“For inquire now of bygone generations, and consider what their ancestors have found; for we are but of yesterday and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?” — Job 8:8-10 (NRSV)
…or in the modern words of Winston Churchill “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” It was originally a quote from George Santayana in the book A Life of Reason, published in 1905. Studying history is necessary if we do not want to repeat past mistakes. Knowing history is important for everyone, but especially for a leader.
David Cutler, a high school history teacher writes in Trump: an embarrassing history student, “I’m embarrassed when our commander-in-chief speaks ignorantly of the past — contorting the truth to accomplish political goals or rally his base…”
The president has made glaring mistake after awful gaffe after embarrassing blunder about commonly known historical and geographical facts. His mistakes have encouraged several journalists to suggest that the presidency should require a competency test:
There’s a reason society requires the credentialing of people who make highly consequential decisions — lawyers through bar exams, doctors through board certifications and state licensing procedures. It’s the same reason airlines don’t put untrained pilots in the cockpit and pray that they’re quick learners; pilots pass rigorous tests of competence long before they start moving passengers. And yet the most critical job on earth has no test for measuring what other professions call “job knowledge.”
…and later in the article, Chris Gay writes, “If it’s reasonable to worry about cognitive decline in older candidates because the stakes are so high, isn’t it reasonable to worry about civic, economic, and — above all — historical illiteracy for the same reason?” (from “No President Left Behind: Trump’s Lack of Basic Literacy and the Consequences.”)
Beyond the basic historical and geographical facts that the president gets wrong, even more worrying is not being able to distinguish the democratic imperatives that have been handed down from the founding of the nation. He has no sense of the tradition, the dignity, or the statesmanship of the office of the presidency.
It’s clear from the verse above from Job, that we are instructed to learn from our ancestors. Our lives are just a shadow; if we don’t build on the knowledge that already exists, what will we know?