Will the Trump Presidency Be Remembered As One of the Worst?

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.

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10 comments… add one
  • Shoshana Bee Jan 10, 2022 @ 22:57

    “Nothing in our past, no matter how blatant it may seem to us today, is guaranteed eternal condemnation.”

    Reminds me of an interesting conversation that I had with an 85+ guy from Mississippi. He told me that he grew up with the Civil War being called “War of the Rebellion”. Said he spent the first 18 years of his life hating the North, and the rest of his life condemning the adults who taught him to hate. He said that took him a lifetime to undo all that should have been so obviously wrong about what he was taught to believe.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 11, 2022 @ 2:49

      Which of course was the name assigned by Congress and the title of The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.

  • David Doggett Jan 10, 2022 @ 15:12

    I hope these historians have better judgment than the recent C-Span historian poll that put Ronald Reagan as the ninth greatest president, above Obama, Clinton, Johnson, Adams, and Madison. But even that poll had Trump fourth from last.

  • Msb Jan 9, 2022 @ 23:59

    If trump’s Republicans succeed in destroying American democracy, I’d vote him worst. Unless and until, it’s still Buchanan, for fiddling while the republic splintered.

  • William H Stokes Jan 9, 2022 @ 17:37

    “The best we can do is to map our moment scrupulously.” What profound words! I envision the interpretation of these moments in the future quite pessimistically. In the aftermath of the Civil War, and within the living memory of Civil War veterans, The United States Mint produced the Stone Mountain Commemorative honoring the “Soldiers of the South.”

    What a spirit of conciliation there must have been to have such a thing to even be possible. Now, in the 21st century, scrupulously produced monuments are being eradicated and history itself is being revised via interpretation. At one time, history was venerated but I see the trend of old as obsolete being ensconced as the new paradigm. If history is to hope to be accurately preserved, there must be great redundancy in milestone preservation. Imagine how the Holocaust may have been glossed over without the overwhelming amount of evidence that was preserved.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2022 @ 17:44

      …and history itself is being revised via interpretation.

      History is always being revised. New evidence emerges, new questions are posed based on a wide range of factors that often takes interpretation in interesting directions.

  • James R Johnson Jan 9, 2022 @ 14:18

    I would really enjoy finding out which U.S. President these scholars think would be the best among modern Presidents. I guarantee these scholars are nothing but Left Wing Zealots. Especially if they have appeared on NBC!

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2022 @ 17:46

      Yes, I am sure you believe this to be the case.

    • Msb Jan 9, 2022 @ 23:56

      Probably those radicals, Abraham Lincoln and FDR, who merely saved the country.
      /s

    • David Doggett Jan 10, 2022 @ 15:09

      NBC is a centrist, capitalist owned, mainstream major network of long standing. Your strange comment just identifies you as a radical right wing extremist detached from reality, and says nothing about these historians.

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