Historians Against Trump (sort of)

The study of the past is supposed to be good for nurturing empathy. I (mmmmeeeeEEEE) personally think history is good for preventing celebratory dances after scoring a touchdown. History teaches what it feels like to have been here before — which is how players who score touchdowns might want to act.

Today’s homily on history:

“History offers a critical perspective on the present and satisfies a natural longing most people have to situate themselves in a larger context and stream of time,” they write. And “a historical consciousness fosters perspective taking and empathy.”

In the wake of a recent spate of police shootings, historian John Fea reflected on history and empathy. The study of history isn’t just about learning facts, Fea pointed out. It’s really about fostering empathy. Fea included a powerful quote from Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis: “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions—their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they fit within it.”

Okay. I’m agreeable.

But then why doesn’t this ever seem to apply to Donald Trump? Shouldn’t historians, because they have seen this stuff before, not be surprised or outraged by Trump? Might they even imagine through empathy what it feels like to find Trump attractive? Not saying I do, mind you. I just like to point out how one-sided his opponents can be and how they don’t seem to learn the lessons of history. Like this?

But can evangelicals really trust Trump to deliver on his Supreme Court promises? According to the bipartisan website PolitiFact, 85 percent of the claims Trump has made on the campaign trail (or at least the statements PolitiFact checked) are either half true or false. (Compare that with Clinton, at 48 percent).

Of course many evangelicals will respond to such an assertion by claiming that at least they have a chance to change the court with Trump. Though he may be a wild card, evangelicals believe that Clinton would be much more predictable. A Clinton presidency would result in a crushing blow to the Christian right’s agenda — perhaps even a knockout punch.

So this is where many evangelicals find themselves. They want the Supreme Court so badly they are willing to put their faith and trust in someone who is nearly incapable of telling the truth.

Let’s remember that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.

Fair enough. But when oh when will that point also be used against Hillary who seems to have a little trouble with the truth?

The people are calling. Historical understanding doesn’t seem to be answering.

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30 thoughts on “Historians Against Trump (sort of)

  1. Shouldn’t historians, because they have seen this stuff before, not be surprised or outraged by Trump?

    Ding.

    Might they even imagine through empathy what it feels like to find Trump attractive?

    Fair point but perhaps lost on the example. Who wants to feel like a sucka, since that’s what it takes to find him attractive? He’s the prosperity preacher of politics. But I have more empathy for those who find Hinn religiously attractive than those who find Trump politically attractive. Call me unfair, meh.

    But when oh when will that point also be used against Hillary who seems to have a little trouble with the truth

    It is. But the problem isn’t so much that Trump lies (or Clinton), it’s that he’s seriously unpredictable, erratic. She’s much more predictable, less erratic.

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  2. Zrim, live a little. And Hillary doesn’t get near the abuse she should and she’s been erratic and paranoid about a right wing conspiracy since the mid-90’s. She was right to intuit/know and react to something done wrong to her but it was her husband. We call it projection. But, if you wanna back Nixon………

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  3. “Hillary doesn’t get near the abuse she should ”

    Right-wing radio and media has had a field day with her for 25 years. Do people really think its the 80s still where people are only getting their news from the basic networks and a handful of national papers? Anti-clinton stuff is all out there. Drudge beats everyone in online viewership with Breitbart not far behind. Fox news counters cnn/msnbc (Hannity’s townhalls with Trump have been leading in ratings as well). Rush and the others are still dominating radio.

    “she’s been erratic”

    Trump is on a completely different level. The RNC had a mock trial for her, the arena chanting “lock her up” every day, Smith said she “killed my son”. Not a peep from her. DNC has a Muslim asking if Trump has read the constitution and charging him with not sacrificing anything. He immediately goes on a 3-day tirade about it despite his campaign counseling against it. The man must respond disproportionately to every perceived slight and contradicts himself every other day, with immigration “softening” being just yet the latest example.

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  4. Just want to point out, that while they are all a bunch of buffoons, the PolitiFact stats are a pile of crap. They took a bunch of incredibly subjective statements by Trump, which are obviously implications based upon Hillary’s record, and they are saying that he’s wrong because Hillary never said those exact words. Trump is saying things that are logical deductions (ok, I’ll admit I’m using the phrase loosely) based upon things that Hillary has said and done. So, that 85% number is really really subjective and definitely not bipartisan.

