The fact that Madison Cawthorn lacks a college degree has no bearing on his fitness for public office. Abraham Lincoln had less than one cumulative year of formal education. More saliently, the late North Carolina Senate leader Marc Basnight never completed a bachelor’s degree, yet was a champion of higher education and a keen student of American history. It is the contrast with western North Carolina’s young firebrand and his profound historical ignorance that makes Cawthorn singularly unfit for service in the U.S. Congress.

Cawthorn, who’d would later egg on the terrorists who on January 6 made the U.S. Capitol into a violent inferno, felt a wave of patriotism upon entering that building for the first time. In an interview given shortly after the congressman was sworn in, Madison expressed awe at being in the same place where Congress supposedly voted on the Emancipation Proclamation. Congress did not vote on the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln wrote and enacted the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive action that declared enslaved persons in Union-controlled Rebel territory as free people.

There was no vote on the Emancipation Proclamation.

That was not Cawthorn’s first historical misfire. Thrilled to be orating at Donald Trump’s convention/narcissism festival, then-candidate Cawthorn explained that James Madison was 25 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Wrong. Madison did not sign the Declaration of Independence, and though many of the signers were indeed fairly young, their average age was a none-too-sprightly 44. John Hancock was 39, one year removed from his black-balloon birthday.

Yet none of Cawthorn’s historical bunk was as risible as his recent claim that America would have lost the Battle of Yorktown if George Washington had worn a mask. “…Know we are not descended from fearful men,” Cawthorn thundered. Point taken: declaring independence took courage, which is why George Washington arranged a parcel of land to which to escape if his Continentals lost the war and he found himself facing treason charges. How, though, are to we judge Cawthorn’s claim that Washington’s army’s would have been too enfeebled to win at Yorktown had their commander had been wearing a mask?

On ne passe pas! declared some of the toughest soldiers ever to take the field of battle. They shall not pass! French troops fought the battle of Verdun wearing billowing sky-blue uniforms and, yes, gas masks. Verdun claimed 70,000 casualties per month for the lion’s share of 1916, finally costing the French and German armies a combined 714,000 men, including nearly 300,000 K.I.A. After months of utter devastation, France emerged victorious. Surely Cawthorn would grant that these Frenchmen were tough warriors–or perhaps their mask-induced wimpiness was counteracted by the fact that the Kaiser’s men, too, wore masks to protect themselves from deadly gas.

But even a notorious military-service faker like Cawthorn would not impugn the fighting spirit of American soldiers in Desert Storm. Based on the experience of the Iran-Iraq War, when Saddam’s forces used chemical weapons freely, the Department of Defense sent troves of gas masks over to the Gulf with our troops. It took physical fortitude for Americans to wear gas masks in the oppressive Arab heat. And we won the war in 100 hours.

“If we could first know where we are, and where we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it,” said the Emancipation Proclamation’s author. History is essential to understanding the roots of contemporary challenges and placing the present day in a context of fact. Public servants in particular should know how their society evolved and developed, how we came to be where we are, how previous generations of leaders solved their problems, and how they did not. Cawthorn is 100% clueless and that’s why he doesn’t belong in the U.S. House.


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