Historians — at least the ones fact-checking the president on Twitter — were not impressed. One likened the speech to “an angry grandpa reading a fifth grader’s book report on American military history.”
Others tweeted their reactions in GIFs.
Trump opened with an account of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
“On this day, 243 years ago, our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to declare independence and defend our God-given rights.”
As most history undergrads could tell you, this isn’t quite true. The Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. On July 4, they approved the final text of the declaration. They signed it with their John Hancocks on Aug. 2.
There were inaccuracies like this peppered throughout the speech — the president still seems to not know exactly who “Douglass, Frederick Douglass, the great Frederick Douglass” is — but Trump was especially befuddled when he described the creation of the U.S. Army.
In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York and named after the great George Washington, commander in chief. The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the [unclear], it [unclear] the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHenry, under “the rockets red glare,” it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.
There is a lot to unpack here.
First, it’s clear the president was having some issues reading the teleprompter, which led to a number of errors. For example, British General Cornwallis was of London; he was defeated at Yorktown. The Continental Army wasn’t named after Washington; it’s possible Trump substituted “named” for a different verb in the text of the speech.
On Friday, Trump confirmed he had problems with the teleprompter, telling journalists: “I guess the rain knocked out the teleprompter, so it’s not that, but I knew the speech very well, so I was able to do it without a teleprompter. But the teleprompter did go out. And it was actually hard to look at anyway because there was rain all over it.”
But that doesn’t explain the apparent conflation of two wars fought three decades apart. In the first part, Trump mentions Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware and Yorktown, all of which occurred during the Revolutionary War. Then he says, “And at Fort McHenry ...” and describes the battle in which the national anthem was written. This battle was fought in 1814 during the War of 1812.
Then there’s the claim the Army — in either 1775 or 1814 or some time in between? — “took over the airports.” Odd considering that earlier in the speech Trump noted the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
Was it another ad-lib born of teleprompter problems? That’s what Trump said Friday when a reporter asked about the airport line. “Actually, in the middle of that sentence, it went out," he replied. "And that’s not a good feeling.”
By late Thursday night, #RevolutionaryWarAirports and #RevolutionaryWarAirportStories was trending on Twitter.
Also, some angry Canadians would like you to know that when Alexander Graham Bell got the first U.S. patent for the telephone, he was a Scottish immigrant to Canada.
This story has been updated with President Trump’s comments Friday confirming he had problems with the teleprompter.