With all the talk of human dignity these days, and all the recognition that Donald Trump doesn’t recognize it in Mexicans and Muslims, what happened to the capacity to recognize Trump himself as human? In other words, why don’t Christian historians model the charity and perspective in discussing Trump that they expect the Republican to display? John Fea (sorry to write so much about you big guy but you know, iron-sharpening-iron and all) once again sees what so many already see:
As Christian students of the past they strive to tell the stories of all human beings. The goal of such teaching and writing is not political correctness, but a fundamental belief in the dignity of individuals. Everyone’s story counts.
When Trump disparages women and people of different races and religions he dehumanizes them. He sends the message that some human beings are not as important as others. In the process he fails to recognize the Imago Dei in all of God’s human creation.
Historians know a few things about this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric. We have studied its manifestation in the past and are trained to recognize it in the present.
But I don’t for the life of me understand why the historians who are so quick to condemn Trump don’t admit that the really challenging part of studying the past is to humanize characters like the Republican nominee. How a scholar does that is not obvious and that is why they pay historians the big bucks. To look beyond the surface and see the wider set of circumstances that contribute to a human being’s assets and liabilities is what makes history valuable (and for me fun).
Regarding a person in merely moral categories doesn’t measure up to the standards of good historical knowledge. It does what everyone else already does. And when done in the name of evangelical history it actually shows that born-again historians have a moral imagination but little removed from Jerry Falwell (Sr.) or James Dobson. What they did to President Clinton, evangelical historians are ready and willing to do to Donald Trump.