It seems that the left will attack President Donald Trump’s comments on history merely because he’s the one saying it.
In a meeting with Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela, Trump said that the Panama Canal is doing “quite well” and that “we did a good job building it, right?”
Varela responded: “Yeah. One hundred years ago.”
Trump has come under fire before for other comments about history. In particular, he was blasted for saying that President Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War.
While that comment is open to interpretation—Jackson was undoubtedly a staunch unionist who prevented civil war in his own era, though was dead by the time the war broke out—the Panama Canal comment could hardly be interpreted as anything other than factual.
Yet Twitter immediately erupted with a swarm of angry blue checkmarks. Many of them claimed that Trump was somehow trying to take credit for the building of the canal and that Varela “destroyed” Trump in his response.
Trump just took credit for building the Panama Canal.
Now he's pissed off the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) June 19, 2017
— The Independent (@Independent) June 20, 2017
This is too much!!! Did 45 just tell the President of Panama that the Panama Canal is doing well? USA built & opened it in 1914!!! #Idiot45
— Joan Grande (@joangrande) June 19, 2017
Tip of the hat to President Varela of Panama for this exchange as Trump tries to take credit for…building the Panama Canal. pic.twitter.com/lcjP4lT2k5
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) June 20, 2017
The Panama Canal has been open for over 100 years. And the US gave up control of it almost 20 years ago. https://t.co/NA69qjr8kS
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) June 19, 2017
The statement was even aired in mockery on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Trump was undeniably correct that “we,” as in the United States, built the Panama Canal. It’s an achievement every American should be proud of.
To Dare Mighty Things
Prior to the canal’s construction, there had been previous, failed efforts to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with a grand canal through the Americas.
France made a serious attempt, but the project was bogged down by enormous costs, a serious financial scandal, and unexpected engineering challenges—tropical diseases killed an estimated 20,000 French workers during the initial construction.
The French program was eventually scrapped, but the United States rose to the challenge in its place.
President Theodore Roosevelt eyed the project and pushed Americans to commit to taking up the reins from the French. Roosevelt challenged Americans to “dare mighty things,” and he spearheaded the project in 1903.
The result was a decade of construction on one of the most monumental infrastructure projects in history that become a wonder of the modern world. The canal transformed world trade and is a tribute to the skill and determination of its designers.
Not only did American engineers deftly create a series of above-sea-level locks across nearly 50 miles of the Panama isthmus, they tackled the immense problem of disease that had previously wracked workers.
After it was discovered that mosquitoes were the prime carriers of diseases like malaria, Surgeon Major William Crawford Gorgas created a brilliant plan to wipe out the insects through draining standing water and other methods.
When the Panama Canal was completed in 1914, it was celebrated as an almost incomparable engineering achievement.
Roosevelt wrote of the Americans who completed the near-miraculous project that “they have made not only America but the whole world their debtors by what they have accomplished.”
But it wasn’t only Americans who celebrated the feat.
Famed British historian and politician James Bryce said of the canal’s construction:
There is something magnificent in the magnitude and the methods of this enterprise which a poet might take as his theme. Never before on our planet has so much labor, so much scientific knowledge, and so much executive skill been concentrated on a work designed to bring the nations nearer to one another and serve the interests of all mankind.
Though liberals have attacked Trump for taking credit for the Panama Canal, the “we did a good job building it” comment was simply in line with the “America first” bend to his politics.
It makes perfect sense that Trump—who has promoted a large increase in infrastructure projects and has drawn some comparisons to Roosevelt—would want to highlight the canal. He certainly wouldn’t be the first Republican president of modern times to do so.
President Ronald Reagan also heralded the Panama Canal and argued that the U.S. should not have turned its operation over to Panama. In his famed 1970s debate with conservative icon William F. Buckley, Reagan launched his slogan, “We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours.”
The American people seemed to appreciate the sentiment. They made Reagan the president in 1980, replacing the one who dejectedly accepted American dysfunction and retreat on the world stage, and had turned over the Panama Canal.
Trump’s campaign echoed similar themes to Reagan’s, and the American people put him in office in 2016.
It’s bizarre for an American president to be attacked for making a simple statement of pride for his country’s notable achievements. But perhaps this is because national greatness is an idea we’ve become sadly alien to.