More Historians Weigh-In on the Trump Acquittal

Trump USA Today

Politico has gathered historians Michael Kimmage, Claire Potter, Mary Frances Berry, David Blight, Allan Lichtman, Brooks Simpson, and Jeremi Suri.

Here is Blight:

The impeachment and acquittal of Trump in 2020 left the country’s political culture in spiraling decline. For the portion of the country’s politically engaged population that was not securely within the Fox News universe, the Trump acquittal demonstrated the sheer cravenness of the Republican Party. Republicans continued to be seen in the 2020s as the party of white people, of a white nationalist, of a xenophobic vision of America that flew in the face of reality: an increasingly multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious nation. The Democratic Party also frayed into divisions between left and right. Democrats managed to defeat Trump in 2020, decisively in the popular vote but only narrowly in the Electoral College—vulnerable to charges even then that it was an archaic institution.

After his defeat in 2020, Trump cut a lucrative deal with Fox News and appeared on the channel three nights per week in prime time, stoking a racist, nationalist vision of the country, while the country divided and fragmented into increasingly identity-based groups.

The United States also continued to decline as a world power, losing influence in international organizations and in global economics. American institutions and corporations went into decline, and the country lost its place in the world as a model republic. Trumpism had become the watchword for American decline.

By the end of the 2020s, more voters than ever identified as independent. Attempts to establish third parties surged. In 2027, a movement for a new constitutional convention succeeded. The resulting constitutional amendments to eliminate the Electoral College and to reorganize the U.S. Senate into a more democratic institution just barely failed to pass in three quarters of state legislatures for approval.

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Pence’s Irresponsible Use of History

Ross

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal calling for Democratic Senators to show “courage” in the form of a willingness to “stand up” and “reject” the “partisan impeachment” of Donald Trump.

Pence invoked John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage.  In chapter six of that book, Kennedy praised the apparent courage of Senator Edmund Ross (R-Kansas).  During Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial 1868, Ross broke with the Republican Party and voted against removing Johnson from office.  Pence wrote, “Ross was determined to render a fair judgment, resisting his own party’s stampede.”

But there is a major problem with Pence’s historical analogy.  University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri explains at CNN:

[Pence’s] account is historically dishonest on every count and it reveals the contortions the White House is willing to perform to protect its power at all costs — precisely the attitude that helped to trigger impeachment in the first place. When a president and his closest advisers pathologically lie to the public, and Pence’s article is yet another example, how can the American people (and our allies) believe anything coming out of the White House? How can a president lead when he has violated all foundations for public trust?

n this op-ed, Pence has distorted basic American history and civics into Soviet-style propaganda, where the facts are intentionally turned upside down. Numerous historians have written about President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and Senator Ross’ role in his trial — including Manisha SinhaBrenda Wineapple, David Greenberg and David Stewart. They all agree — and no serious historian disagrees — that Ross intended to vote for Johnson’s conviction, but suddenly changed his mind. Ross did not experience an epiphany of conscience or a surge of courage. Evidence suggests he was bribed.

Read the entire piece here.

This piece by David O. Stewart is also worth considering.

How Will Historians Remember the Decade (2010-2019)?

Trump iN Dallas

Politico asked historians how the history books will cover the past decade.  Contributors include David Kennedy, Tom Nichols, David Greenberg, Keisha Blain, Peniel Joseph, Heather Cox Richardson, George Nash, Kevin Kruse, Andrew Bacevich, Claire Potter, David Hollinger, Nicole Hemmer, Jack Rakove, and Jeremi Suri.

Here is Heather Cox Richardson:

Polarization and the rise of politically active women

The perfect symbol of the 2010s came in February 2015, when an image of a dress went viral on social media as Americans fought over whether its pattern was #blackandblue or #whiteandgold. America was divided in this decade, with splits over economics, politics, religion and culture exacerbated by social media. A set of increasingly extreme Republicans stayed in power by convincing voters that Democrats under biracial president Barack Obama, whose signature piece of legislation was the Affordable Care Act making health care accessible, were intent on destroying America by giving tax dollars to lazy people of color and feminists who wanted to murder babies. And in 2016, Republicans leaders weaponized social media with the help of Russians to elect to the White House Donald J. Trump, who promised to end this “American carnage.” On the other side, in 2013, the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement helped galvanize those who believed the system was stacked against them. And in January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March became the largest single-day protest in American history. By the end of that year, the #MeToo Movement took off as women shared their ubiquitous experiences with sexual harassment and demanded an end to male dominance. In 2018, when Republicans forced through the Senate the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who had been creditably accused of sexual assault, they helped convinced voters to elect a historic number of women and racial minorities to Congress in in the 2018 midterm elections, almost entirely on the Democratic side. The story of the 2010s is of increasing American polarization, but also the rise of politically active women to defend American democracy against the growing power of a Republican oligarchy.

Read the other entries here.

