Hundreds of ‘Historians’ Make Vast Mistake

Every so often, a group of professionals signs a political letter claiming that their training uniquely qualifies them to announce that a particular candidate for president, traditionally a Republican, is totally unfit for office. In 1964 it was psychiatrists denouncing Barry Goldwater. “Fact,” a fly-by-night magazine, rounded up 2417 shrinks, half of whom were able to psychoanalyze Goldwater by long distance, finding him psychologically unfit without actually meeting him. (And incidentally, raising the question of why their clients should spend all that time and money for a lot of psychiatric sessions, when the psychiatrist can simply tell you what’s wrong by long distance.)

This year historians — some 763 of them with a few non-historians mixed in — were able to discern the unqualified nature of Donald Trump’s candidacy. They were able to do this because they are the keepers of the nation’s memory, or something like that. Their statement cannot be said to lack grandiosity.

Here’s our favorite line: “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.” Whereas reporters who wanted to write this sort of thing would have to present some sort of evidence for all this alleged violence, historians, it seems, because of their training, can just say it’s true and leave it at that.

Stanley Fish got to shoot the fish in this particular barrel, writing in The New York Times that “by dressing up their obviously partisan views as ‘the lessons of history’ the signatories to the letter present themselves as the impersonal transmitters of a truth that just happens to flow through them. In fact, they are merely people with history degrees….” Still, we include the list of signers in case any readers or their children might carelessly take a course given by one of these historians under the mistaken impression that they know what they are talking about.

Read the historians’ letter here.


6 thoughts on “Hundreds of ‘Historians’ Make Vast Mistake

  1. These “historians” are just people who think Trump’s a jerk. Simple as that. They mask their contempt for him behind their degrees and “history.”

  2. None of these historians do history any more; they just moralize – endlessly – like a bunch of store-front evangelists. History is complicated, but not to them. They have certainties. They do history in the moment, in real-time, no hands.

    They should remember: when you sign a list it’s forever, like herpes (Ask the gang of 88 at Duke). Like that porn movie you made when you were 19. It may come up again.

  3. The writer should have noted that it appears that about 80% of the signers are not even historians. I’m not sure how you can sign a letter that explicitly speaks from the ‘authority’ of an historian when you admit that you’re not an historian, but these are the sorts of people who don’t let facts get in their way.

  4. Sadly, this kind of hollow spectacle simply demonstrates the stereotypical truth that the ability to “pile it higher & deeper” requires neither brilliance nor wisdom — just persistence and boundless ego.

    They should be ashamed — but that requires humility.

  5. Irony is a quality lost on these people. What gave these so-called scholars the idea that as professional historians they are somehow qualified to declaim on a matter that is not yet history? What are the chances they respect the judgments of contemporaries of the historical periods they study? And yet they imagine their judgment is to be taken seriously?

    This same type was at large in the Academy when I was there in the early-mid 1980s. Back then, historians and other academics gravely pronounced Ronald Reagan to be entirely, uniquely, never-to-be-toppedly unqualified for the Presidency. Not even the “historians” of a mere 30 years later still agree with that assessment.

    1. But they probably think Obama is/shall-go-done as one of the greatest presidents this country has a ever had.

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