Does Donald Trump actually know who Frederick Douglass was?
The president mentioned the great abolitionist, former slave, and suffrage campaigner during a Black History Month event Wednesday morning, but there’s little to indicate that Trump knows anything about his subject, based on the rambling, vacuous commentary he offered: “I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.” Within moments, he was off-topic, talking about some of his favorite subjects: CNN, himself, and his feud with CNN.
Trump’s comments about King were less transparently empty but maybe even stranger. “Last month we celebrated the life Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history,” Trump said, employing a favorite meaningless adjective. But this wasn’t really about King. It was about Trump: “You read all about Martin Luther King when somebody said I took a statue out of my office. And it turned out that that was fake news. The statue is cherished. It’s one of the favorite things—and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Even beyond the strange aside about Douglass and the digression from King, Trump’s comments point to the superficiality of his engagement with African American culture. He named perhaps the four most famous figures in black history with no meaningful elaboration. (Trump was reading from a sheet, but at least he was able to name Tubman, unlike his vanquished rival Gary Johnson.)
Trump continues to indicate he holds a view of black Americans that is instrumental, as he showed on Wednesday at his Black History Month event.
“If you remember, I wasn’t going to do well with the African American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting, I won’t get into details, but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who have run in the past years,” he said, somewhat misleadingly. “
And now we’re going to take that to new levels.” February might be Black History Month, but every month is Trump History Month.