Monday, May 01, 2017

"God Help Us"

"All I can say to you is that from day one I have believed that Donald Trump's greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance—of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, move history however he wishes. This is simply 5th grade understanding of history or worse."

Tim Murphy at Mother Jones asks historian David Blight about Donald Trump's comments regarding Andrew Jackson and the Civil War.

"In other words, what sets Trump apart is not that he has historical heroes, but that he admires heroes who are 'tough' and push people around, whether it be Jackson in the nullification crisis or various generals in running the military. Patton and MacArthur were the most authoritarian of American military leaders, known for bullying their troops and disobeying the rules."

Jeet Heer at The New Republic expands on the theme.

"No, it's more as though American history were Groundhog Day, and we'll keep repeating the cycles of Reconstruction and Redemption until we can figure out how to live together. But for all of Foner's willingness to see the era's contemporary echoes, he blanches at the idea that we should view regression as inevitable. 'People who lived through Reconstruction did not know Redemption was coming,' he says. 'They were operating on the basis that this was happening, that this was gonna be permanent, that these rights were going to be there, and thinking about what to do with them. You can't make Reconstruction purely a question of failure, and you can't make it purely a question of why did it fail.'"

Tim Murphy at Mother Jones talks as well with historian Eric Foner about how to view Reconstruction in the age of Trump.

"For Blight, the trouble is that Trump rose to power despite these truths—despite the established danger of demagogues, the historic viciousness of prejudice, and the broad consensus that expanding rights for women and people of color has strengthened societies. 'You spend all your years and all your life trying to teach history, and then to see this man elected—I felt historians had failed,' he said. 'We're working in every medium we can—from film, to museums, to writing books. But we're up against the Fox News view of the country, which we don't reach. We don't even know how.'"

And Graham Vyse at The New Republic writes that "Trump’s Ignorance Is Radicalizing U.S. Historians."

"Inskeep was making that argument to demonstrate a key difference between Jackson and Trump, who largely failed to widen the electorate in 2016. Jackson, Inskeep noted, brought new voters into the American democratic experiment and gave a political voice to those who had previously been voiceless. But if Trump failed to do the same, he seems to have understood lessons about Jackson's success that progressives, to their detriment, have largely forgotten."

Andew Exum, though, at The Atlantic offers an alternate view.

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