Watch this video:
Granted, Maddow is not talking specifically about historical thinking here, but almost everything she says can be analyzed using skills that we learn from studying history.
- The person in this video is Rachel Maddow. Her politics lean left. We should keep this in mind as we interpret the video. This is what historians refer to as “sourcing.” Maddow is a political commentator and is motivated here by her anti-Trump views. This should not taint the validity of her argument or her work as an interpreter of this intelligence report, but it is something we should be aware of even if we conclude in the end that it has no effect on whether the case she is making in the video is right.
- Having said that, let’s turn to the content. Maddow compares Trump’s statement about the report with the report itself. In other words, Maddow is turning to the primary source. She is not allowing Trump’s statement (which is a secondary source in this case) to be the final word on what the primary source says. Nice work. This is something akin to what history educator Sam Wineburg calls “opening up the textbook.”
- Maddow notes a contradiction between the primary source and the secondary source. She thus evaluates the accuracy of the secondary source (Trump’s statement) based on what the primary source says.
- If she is handling these sources fairly, and looking at them with a sensitivity to context (which is hard to do in a TV segment like this), then we can conclude one of two things. 1). Trump needs to improve his historical thinking skills because he is unable to interpret what is in the intelligence report. We know this because he is unable to write an accurate statement summarizing what the report says. 2). Trump has blatantly lied to the American people. He, in his statement, is not telling the truth about what is in the intelligence report.
- Whether Trump is a bad interpreter, or whether he is flat out lying, he should make historians cringe. Historians tell stories about the past, but they also teach students how to take primary sources and interpret them accurately. This is a skill that a K-16 student should get in any history class. It is why we teach history in schools. Historians also do their best, through an analysis of primary documents, to tell the truth about the past. Trump fails on both accounts.