In the Trump era Eric Foner "is one of the most dangerous men in the United States”

Historians in the News
tags: Eric Foner, Trump



Author Gore Vidal liked to call this country “the United States of Amnesia.” Even more so than other places, our country has been formed not by what it chooses to remember of its own past, but by what it chooses to forget.

In such a country, simply to remember is itself a radical act. It is to refuse to submit to the blinders that the powers that be are always trying to slip onto the rest of us. It is to subvert, implicitly or otherwise, the tyranny of the present — to insist on expanding the realm of the possible.

If all of this is true, then historian Eric Foner is one of the most dangerous men in the United States. And in the Trump era of sham populism turned shameless plutocracy, he might be the clearest voice on what this moment means for our country and how progressives might move forward.

Foner, who recently retired from Columbia University, has focused much of his work on the Civil War and its aftermath. Besides his influential scholarship, he has also been an indispensable political commentator, and many of his most important contributions to the Nation magazine appear in his latest book, “Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History.” Foner’s work deftly chronicles what he calls “a usable past.” This isn’t history as propaganda, but, in Foner’s words, “a historical consciousness that can enable us to address the problems of society today in an intelligent manner.”

The result is the American story told as more than just a series of isolated events. For example, Foner’s first contribution to the Nation 40 years ago was a article about the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, 50 years after the pair were executed. “The tragedy of their case,” he wrote, “lies not only in the injustice that was done but in the fact that their execution was one in a long train of events that seems to have driven their utopian vision out of American life.”

In 1993, Foner used the 130th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation to call for a “Third Reconstruction,” following the first one in the 1860s, which he had already written about so compellingly, and the second (the civil rights movement) in the 1960s. Nothing less was needed now, he wrote, than “a renewed national effort to address the racial divide that afflicts our society.” Yet such an effort would require “the kind of moral leadership and political courage this generation is unaccustomed to in its presidents.” ...





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