Historians in the Age of Trump

Jamelle Bouie opens with a powerful statement about the nature of Trump’s victory:

More than anything, Trump promises a restoration of white authority. After eight years of a black president—after eight years in which cosmopolitan America asserted its power and its influence, eight years in which women leaned in and blacks declared that their lives mattered—millions of white Americans said enough…

Here’s what we need to understand: This has happened before. For 10 brief years after the Civil War, a coalition of ex-slaves and white farmers worked to forge democracy in the former Confederacy. With the help of the federal government, they scored real victories and made significant gains. But their success spurred a backlash of angry whites, furious at sharing power with blacks and their Northern allies, murderous at the very idea of social equality. Those whites fought a war against Reconstruction governments, and when they won, they declared the South redeemed.

These are stories we need to tell, as we can, in our classrooms and our writing. To lay out the long histories as clearly as possible, to reveal the consequences of oppression and the strategies for resistance and survival, and most of all to name this as American. The rise of Trump is not a random manifestation of hate, but a specifically American process taking place during the rise of global instability and climate chaos.

Many of us, in our classrooms are or feel constrained – and likely properly so – about using our roles to argue for or against specific contemporary candidates or policies.

But we can teach the history. I have more to say, but I have to go to class. On the docket for today: Papal Monarchy, Vladimir and the Kievan Rus, and advising capstone projects mostly on the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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