Maybe a wall could have prevented the Civil War

One of the episodes of the radio show This American Life presented the sense of mortification one feels when one says something in the presence of others that reveals that you are suffering under a huge misconception that no one else shares. The broadcast featured such things as thinking that the ‘Nielsen family’ ratings for TV viewership were obtained by only asking families that were named Nielsen or that unicorns really existed.

As one person recounted:

“It was about a group of five to seven people, kind of standing around the keg, just talking. And somehow a discussion of endangered species came up, in which I posed the question, is the unicorn endangered or extinct? And basically, there was a big gap of silence.

And then everybody laughed. And then that laughter was followed by more silence when they realized I wasn’t laughing. And I was like, yeah, oh God, unicorns aren’t real? Oh no.”

I keep being reminded of this episode by the current president who keeps ‘discovering’ things that pretty much everyone else knows, such as that health care is complicated or that being president involves a lot of work. The latest example is a doozy. In an interview he said,

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

This was just after saying that Andrew Jackson “was very angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this'”, even though Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the war started. As any high school student can tell you, the causes of the war are discussed exhaustively and the answer is, of course, slavery. But Trump seems to think that he is the first person to have noticed that this question has not been raised or that it could have been solved by other means. Needless to say, this has created considerable merriment.

Maybe Trump thinks that the Civil War was caused by undocumented immigrants and could have been averted if they had only built a wall separating the blacks from the whites.

Next up: Trump wondering why no one has addressed the question of why it gets cold in winter or done something about it.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    I have never spent much time near oceans so I don’t have much experience with tides.
    Frankly, it sounds like a load of crap. Like magnets.

  2. Holms says

    It is only a matter of time before Trump discovers, with considerable surprise, that there is an explanation for why the sun rises and sets.

  3. Holms says

    “The Earth spins! Nobody knew that. Moving so fast through space it’ll make ya head spin. So big, space, really really yuge, amazing. Nobody beats me at the space, believe me.”

  4. wsierichs says

    Lincoln was so desperate to avoid war that he basically offered secessionist leaders a blank piece of paper to write their own peace agreement, which he would endorse.
    The secessionists refused even that incredible offer. The reason, I think, is that the better-informed, pro-slavery people in the South realized that the growing population, industries and railroads in the anti-slavery areas (North and West) would eventually just swamp the stagnant slave states. They had no way to stop this. And they knew Lincoln’s election was a sign of things to come. Even though :Lincoln was an emancipationist, not an abolitionist (emancipationists wanted slavery to end but only when some “solution” was found to separate freed slaves and whites, in the belief the two “races” could not coexist together; abolitionists wanted slavery ended NOW), he was proof the anti-slavery forces were gaining strength. The only way to protect slavery was to break away from the states in which anti-slavery forces were predominant.

  5. says

    I think you are crediting the southern leadership with too much strategic forethought and perception (both in terms of assessing the future of the republic and in terms of overestimating their own military capability) -- the south built in processes into the foundation of the republic, to preserve its odious institution; the republic was founded to preserve the south’s odious institution [stderr]. It’s always seemed to me that the north/south divide simply continued until finally there was the wrong combination of leaders on both side. It’s similar to many political/military disasters -- a situation continues for decades and then suddenly someone starts saying “time’s up! this can’t go on!” and starts pounding the war-drums.

  6. keithb says

    I heard somewhere that in grade school you learn that the Civil War was fought to end slavery. In high school you learn it was fought over states right’s. In college you learn that the right the south was fighting for was to keep slavery.

  7. says

    What do they teach you in graduate school?

    I’m guessing it’s that you read Howard Zinn and conclude that there were no moral principles in operation at all and it was just political opportunism. The US seceeded from England over slavery (taxes were lower in the colonies than elsewhere in the British empire, and went up after the revolution, so that wasn’t the reason..)

  8. brucegee1962 says

    I heard somewhere that in grade school you learn that the Civil War was fought to end slavery. In high school you learn it was fought over states right’s. In college you learn that the right the south was fighting for was to keep slavery

    My recollection is that, in the fifth grade, we had a class debate on the biggest cause of the civil war. One team debated economic reasons, one team debated political reasons, and I was on the team that debated moral reasons (slavery). As I recall, our team was considered the underdog — of course no one sophisticated REALLY believed slavery was the cause.

    In retrospect, I think this had a lot more to do with growing up in Ohio in the 70s. From what I know, the “it was slavery, dummy” backlash came about more recently — probably when actual historians realized what kind of stuff was being taught in the schools.

    But yeah — causes of the civil war is definitely the kind of thing you study in grade school. Forget about being an intellectual — I’m not even sure the president has the equivalent of a functional elementary-school education.

  9. Trickster Goddess says

    I confess that when I first heard of the Nielsen family ratings as a kid, I thought it was stupid to decide the popularity of a show based on what this one particular family decided to watch.

    It came full circle about 7 or 8 years ago when my home was randomly selected to be a Nielsen ‘family’. At that time, I still had a TV set but I hadn’t had cable or decent reception for many years and only used it for occasional DVD watching. I told the recruiter that but he pointed out that they also needed stats on people who don’t watch anything. My set was so old that the technician had to physically hack into it to wire in the monitoring box.

    It was at the time when the second season of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse series was on. I tried to do Joss a favour and make up for Firefly by faithfully tuning my set to the ghostly local channel broadcasting the show, and that was the only stat they ever got out me during the six months I was wired up. Didn’t save the show, unfortunately.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    The president of the United States of America is s gormless gobshite.

  11. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “Next up: Trump wondering why no one has addressed the question of why it gets cold in winter or done something about it.”
    And the Koch brothers will whisper to his ear that some CO2 is already being released to the athmosphere to fight the coldness of winters.

  12. springa73 says

    Marcus Ranum @#9

    I don’t think that political opportunism and moral principles are mutually exclusive -- in fact, most political decisions are influenced by a combination of both.

  13. Peter the Mediocre says

    brucegee1962 @10:
    It might be worth pointing out that to the slave owners, slavery was primarily an economic issue. They viewed slaves as essential capital equipment used in their businesses of growing cotton and tobacco. Abolitionists saw slavery as a moral issue. The Civil War was most assuredly about slavery, but casting it as either a moral or an economic issue is oversimplifying it. Because preserving or ending slavery involved legislation and influencing the minds of huge numbers of people, it was definitely a political issue. So the question “Was the civil war about economics, politics, or morality?” can only be answered with a resounding “YES!”

  14. keithb says

    As far as the American Revolution goes, I think Barbara Tuchman puts forward an interesting thesis in “The March of Folly”. Basically it was stubbornness and “woodenheadedness” that was the main cause. As you point out the Empire had a good justification for levying the taxes to pay for the expensive defense of the colonies. The colonies would have agreed to negotiating an amount with the empire and having the legislatures come up with the revenue in whatever way they saw fit. So it wasn’t the taxes per se, but that the taxes were heavy handedly levied.

    Having read “Midnight Rising”, I fully agree that the war had a strong moral component. If it hadn’t of been for racism, it would have started much sooner. But few believed, like John Brown, that the slaves were fully people.

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Quite ironic that Andrew ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s No.1 fan-prez will go down in history as Donald ‘No Wall’ Trump (among many things, and assuming there is enough of a future to allow for him to be a historical subject)

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