Why Historians are Very Worried About a Second Term of TrumpRoundup
tags: authoritarianism, Donald Trump
Edward T. O’Donnell is an associate professor of history and chair of the history department at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
Across the United States, historians are worried. Indeed, many of us are filled with a deepening sense of dread about the direction in which our country is headed. And with good reason. Because while historians can’t predict the future, we also can’t help but see in current events certain patterns, continuities and examples from the past that suggest how it all might play out. Many of us see President Trump and his right-wing allies steering this country towards an authoritarianism that will end American democracy as we know it. It’s on account of these dark visions of the near future that nearly every historian I know says they have not slept well in ages.
As historians, we are frightened when we see a president routinely demonize the media as “the enemy of the people,” because we know that waging war on journalists and an independent press has been the norm in authoritarian regimes that seek to silence free speech, criticism and dissent.
As historians, we are sickened when we see a president brand his political opponents not simply misguided, but rather illegitimate actors who want nothing less than the total destruction of the nation. We know that authoritarians have long relied on this tactic to gain power and then justify one-party rule.
As historians, we shudder when we hear a president extol an imagined, idealized past (“Make America Great Again”) when the nation once allegedly stood tall, proud, united and strong. We know that authoritarians have always used this sort of weaponized nostalgia to dupe supporters into believing they will magically restore the nation to its past greatness — and punish their opponents for knowingly leading the nation astray.
As historians, we are alarmed when we see a president fail to bluntly condemn white supremacists, while echoing their accusations against immigrants and people of color for being the source of their poverty, misery and insecurity. We know authoritarian regimes in the past have successfully employed this strategy to mobilize supporters, often with deadly consequences.
As historians, we are distressed at the sight of a president who, despite showing no outward sign at any point in his life that he is a man of faith who takes religion seriously, presents himself as the defender of Christianity against godless secularists. We know that authoritarians have long exploited religion to lend their regimes an aura of righteousness, which in turn, serves to justify any outrages they commit.
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