Earlier today CBS Sunday Morning kicked off with a story about a group of historians, who have contributed to a volume, edited by Julian Zelizer, assessing the Trump presidency. It’s a stellar line up of scholars with different areas of expertise.
Viewers got a taste of the ways in which the Trump presidency will be evaluated in the book’s essays, but in the end the group agreed that the Trump presidency will be remembered as one of the worst in American history. That assessment hinges a great deal on the former president’s incitement of the crowd that led to the storming of the United State Capitol Building last January
As I was listening to this blunt assessment I couldn’t help but think of a recent op-ed authored by Jon Grinspan and Peter Manseau for The New York Times. It begins by imagining the dedication in Statuary Hall in 2086 of a statue honoring the QAnon shaman. While it may seem far-fetched the authors do an excellent job of reminding us that, “Nothing in our past, no matter how blatant it may seem to us today, is guaranteed eternal condemnation.”
We cannot know; we have no ownership over what is to come. The best we can do is map our moment scrupulously, to preserve the signposts that will lead to a place we’ll never see. As curators, as historians, as citizens, we are frequently reminded that the past is a foreign country. But so is the future.
It is easy to imagine a consensus among scholars regarding the place of the Trump presidency in American history, but they will likely have little influence on popular memory and how the events of the past few years, including the Capitol insurrection, are commemorated.
Truth in history or even the idea of a shared past built on the most basic facts seems more out of reach than at any time in the recent past.