Presidential historian Jon Meacham explains why Trump has ‘joined Andrew Johnson as the most racist president in American history’

Presidential historian Jon Meacham explains why Trump has ‘joined Andrew Johnson as the most racist president in American history’
Image via Screengrab.

When President Donald Trump, over the weekend, told four congresswomen of color to go back to the countries they originally came from, it was obviously a rally-the-base strategy designed to appeal to the so-called “patriotism” of his far-right supporters. But, according to presidential historian Jon Meacham, Trump’s bigoted comments were the polar opposite of patriotic. This week’s true American patriots, according to Meacham, are the four congresswomen Trump attacked on Twitter: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — and Trump is showing himself to be the most racist U.S. president since Democrat Andrew Johnson in the 1860s.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Monday night, Meacham told host Chris Matthews, “Johnson’s state message said that African-Americans were incapable of self-government and relapsed into barbarism if they weren’t closely supervised.”

Meacham noted that the history of the U.S. is about a “journey toward a more perfect union,” not authoritarianism. The 50-year-old historian told Matthews, “What the president has done here is yet again — I think he did it after Charlottesville, and I think he did it, frankly, when he was pushing the birther lie about President Obama — he has joined Andrew Johnson as the most racist president in American history.”

Meacham was equally critical of Trump when he appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday morning and told host Joe Scarborough (a very anti-Trump conservative and former GOP congressman) that the Founding Fathers of the United States did not promote a “fascistic idea of blood and soil.” Rather, they equated protest and dissent with the quest for “a more perfect union.”

Disagreeing with Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley or Tlaib from a policy standpoint, Meacham asserted, is fine. But telling “duly elected constitutional officers they should leave the country” is profoundly un-American and unpatriotic.

“We don’t build monuments to people who close doors,” Meacham told Scarborough. “We build monuments to people who open them.”

Of course, telling Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib they should return to the countries they came from is not only racist — it is also ignorant in light of the fact that all of them are United States citizens. The Somali-born Omar is the only one of the four who was born outside the U.S., and she has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000. The other three were born in the U.S. (AOC in the Bronx, Pressley in Cincinnati, Tlaib in Detroit) and have been U.S. citizens their entire lives. AOC’s parents are from Puerto Rico, but she is a native New Yorker — and although she speaks Spanish, English is her native language.

Scarborough agreed with Meacham’s comments but was even more biting in his criticism of Trump, saying, “This is not a dog whistle — it is a bullhorn to Donald Trump’s most bigoted, racist supporters…. This is David Duke racism.”

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