Historians Against Trump

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Charles Lindbergh addresses an “America First” rally in Fort Wayne, IN on October 3, 1941

A group of historians has released an open letter opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump. I just signed it.

Here is the letter:

Today, we are faced with a moral test. As historians, we recognize both the ominous precedents for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and the exceptional challenge it poses to civil society. Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.

Historians Against Trump does not align itself with any political party or candidate. Many among us do not identify as activists and have never before taken part in such a campaign. We are history professors, school teachers, public historians and museum professionals, independent scholars and graduate students. We are united by the belief that the candidacy of Donald J. Trump poses a threat to American democracy.

As historians, we consider diverse viewpoints while acknowledging our own limitations and subjectivity. Our profession reminds us to look for the humanity in everyone as we examine the ideas, interests and movements that shape world events. We interrogate and take responsibility for our sources and ground our arguments in context and evidence. Donald Trump’s record of speeches, policies and social media is an archive of know-nothingism and blinding self-regard. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.

The Trump candidacy is an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve. No less than his sham “Trump University,” Donald Trump’s contempt for constructive, evidence-based argumentation mocks the ideals of the academy, whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. Academia is far from the only profession endangered by Trumpism. Donald Trump bullies and suppresses the press, and seeks to weaken First Amendment protections as President. Trump singles out journalists for attack and mocks physical disabilities. Both the judiciary and individualjudges face public threats from Trump. Non-white, non-male professionals and civil servants are irredeemably compromised in Donald Trump’s eyes.Judges are disqualified from service because of their ethnicity; women Presidential candidates succeed only because of their gender; the President of the United States is under suspicion as illegitimate and alien because of his skin color and heritage.

Donald Trump’s candidacy is the latest chapter in a troubled narrative many decades in the making. In another era, civil society institutions such as the academy, the free press and the judiciary were counted on to safeguard constitutional democracy. That this is no longer the case cannot be blamed solely on Trump. Donald Trump’s candidacy has profited from the fears of people living precariously and a political culture of spectacle and cynicism, both of which long predate his emergence as a candidate. The impulses and ideologies that animate the Trump campaign will not disappear once he is defeated in November.

It is all of our job to fill the voids exploited by the Trump campaign, building an inclusive civil society in its place. Along with Historians Against Trump, groups like Writers On Trump and Citizen Therapists are organizing in defense of the ideals in which their professions are grounded. Historians Against Trump will be marching alongside these and many other groups as part of the peaceful protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. We will continue our work into the fall, publishing essays and articles that place Trumpism into historical perspective.

We have a professional obligation as historians to share an understanding of the past upon which a better future may be built. This means equipping the public with historical skills and narratives that are “factual, accurate, comprehensible, meaningful, useful, and resistant to cynical manipulators who sell snake oil as historical truth.” When Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination on July 21st, a Grand Old Party born out of the struggle for abolition and justice will have succumbed to snake oil. We are here to say, “No more.” Join us in standing up to Trump—for our history, for our future, and for each other.

Historians Against Trump

July 11, 2016

Here is an Inside Higher Ed piece on the letter.

9 thoughts on “Historians Against Trump

  1. Historians Against Trump does not align itself with any political party or candidate.

    In a two-party system, by shooting one they picked the other, ipso facto.

    As historians, we consider diverse viewpoints while acknowledging our own limitations and subjectivity.

    In their opinion…of their own opinions. In the current crisis, opinion is offered as [social] science, subjectivity as objective fact. The fact/value distinction is problematic, for the importance of a fact rests solely on the value we assign to it.

    As Mr. Toland aptly notes above, only if the signatories also sign onto “Historians Against Hillary” can balance and disinterest be claimed. And if they still want to choose Hillary over Trump [and of course they do, let’s be honest–probably not a Romney voter in the bunch], that’s well and good, but ultimately it’s a subjective judgment.

    And that the political judgment of historians is better than that of normal people, well, that cannot be scientifically conceded either.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-experts-are-almost-always-wrong-9997024/?no-ist

    Thx for forum, Dr. Fea. As is usually the case, my demurral here is formal.

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  2. Striving for balance really isn’t the goal of public engagement. It is rather to fill a particular need–to address issues that are ignored and viewpoints that are unchecked. As an evangelical teaching at a Christian college and speaking at many churches, John has an audience with many evangelicals. As he noted below, many of these evangelicals are supporting Trump, often with the endorsements of their leaders and without hearing any opposition from the evangelical community. So, the need here that arises is for John to point out why he believes Trump should not be suitable to evangelicals. What need would really served by John writing about why Hillary is unacceptable to evangelicals? I’m fairly certain there are volumes already written on the subject.

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  3. Thanks for this, Lewis. You are correct, I have given Hillary a pass thus far. (Although I have been critical of Bernie Sanders, especially on life issues. See this piece in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/09/03/bernie-sanders-liberty-university-speech-column/71462920/). I guess I hit Metaxas and Trump so hard because I see many of my fellow Christians flocking to them. But I will definitely take your comment into consideration. There is much to criticize about Hillary as well.

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  4. You have been busy noting the shortcomings in the Metaxas book, and now you object to the manifestly flawed Donald Trump. What is missing is balance. Mrs. Clinton is every bit as corrupt, even if in different ways, than Trump. When will the righteous wrath against her appear? Thus far, you remind me of an airplane with only a left wing. How soon will the balanced judgments against both candidates appear?

    I’m not going to create my own blog site to respond. If you send more such as unbalanced comments as the one below, I’ll simply delete them and wait for more sober posts, which you can do. This one diminishes my respect for you.

    Lewis Toland

    Roswell, NM

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