What We Can Learn From What Trump Does and Doesn’t Know

Last April I toyed with the idea of keeping a running list of things Donald Trump didn’t know. Here’s what I came up with at the time:

We could add a few things to that list now. But I wanted to point to that issue because, in light of that list, it is interesting to note something that Trump did know about. It comes from a report in Alaska Daily Dispatch about the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) was telling the attendees about a meeting that he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had in the Oval Office with Trump and Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke.

“We had maps and we were talking all about Alaska issues. So many issues. Our fisheries. Whaling, the culture of whaling in Alaska. The economy. The military,” Sullivan said.

They brought up Obama administration actions that they said hurt Alaska, such as a block on the King Cove-Cold Bay road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Sullivan said.

On each one, Trump asked Zinke: “Can we change that and help Alaska?”

Trump thought of one on his own. Wasn’t the name of a big mountain in Alaska changed by executive order? he asked, referring to Denali, the former Mount McKinley named for the president from Ohio.

“Lisa — Sen. Murkowski — and I jumped over the desk. We said no, no!” said Sullivan, who is originally from Ohio.

Why? Trump asked.

“The Alaska Native people named that mountain over 10,000 years ago,” Sullivan said he told him. “Denali, that was the name.”

So the real estate mogul from New York who didn’t know things like what happened with immigration reform in 2013 did know that President Obama officially returned Mount McKinley to its original name, Mount Denali. Trump wanted to reverse that action, but had no clue why the people of Alaska would object.

What that tells me is that Trump focused like a laser beam on what Obama accomplished—even to the point of noting that he renamed Mount Denali. But just as with things like Obamacare, the Paris Climate Accord, and the Iran nuclear agreement, he didn’t bother to learn anything about the actual policies. He simply cataloged them and became obsessed with undoing them, just as Ta-Nehisi Coates suggested.

For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally…Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness.

There is still much to be written about what Trump doesn’t know. But the one thing we can be certain of is that he maintained an itemized list of Obama’s accomplishments and made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his presidency.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.