Donald Trump Again Shows That He Knows Nothing About U.S. or World History

Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans to discuss their health care reform efforts on July 19. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s interview Wednesday with The New York Times contained plenty of interesting nuggets, from his negative comments about Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller and James Comey to his claims that French President Emmanuel Macron really “loves holding my hand.” Buried in there, though, was just the latest installment of Trump’s alternative rendering of world history.

 Related: Trump Civil War remarks show he doesn't know American history

This time, while discussing his recent trip to Paris and his hand-holding exploits, Trump turned his attention to the topic of former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

“Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad,” Trump said as he recalled a trip to Napoleon’s tomb. “But I asked that. So I asked the president, So what about Napoleon? He said, ‘No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.’

After some words that are garbled on the audio track, Trump went on, “The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather [garbled]?”

Garbling aside, there is much to unpack here. First, “Napoleon finished a little bad.” Well, sure, if that’s how you’d describe a series of catastrophic military invasions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of French troops, and being forced to abdicate and sent into exile, twice, before dying on a remote island, likely from stomach cancer.

But it gets worse from there. Whatever Trump heard Macron say, it is unlikely to have been praise for Napoleon’s redesign of Paris. At least not the same Napoleon Trump was talking about moments before. It was, after all, Napoleon III, Bonaparte’s nephew, who commissioned the grand redesign of France’s capital city some 30 years after his uncle had died.

Next came Trump’s account of Napoleon’s failure in Russia. Napoleon did encounter disaster in Russia, when Russian troops lured the French army deeper and deeper into the country, where tens of thousands of soldiers died of exhaustion, thirst or starvation in the scorching summer heat. After reaching a deserted and burned-down Moscow, Napoleon ordered a retreat, as winter was approaching, Tens of thousands more troops then perished in the brutal cold and snow.

As to what Napoleon’s “extracurricular activities” were, perhaps only Trump knows.

Trump’s history lesson then continued with his account of Adolf Hitler’s failed invasion of Russia and Russian fighters’ expertise in the cold, before, without pause, he returned to modern domestic issues.

“But the Russians have great fighters in the cold,” he said. “They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death [cross talk]. It’s pretty amazing.

“So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.”

It is far from the first time Trump has displayed a greater appetite to talk about world history than to learn about it. On a trip to Warsaw earlier this month, he decided to give a Polish nationalist history lesson that some derided as sounding as if he had just skimmed the country’s Wikipedia page. Describing how Poland faced both Nazi and Soviet invasion during World War II, Trump said, “That’s trouble. That’s tough.”

Indeed. But Trump’s questionable recounting of history is not limited to events outside of the United States. In May, he attracted ridicule when posing a question about something that is considered such common knowledge it is even included on the U.S. citizenship test.

“People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” he asked.

Of course, the most widely agreed upon reason is slavery. Trump also said that Andrew Jackson was angry about the Civil War and could potentially have stopped it. Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War began.

Trump has shown similarly questionable knowledge of a president he has said he greatly admires, Abraham Lincoln. As well as misattributing a quote to him, Trump has suggested that the well-known fact that Lincoln was a member of the Republican Party is far from well known.

“Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know?” he said last year. “A lot of people don’t know that. We have to build that up a little more.”