    Here’s the link to the list of their quotes from Trump, along with their childish analysis: http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/

    Like you said, “when oh when will that point also be used against Hillary who seems to have a little trouble with the truth?” Amen.

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  5. The way Osteen winds up Horton where the “haven’t you seen this before?” comes to mind.

    Sean, most of what CvD said. The GOP has been seething since the early 90s and used the religious right to invent the morality test for public servants. (Here comes The Donald, oopsy daisy, never mind.) Not sure how much abuse you think is sufficient but whatever their faults I’m pretty sure the Clintons have received a good helping the last 30 years. That’s not a defense of them, just a bit of wonder at the idea they’ve not received enough. We’re supposed to get into others’ minds here, right?

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  6. James Young, maybe that’s because there’s a field day to be had.

    There is one with Trump.

    There is one with RC Church.

    There is one with Hillary.

    You can’t deny the possessors.

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  7. Clete, I don’t listen to right wing radio and have read Drudge maybe twice. But I do watch HBO and CNN abuse and psychoanalyze Trump every night. Not that he’s undeserving but trying to sell me Hillary because Trump is an egomaniacal, power hungry, narcissist is just so much of the pot calling the kettle black.(microaggression). They’re both overly entitled boomers, at least he lacks the self-control to not out himself. Who knows what we’ll find behind the curtain after she’s long gone.

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  8. Zrim, see my response to Clete. When she shakes free of the FBI and still has the nerve to turn around and question the manner of the acquittal and hand slap, I’m keen on the idea that she needs some more. If she’s going in, I want a humbled, chastened, grateful Hillary. Grateful Hillary, that’s a good one.

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  9. Sean,

    Drudge, Fox, Rush all dominate and have millions in audience (far more than hbo or cnn) despite your personal lack of viewing/listening. Clinton isn’t being protected from the sheeple the “liberal mainstream media” is duping – there’s this thing called the Internet people use for consuming most of their news now.

    All politicians and aspirants to the presidency have Trump/Clinton’s faults to some degree – that’s just comes with the territory. But really, if any of the other 16 had made it (save for maybe Carson), would we be having this same type of discussion? The question is not whether you think he has flaws, it’s whether you think he is fit for the office. Like Obama said, he disagreed with McCain and Romney, but he certainly didn’t consider either unfit. There’s a reason many conservatives from various administrations outright do no support him and are focusing on down-ballot and think his winning would destroy the party entirely, and it’s not just because he’s an opportunistic narcissist lacking credibility.

    And you’ll have to forgive me for taking complaints about the media’s treatment of Trump with a grain of salt. The media is what got him to where he is in the first place with its billions in free coverage. Even fox acknowledges it – http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/25/bias-alert-media-looks-inward-deems-slanted-trump-coverage-warranted.html – “If Trump is confused by the media’s stance that it has been fair by being biased, he can take comfort in a new study on his treatment by the press since he entered the political arena.
    Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy tracked his coverage by CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. It concluded that through its coverage of Trump, both good and bad, the media helped him get the Republican nomination.”
    It’s like his and his supporters’ complaints about the polls being biased and election being rigged – odd those complaints weren’t anywhere to be seen when they supported him and he touted them every day, and he didn’t seem to have any issues with the voting process in the primaries. Of course, he considers the National Enquirer a model of journalistic excellence, so what can you do.

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  10. Sean, but I’m not selling HRC. I am saying that I have less problem handing the keys to the adult who might take me places I don’t want to go and listen to music along the way that I hate than handing them to the petulant maniac who’ll veer into oncoming traffic and flip off everyone around us inciting all kinds of road rage. We all gotta make choices and live with them, which beats trying to make everything fair all the time (boo-hoo) and waiting for Mr. Right to lead us.

    Someone deserves more abuse and criticism. That’s just how the world worketh. And that someone is the shyster who only wants to win for bragging rights and doesn’t give two shiites about actual governing.

