How Historians See Trump, and how Trump Told Historians to See HimHistorians in the News
tags: Donald Trump
There's at least one thing that Donald Trump's critics and supporters can agree on about his presidency, according to Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University: "He came in to be a disrupter, and of all of his accomplishments, I think it's very easy to say that he accomplished that one."
Engel is one of a group of historians from leading universities around the country who convened via Zoom last March. Their mission: assessing one of the most unusual presidencies in American history.
During the call, Timothy Naftali of New York University remarked, "His concept of a national interest was identical with his concept of his own interest."
Daniel C. Kurtzer, of Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs, said, "Trump inherited a mess. It was not that he created a mess; the Middle East was in very bad shape."
Julian Zelizer of Princeton assembled the panel, which will soon publish a book of essays on Mr. Trump's time in office – a presidency he described as "one of the most unstable, unconventional.
"One thing that historians who've lived through the moment have, that historians 200 years from now won't have, is a sense of what it felt like to live in the moment," Zelizer told correspondent Rita Braver.
It will be the third volume in a series which offered mixed assessments of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But unlike his predecessors, former President Trump requested to meet via Zoom with the historians.
They shared a video of that July session with "Sunday Morning."
"I have great respect, and I thought of you writing a book, it would really be nice if we had an accurate book," Mr. Trump said.
Braver spoke with four of the historians on the panel, who all agree that history's judgement of President Trump is likely to focus on two major events: his response to the coronavirus pandemic (one he said was "going to disappear … one day, it's like a miracle it will disappear"), and his role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol (at which he told the assembled crowd, "We fight like hell, and if you don't fight like hell, you're not gonna have a country anymore").
We'll get back to those in a moment. But first, during his one-hour session with the group, Mr. Trump focused on what he sees as his administration's major accomplishments, for example, generating a strong economy early in his term: "Prior to the pandemic we were setting records in every way," he said.
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