an incredible message on how white supremacy and racism are an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Megachurch pastor Matt Chandler — a leader of the Village Church in Texas as well as several church planting and supporting groups — delivered a similar message to his church and the thousands of people who listen to his recorded sermons each week.
Even Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission tweeted his outrage at the events of the weekend and the principles that brought the white nationalist protesters to Charlottesville in the first place.
Here’s the point. Southern Baptists could be condemned because of their founders’ racist doctrine. But that was then, this is now. Times have changed. The denomination has taken many steps to become a leader in racial reconciliation instead of clinging to past beliefs.
A similar shift had happened in the mid 1800s when slavery was being viewed very differently by intelligent people who understood that these people with dark skin brought here against their will were entirely equal to the Native Americans who lived here before and the relocated Europeans who were running the show at the time.
By then, the phrase “All men are created equal” was rapidly changing in its connotation to truly involve all men — and in about 50 years, women would even be given the right to vote.
America does have an uneven history when it comes to freedom for everyone. Jefferson and Washington were brave, thoughtful and brilliant men. Some of their views wouldn’t hold up well in today’s culture. But they were far different than the those men who took up arms against their own federal government to uphold the right to own people like property simply because of their skin color.
That’s the difference that Trump’s simplified logic doesn’t grasp. Some founders owned slaves, but their fight was to create a better America. That America continues to be great as we increase the freedoms we have and the number of people who have unfettered access to them.
Those who fought to divide the country to preserve slavery don’t deserve the same honor.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.