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  11. Clete, you’re forgiven but I’m still gonna go home tonight and be subject to another round of armchair psychoanalysis of Trump and what a maroon he is. I’ll try to listen to Rush or Fox News more, so, I can balance out the abuse.

    Zrim, that’s selling HRC in the world of two opportunities cuz I don’t hear you defending Stein or Johnson. Though if your plan is to write me in, well, who could blame you. So, you’d rather have the Betty Friedan, self-indulgent, vindictive, bitter, lying, power hungry, dollar signs in her eyes particularly when she sees an opportunity to utilize her public office to get it(nothing like thumbing your nose at everyone) woman over the egomaniacal, no self-control, braggart, chauvinist, who’s gonna develop and execute foreign policy on twitter. I don’t know. I think I’m gonna go with crazy.

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  12. “I don’t hear you defending Stein or Johnson.”
    Perhaps Johnson doesn’t need defending. Of course all right thinking people will be voting for him assuming they don’t forget to…uh…hmmm…where is bag of doritos.

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  13. Sean, truth be told I’m seriously considering the oft neglected but esteemed option of abstention this go around. When I shop for a any number of widgets and find nothing that satisfies, I don’t write in or choose “the lesser of useless widgets.” I just leave my wallet in my pocket until the market comes around. Sure, widgets aren’t votes (they’re more important) but the reasoning seems to apply just as well.

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  14. James Young, unfit? If you raise that then you need to raise it about Hillary. Not to mention, you may need to define what’s unfit. Lying? Check for Donald and Hillary. Saying stupid things? Anyone remember Hillary saying in a debate with Bernie that not ISIS but Republicans were her enemy. Check. Morally questionable? Check.

    Is Hillary a serious politician? Yes. Donald? No.

    But let’s not go down the road of unfit — especially with all the skeletons Rome has in its closet.

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  15. Why would historians be different from bishops (my, the spirituality of the church is attractive)?

    Bishops should speak to core values that transcend politics, strive to avoid partisanship, not isolate any one issue, even a very grave one, and recognize the freedom of the laity to make their own judgments on what are substantially secular and prudential judgments. Those judgments may be right or they may be wrong, and yes, I believe it would be very wrong for anyone to vote for Donald Trump! But democracy, unlike the church, presumes a right to be wrong. The alternative, a politicized church, is worse.

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  16. But Jerry Falwell Sr. endorsing Reagan worked out well for evangelicals?

    Falwell has fallen under the dark spell of Donald Trump. That is not a crime, but it is having a corrosive effect on his intellectual and moral judgment. He is saying witless and defamatory things. For those of us of the Christian faith, the fact that Falwell is viewed by many as an Evangelical leader makes it that much worse. We have been pained by the harm that a previous generation did to Christian public witness because of partisan, reckless, and graceless comments. Now we have this.

    Shouldn’t historians note problems of both Falwells?

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  17. John Fea explains his criticism of Trump:

    First, I pick on Trump because many of my readers are evangelicals, I myself still identify as evangelical (although it is getting harder every day), and I study American evangelicalism. Sometimes I write in an attempt to understand why so many of my fellow evangelicals are flocking to Trump. Sometimes I write in an attempt to challenge my fellow evangelicals to think more deeply, perhaps more Christianly, about their support of Trump. I am very interested in evangelicals and politics–past and present. When massive numbers of evangelicals start supporting Hillary Clinton I will write about it.

    Second, as a historian I have some serious issues with the Trump campaign. (I also have issues with the Clinton campaign, which I referenced here). It seems to me that Trump’s campaign is built upon an appeal to the past. He wants to “Make America Great AGAIN.” Such a campaign slogan invites historical reflection. Clinton’s campaign also operates within a historical narrative. It is basically the same progressive view of history Barack Obama has been teaching us over the course of the last four years. We need to unpack that as well. (Or at least call attention to it since academic historians have done a pretty good job of unpacking it in virtually everything they write).

    But it does seem that conservative candidates (if you can call Trump conservative) are more prone to historical error than progressive candidates. This is because conservative candidates tend to run on the language of reclamation and restoration. They are interested in the past as something more than just a thing to overcome.

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  18. My reply to John Fea (still in moderation):

    John Fea,

    Thanks for the explanation (and for not being p o’ed).

