Comments President Donald Trump made Wednesday at the White House during a Black History Month event left some people scratching their heads.
During a “listening session,” Trump praised abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895.
He mentioned Douglass as “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” Trump said.
Frederick Douglass did “an amazing job” and CNN is “fake news,” President Trump says in African-American History Month listening session pic.twitter.com/p3ixDIpSsW
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 1, 2017
The way he couched his remarks made people wonder: Does Trump know who Frederick Douglass is, and does he know that he’s dead?
As someone who used to help with English essays, this is 100% code for, “I’ve got no idea who Frederick Douglass is.”https://t.co/MFM8pYAG4H
— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) February 1, 2017
— ☔ 27 Instruments ☔ (@BuayDubz) February 1, 2017
dare someone to ask Trump to name one thing Frederick Douglass did https://t.co/epMqfrkku4
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) February 1, 2017
— #1 Rachel ✨ (@rachel) February 1, 2017
— Dwight D. Eisenhower (@DEisenhower34) February 1, 2017
Frederick Douglass. The best. Just a tremendous guy. He had a hard time in the beginning but now he’s getting all the awards.
— Steve King (@steveking_) February 1, 2017
Fun fact: up until yesterday, Trump thought Frederick Douglass was one of Gladys Knight’s Pips
— Viva La Resistance (@TrumpsBrain) February 1, 2017
— ElElegante101 (@skolanach) February 1, 2017
Chelsea Clinton tweeted the entirety of Trump’s remarks and seemed flummoxed.
This is…this is… https://t.co/p0Jv4CBa0q
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 1, 2017
At the daily press briefing, a reporter asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer about Trump’s comment that Douglass is being recognized “more and more.”
“Do you have any idea what specifically he was referring to?” the reporter asked.
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
Paste pop culture magazine argued that Trump knows his history — and that he doesn’t.
“Everything about the quote, including the tenses, makes it sound like Trump sees Douglass as a tireless activist whose good work is being noticed more and more as his life goes on,” it wrote.
“The description makes him sound like a man who is just now emerging from obscurity, and is still fighting the good fight, and definitely didn’t die in 1895.”
On the other hand, it noted, “he mentions him in the same breath as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, as one of the ‘black Americans who made America what it is today.’ Presumably, he knows that those other people are dead.”
Comedian Samantha Bee — no fan of the president — took the debate to her Twitter followers: Who does Trump think Douglass is? Some of the responses:
— Kill By Kill Podcast (@KillByKillPod) February 1, 2017
— Jesssssss (@yellow_jess) February 1, 2017
— Colleen A (@colleentweets37) February 1, 2017
Some people argued that, on the off chance that the president is not familiar with Douglass’ story, he should be given a pass.
@nytpolitics I’ve heard the name but I’ve no clue what he did either. I challenge you intellectual snobs to recite facts without google.
— Patrick (@pstarf) February 1, 2017
The National Park Service, which maintains the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., has plenty more information about his life here.