In Divided America, US History Has Become Weapon for Trump Fans & Critics

Clockwise from top left: Richard Nixon, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are among the historic figures who have been deployed by pro- and anti-Trump partisans. (Photos: WaPo)

The Washington Post

America’s past has become a weapon for Trump’s fans and critics

On social networks and talk radio, in classrooms and at kitchen tables, the country’s past is suddenly inescapable. Many, many people — as President Trump would put it — are sharing stories about key moments and figures in American history to support or oppose one controversial White House executive order after another.

Andrew Jackson and Huey Long are alive in Facebook feeds. Twitter is afire with 140-character bursts of historical moments — the St. Louis steaming toward Miami in 1939 with Jewish refugees fleeing Germany’s Third Reich, or the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Richard Nixon’s firing of a special prosecutor in 1973 during the Watergate scandal.

Trump may or may not make America great again, but he has certainly revived interest in U.S. history. It has been a long time since Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony were in the news, not to mention import taxes, the Revolutionary War, Japanese internment camps and the Immigration Act of 1917.

“I’ve never seen so many people desperate to refer to historical examples,” said David Bell, a Princeton University history professor who last month moderated a panel on Trump at the American Historical Association’s annual conference. “Everyone seems to have an example.”

While Barack Obama’s election renewed discussion of the nation’s tortured racial history and Hillary Clinton’s would have spawned a look back at women’s rights, historians say the speed and breadth of Trump’s policy pronouncements have prompted the electorate to deploy history as an offensive or defensive rhetorical weapon.

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