    On the first point, that’s fair enough. But do you think (I don’t think I do) Trump supporters are reading you? Or is it folks in the evangelical college world. I can’t imagine many Trump supporters there. I listened to your interview at CT and those folks are hardly on the fence about Trump. So helping the college folks understand hillbilly evangelicals may be a really important part of an evangelical historian’s job.

    On the second point, I dissent from the notion that conservatives are primarily guilty of the greatness narrative. That’s why historians need to remember how the manifest destiny folks of the 19th c., the Progressives, and New Dealers were also proponents of American greatness (just as JFK and President Obama have been).

    American exceptionalism is everywhere. Trump is a version of it. But I don’t see him any more guilty than other presidents or candidates.

    Where I do see the problem with Trump is his egotism and lack of statesmanship of any kind. I just don’t think you need to be an evangelical or a historian to pick up on that. (Trump supporters don’t worry about statesmanship — I suppose — because it has been the cloak to cover parts of national life that people are not allowed to talk about in polite company — like the religious background of recent gun-shooting terrorists).

    Liked by 1 person

  19. If you criticize politicians, criticize all of them:

    But why, then, waste time heaving chunks of onyx and porphyry at politicians? Why bawl so lustily against the irremediable? Why roll such nauseous pills for the incurable? The answer is simple and shameless: because it is good sport. Political mountebanks are ferae naturae. They lurk in every bramble bush and people every copse. What is more, they are sound in wind and limb, and so make graceful and amazing jumps from clod to clod. Therefore, it is pleasing, on a fine morning, to whistle for the dogs and go in pursuit of them. Their leaps are agreeable to the eye. Their yelps are music to the ear. They show fight. A gallop after them stirs the blood and sharpens the appetite. I know of nothing in the world more stimulating, save perhaps Florestan cocktails and laparotomy.

    Beside, the chase has its high uses, its social value. Unless politicians were regularly hunted they would multiply enormously and grow too bold. As it is they invade our corncribs and raid our henroosts. Unchallenged and unpursued they would chew up the washing on the line. Therefore, it is not only extremely diverting, but also very virtuous to go after them with hounds and slings. The man who brings one down is soothed by the thought that he has done a good day’s work. He has rid the world of one pest more–and he has had a high old time at the business. If, in addition, he happens to be a hired professional, if he is paid for his work by people too fat or too lazy to take the high fences themselves, then his satisfaction is all the greater. Imagine, dear friends, the delights of an enterprise which is both virtuous and entertaining–and lucrative to boot!

    In other words, don’t be gullible that one side is good and the other is bad. Isn’t that Jerry Falwell?

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  20. Can historians tell us that all sides are questionable in politics?

    That booming and bogus virtue which is probably the chief characteristic of the American people was never more beautifully exhibited than in the current yawping about the Standard Oil Company’s contribution to the Roosevelt campaign fund. The Rockefellers and Archbold, honestly fearing that the election of Bryan would hurt their business, gave $125,000 to help elect Roosevelt. Therefore, they are scoundrels unspeakable—and Roosevelt himself is another scoundrel unspeakable—and Senator Penrose, who handled the money, is still another. But Mr. John Smith, who gave $2 to the Bryan fund in the belief that the election of Bryan would mean a lower tariff, and that a lower tariff would save money for him, Smith—this Mr. Smith is revered today as a heaven-kissing patriot, a sweet altruist, a noble and manly fellow.

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  21. “So helping the college folks understand hillbilly evangelicals may be a really important part of an evangelical historian’s job.”. Just finished Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The buzz around it is justified. But, as far as historians go, I see little that so called evangelical historians can contribute. Just plain historians can help. Rural culture in America has attracted the attention of historians, for example, https://www.amazon.com/Country-People-New-South-Tennessees/dp/0807845264, which is a very good book, but only one example. “Evangelical” historians have only distinguished themselves in recent months by displaying how uncomfortable they are with their subjects, and how fast they can ditch the adjective. I’m too lazy to look it up, but either Marsden or Noll has taken to referring to himself as an Augustinian Christian. (maybe they both have). This would all be really funny, except there are so few people to share the joke with.

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