Four Historians of Presidential Foreign Policy: “We’ve never seen anything like this”

Trump on mall

Here are the four historians:

Elizabeth A. Cobbs : Melbern Glasscock Chair in American history at Texas A&M University and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Kyle Longley: Snell Family Dean’s distinguished professor of history and political science at Arizona State University.

Kenneth Osgood: Professor of History at the Colorado School of Mines.

Jeremi Suri: Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here is a taste of their piece at CNN:

It is rare to get such a real-time look at presidential conversations with foreign leaders. As historians of US foreign relations, collectively we have read many thousands of similar documents from past presidents. We have also listened to audio tapes of conversations between presidents and their international counterparts. In our numerous books on presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama, we have examined how American leaders conduct US foreign policy — the good, bad, and ugly. Nothing really surprises us anymore.

Until now.

Trump’s documentary record differs dramatically from his predecessors. A worrisome thread runs through each conversation. Trump appears laser-focused on his own fortunes to the exclusion of the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, this is part of a larger and startling pattern of Trump promoting his personal agenda ahead of the nation’s interests.

Read the entire piece here.

The Role of Historians in “Unfaking the News” (#AHA19)

trump fake news

Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL reports on a very relevant panel held at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  You can read all his posts here. Enjoy! –JF

This afternoon’s AHA19 panel, “Unfaking the News: Historians in the Media in the Age of Trump,” was a lively and much needed discussion on the role that historians can and should play in bringing their scholarship to the general public through mass media.  It was by far the most political session I’ve attended, but it’s hard to envision how that could have been avoided, considering the session’s namesake politician’s evident lack of historical understanding and (according to the Washington Post just two months ago) average of five false or misleading claims per day since becoming president.

The format was round-robin and each round of discussion was started with a question posed by session chair Kenneth Osgood.  This allowed for plenty of back and forth from the panelists and a good deal of follow-up questions and commentary from the audience.  What follows are two of the questions asked, with a summary of the responses from the historians on the panel.

1)  What’s an issue facing the country that cries out for meaningful historical understanding?

Nicole Hemmer – “The crisis of political journalism in the Age of Trump.”  According to Hemmer, the values of objective reporting have come under fire and the solution of some to just offer both sides has led to false equivalencies being created and unchallenged notions being promoted on the air and in print.

Jeremi Suri – “The bureaucracy (the ‘Deep State’).”  Despite its demonization, and view by some during the current government shutdown that it’s even unnecessary, Suri explained how bureaucracy is a good thing.  It makes our lives better and we need it.  At a conference with attendees from all over the country, his example of the air traffic controllers who are currently working without pay had easy resonance.

Julian Zelizer – “Partisanship and polarization … we need to understand just how deeply rooted this disfunction is or we’ll always be waking up like we’re Alice in Wonderland.”

Jeffrey Engel – “How much do we need to be educators, how much do we need to be citizens, and how do those responsibilities overlap?”  He continued, tongue in cheek, “When Trump sends that next tweet, we need to be able to step in and say, ‘well no, John Adams also tweeted that.’”  In some of the more sobering analysis from the panel, Engel admitted that over the past two years he has genuinely started to think that the Republic is in danger.  “What does the history we are talking about mean to us today?” he asked.  “These are unusual times.”

2)  Is Donald Trump just saying out loud what other presidents have thought in quiet?  Is the Trump Presidency unprecedented?

Hemmer – “The ‘just saying it out loud’ is important … that matters.”

Suri – “What makes Trump unprecedented is that despite the impossibility of the job, he doesn’t even try to do it.  He’s the first president to not be president.  He is running the Trump Organization from the White House.  He is using the office to help his family … He is running a mafia organization from the Oval Office … Every other president has tried to do the job; he is not doing the job.”

Zelizer – The unusual question we’re continuing to see played out is, “how far to the brink is the party of the president willing to go in support of their president?”

Engel – “Abraham Lincoln’s most recent thoughts didn’t immediately pop up on your phone.”  He continued, “If any other president had admitted to having an extramarital affair with a porn star, their world would have exploded.  It’s important to know just how far we have, and how far we have not, come in the last two years.”  Engel explained that never in the discussion of Stormy Daniels was anyone seriously questioning whether it happened.  The debate was always over whether it was illegal.  And for him, that’s a shocking development.  He also cautioned that historians have to be careful with how they use the word “unprecedented.”

Suri – “We need to move people away from the false use of history.”  For him, the word unprecedented means “beyond the pale for the context that we are in and the trajectory we’ve been on.”  He stressed that historians need to push back against the impulse to say that “everything is Hitler,” just as much as they need to push back against the narrative that “everything is normal.”

Osgood had opened the session with the observation that “these challenges were not invented by Donald Trump, but they have been exacerbated by him.”  Towards the end of the panel he added that for Trump, “Twitter is the source of his power.”  With that in mind, perhaps it’s a good thing that Kevin Kruse, Kevin Levin, the Tattooed Prof, and other so-called “twitterstorians” are practicing public history online and on the air.

Thanks, Matt!