Why President Trump's Note at an Israeli Holocaust Memorial Is the Talk of Twitter

May 23rd 2017

Mike Rothschild

As part of his swing through the Middle East, President Donald Trump and his entourage paid a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's most famous Holocaust memorial and museum. However, the occasion turned into another example of Trump not seeming to grasp the gravity of the situation, at least in the eyes of his critics.

The issue is a note Trump left in the museum's guestbook: its brevity, jaunty tone, and lack of any historical context has led to it being called "tone deaf" and "thoughtless," and lambasted for looking like a note that one would leave in a high school yearbook. It was also contrasted to expansive notes left by former Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton.




This isn't the first time Trump has caused controversy after being pressed to say something about some of the worst atrocities in human history. Shortly after his inauguration, his nascent administration issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn't mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The president of the Anti-Defamation League called that move "puzzling and troubling."



A few weeks after that, Trump paid a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. While some visitors said Trump was visibly moved by what he saw, others said he didn't seem to grasp the true horror of it all.

At one point, he was heard to mutter only, "boy, that is just not good" when he was shown a stone block that slaves stood on to be sold. After seeing a set of shackles used to restrain children, he said, " That is really bad. That is really bad." Trump was mocked by Stephen Colbert for that last one, with the late-night host sarcastically praising Trump's "eloquent enunciation."



Trump also had a strangely celebratory phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, calling Erdogan to congratulate him on his electoral victory in a referendum that gave him sweeping powers to curb dissent, reset term limits, and unilaterally make laws.  

The backlash against the call was so great that the White House had to specifically deny it was an endorsement of Erdogan obtaining extraordinary powers, leaving observers to wonder what exactly the phone call was supposed to accomplish.



Trump was also criticized for using a statement decrying Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's use of chemical weapons to attack his predecessor's Syria policy. Even the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner called Trump's shot at Obama "tasteless and unnecessary," calling it was beneath the dignity of the office. 

While all of these gaffes have taken place during Trump's time in the White House, he's no stranger when it comes to failing to grasp the gravity of historical horrors.



Back in 2000, Trump was exploring a presidential run. Accordingly, he toured the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where he "seemed detached, focusing his attention on the presentation rather than the content," as reporter Dana Milbank chronicled at the time for The New Republic. "He spent an hour or so wandering around the exhibits, muttering "fabulous" and "unbelievable" and "brilliant execution" and "extraordinary" and "outstanding," Milbank wrote.

Finally, at the end of the tour, Trump was handed a guestbook to sign. "He paused thoughtfully, as if searching for the perfect sentiment," Milbank recalled, "then scribbled two words in the book: 'great work!' He underlined 'great' three times and dotted his exclamation point with a loop."