On Saturday’s PoliticsNation , MSNBC host Al Sharpton led a panel discussion regarding the crisis of the Trump administration delaying the release of the new $20 bill with Harriet Tubman’s image replacing that of President Andrew Jackson. Sophia Nelson, Dean Obeidallah, and Michael Hardy were Sharpton’s guests.
At one point in the discussion, Sharpton said,
“The blatant thing here is you’re talking about a black woman abolitionist that is going to replace a slave owner who was one that fought against many of the things that his immediate predecessor, Abe Lincoln, stood for. “
Later he said, just in case you might think this was a slip of the tongue,
“They used to call it the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom were opposed to what Jackson ended up doing after Lincoln’s assassination, and both of whom were allied and stood with Harriet Tubman.”
Yes, it’s true. Al Sharpton, whom MSNBC allows to host a national public affairs show based on his supposed authority and acumen, thinks that Andrew Jackson, 1767-1845, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, creator of the modern Democratic Party, vanquisher of the Bank of the United States and foe of states’ rights, who served two transformative terms and was one of our most important Presidents, is Andrew Johnson, 1808-1875, Lincoln’s second term Vice-President, who was impeached by the House for opposing Republican Reconstruction plans.
1. The conservative sources I have read on this seem to think it is funny. It’s not funny. It is deeply disturbing, angering, and disgusting, or should be. (No mainstream media sources or liberal blogs seem to think the episode is even newsworthy. Or maybe their reporters and writers don’t know the difference between Presidents Jackson and the first President Johnson either.) Such incompetence among those who assume the duty of informing the public is professional negligence of the most shocking sort, and it is intolerable.
2. Many will be tempted to shrug this off as an example of the Julie Principle: Who didn’t know Sharpton was a moron? But he is not a moron. He is a race-hustler and an agent of hate and division in our culture, but he is no fool. Al is, however, lazy and atrociously educated and has not invested the minimal intellectual curiosity to learn the basic facts of history regarding the nation that he presumes to lecture on public policy.
3. Such basic historical ignorance is no more acceptable in a network news host than it is in a teacher, professor or member of Congress. (I would add “U.S. citizen”, but then I’m unreasonable.) It shows, moreover, total disrespect for the MSNBC audience. Sharpton didn’t bother to check his facts, any facts, before using his false facts in the course of making an argument regarding the unworthiness of President Jackson to be honored on the Twenty. A quick Google search to dispel his confusion would have taken less than ten seconds.
He also didn’t bother to think. Sharpton apparently knew somewhere in his foggy brain that Johnson was impeached. Why would we have an impeached President on a bill? Why would Lincoln have a slave-owner running with him in the middle of the Civil War? (Johnson was intensely anti-slavery, and also poor; he didn’t own much. Jackson was wealthy, and owned a plantation, as well as slaves.)
4. The confusion between Presidents Jackson and Johnson is understandable up to maybe the age of eight. After that, it is an indictment of the schools (Sharpton graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn: it would be remarkable if the teachers in a school named after one of the most famous Presidential election losers in history wouldn’t make a point of making sure students were relatively conversant in Presidential history, but apparently not), an individual’s parents, the nation’s culture, and most of all, the individual himself.
5. As this fiasco shows once again, it is impossible, literally impossible, to have informed opinions on American politics and policy without a foundation in U.S. history. Apparently MSNBC doesn’t understand that, or doesn’t care. In the past, when someone has told me that this biased, unethical, incompetent network is a favored news source, I have typically rolled my eyes and marked down my respect for that individual somewhere into the Howard Dean range. Now they will drop down into the Forrest Gump/ Lenny “Tell em about the rabbits” range. There can be no excuse for patronizing a network with so little regard for competence, facts, and the welfare of its viewers, except corruption or stupidity.
6. Of course, giving a platform to a proven liar and hatemonger like Sharpton has always been irresponsible, but MSNBC still has an ethical obligation to require some minimal level of competence and trustworthiness of the people it represents as trustworthy. If it does not at least discipline Sharpton and apologize to the public, MSNBCwill have eliminated all claim to any legitimacy at all.
7. To be fair, Al has some basis for his mistake. The two Presidents’ initials and first names are the same, both held the same office, and both were from Tennessee. Who knows the depth of Sharpton’s confusion? Maybe he gets Jackson/Johnson confused with A.J. Cook, who plays a profiler on CBS’s “Criminal Minds.” Is it possible that Al thinks Andy Jackson recorded a hit record with “16 Tons,” mixing him up with Tennessee Ernie Ford? It could be. That would be no more ridiculous than thinking Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812, was a Vice President during the Civil War.
I bet Al gets the two George Bushes confused; Al must wonder how they—that is he— pulled off serving three terms. You know, Johnny Horton had a hit record about Andy Jackson with “The Battle of New Orleans.” I’m sure Al remembers Johnny Horton: he was that elephant, right, Al?
I wonder if he got Jackson and Johnson mixed up?
8. None of the three panelists had the integrity or the guts to correct Sharpton while he was making Americans dumber. Either they said nothing because they all lack integrity, and disqualified themselves from ever again being presented as “experts” on anything regarding U.S. history, politics or policy, or they are as ignorant as Al Sharpton, and, like him, are fraudulent authorities unworthy of being presented as “experts” on anything regarding U.S. history, politics or policy.
9. If you have a sons or daughter in middle school or high school, ask them to distinguish between Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson. If they can’t, or answer, like Otter in “Animal House,” “What’s the difference?”, your school district is doing a lousy job, and so are you.
On the bright side, your kids can still grow up to tell people what to think on a network news show.