Distortion of Trump’s Civil War comment is reason few Americans trust the media

There are many Americans who truly believe the media is the opposition party to the Trump administration.

If another example is needed to make that point, look no further than the shameful/shameless coverage of President Trump’s Civil War controversy on Monday.

{mosads}First, a quick review: Trump sat down with the Washington Examiner’s Selena Zito for an interview airing on Sirius XM on Monday afternoon.


At one point, the discussion turns to the Civil War, with the exact exchange looking like this after Zito broached Trump’s recent visit to the Hermitage, the home of late President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later [Jackson was the president from 1828-1837 while the Civil War began in 1861], you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart,” Trump said. “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?” Trump asked. “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Now, one can easily argue against Trump’s point that Jackson, a slave owner, could have somehow been able to convince the South to end slavery through negotiation instead of a war.

But as usual, the media’s eyes are bigger than its stomach when it comes to twisting narratives around Trump with a reflex to the extreme negative. 

As a result, we get these kind of headlines:

USA Today: Note to President Trump: Andrew Jackson wasn’t alive for the Civil War.

Salon: Donald Trump doesn’t understand why the Civil War couldn’t have been worked out.

Slate: Trump wishes a slaveholder could’ve come in and resolved the whole civil war thing before it started.

CNN: Donald Trump just gave two incredibly bizarre (and fact-free) interviews.

Twitter’s “Moments” description: Trump proposes an alternate history where Civil War was avoided.

One part of Trump’s “alternate history” that is being mocked the most is the fact that Jackson died in 1845 and the war didn’t begin until 1861. Therefore, how could Jackson be “really angry” about a war that was 16 years away?

But as historians will tell you, there had been perpetual tension between the North and South over slavery since the nation was founded in 1776. The Civil War just didn’t happen overnight. Several compromises were made on the way to 1861, most notably the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and The Compromise of 1850.

Per the online Civil War Academy:

“Blood was on the minds of many of the citizens of America over the entire slave issue. On March 3rd, 1820, both Missouri and the free state of Maine were admitted into the Union. The balance was kept with one being free and one being slave. The writing was on of the wall with the inevitability of the war.”

And then there’s the 2003 book, “This Terrible War: the Civil War and its Aftermath,” written by three university history professors who concluded the Civil war was not inevitable. 

Dale Bright, a Yale History Professor and the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery and Abolition, wrote this in a Washington Post op-ed titled “Could the war have been prevented?” in 2010:

“In the early to mid-20th century a generation or two of American historians argued that the Civil War was avoidable, indeed a “needless war” wrought by mere “politics” and the “unctuous fury” of power-hungry politicians,” Bright wrote. “But that was before, in the wake of World War II, that a new generation of scholars came to see just how fundamental slavery and race were in the story of the 1850s and in the decisions that led to the firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861. In the abstract we might never stop wondering about how the war could have been avoided, as we also must explain why it was not.”

Following Trump’s comments, the New York Times decided to fact-check the president with the help of widely-respected historian Jon Meachem. 

Here’s a key takeaway around Trump’s comment that many in media are mocking around Jackson being “really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War” years before it broke out. 

“Meacham said he thought that Mr. Trump may have been referring to the nullification crisis, which did occur during Jackson’s lifetime,” the Times reported.  “The crisis, which began in 1832, was a conflict between the federal government and South Carolina, a Southern state that would later be instrumental in the movement for secession.
“During the crisis, President Jackson ‘took a firm stand on the side of the union,’ Meacham said. “There are two stray Trumpian ideas that collided into each other when he talked.”
So according to Meachem, a slave-owner like Jackson was aligned with the North on some sticking points and may have been in a position to negotiate. Trump’s problem then becomes, as Meachem as points out, is explaining what a negotiation would mean in terms of abolishing slavery. 
Again, it’s easy to poke holes in Trump’s argument. His points are often inelegant and not perfectly stated. That’s who he is. 
But let’s not pretend he’s the first to ever ask the question around the U.S. Civil War being something that could have been settled peacefully. But because it’s Trump, this will be made into today’s crisis, at least until another one is created tomorrow in the name of hysterical hyperbole.
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Civil War Donald Trump Donald Trump Joe Concha

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