Historians Are Calling Out Trump Online Whenever He Misreads the PastHistorians in the News
A new wrinkle seems to have developed this year in the relentless news cycle. It usually plays out something like this:
To explain away a gaffe or to justify controversial policy, someone in Trump world, an administration notorious for its anti-academic tilt, plumbs the depths of history for precedent. In doing so, he or she often contrives or repeats something historically unsound. Talking heads then react on television, as print journalists tweet while firing up their laptops to meet evening deadlines. And, finally, in the days to follow, web editors commission articles from historians, in hopes of putting said comments into greater historical context.
A good example of this came in late October, after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made controversial remarks regarding the origins of the Civil War. Repeating a talking point once commonly taught in southern classrooms, Kelly blamed the war on “the lack of the ability to compromise.” Within days, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, TIME, and several other institutions responded with articles from working historians, which broached such fraught topics as the Fugitive Slave Act, the racism of Robert E. Lee, and the fallacy of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” myth.
Editors similarly sought insight from historians in May after Trump claimed former US President Andrew Jackson, the man behind the forced removal of Indigenous people from the American Southeast in the mid 19th century, “had a big heart”; after he fired FBI director James Comey in June; and again in August, after Trump doubled down on his claim that people on “both sides” were to blame for violence in Charlottesville, where a woman was killed protesting a rally of neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
Historians, in other words, find themselves amid an unprecedented coming-out party. ...
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