A historian on Donald Trump

But first let me quote a tweet from 24 hours ago; recent ones on the interesting visit of Canada’s Justin Trudeau have thus far been more sensible.

Just leaving Florida. Big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road that the FAKE NEWS media refuses to mention. Very dishonest!

I mean, you have to wonder why he bothered to post that! One might even question  the lack of mental balance it seems to me to embody.

And then we had this from some motormouth or other* among all the President’s men:

Donald Trump senior policy advisor Stephen Miller’s debut on the Sunday shows was rife with troubling foreshadowing, with his high-volume repetition of Trump talking points and botched invocation of Trump’s “voter fraud” lie…

Miller railed against a “supreme” judicial branch in other television appearances, but on CBS, he made Trump’s despotic ambitions explicit (emphasis added):

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial, and will not be questioned.

Those “further actions” remain frighteningly and ominously unclear…

Before going on, a detour to a past post, The History Summit in Canberra (2006). Some of the links may not work.

My continuing interest in history and historiography is well attested on my blogs: search this one to see a whole range of entries on quite a variety of topics where the search-word “history” will take you.

I studied History at Sydney University in a fortunate moment, looking back on it. Among my Ancient History lecturers in 1960 was Edwin Judge, “distinguished for his studies on the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and still more for his monographs on the social and structural aspects of early Christianity in the Roman empire, and how the Romans responded to it.” In 1961 I (and Philip Ruddock) studied 18th century European History under John McManners and English History under the quite amazing Mr Stephen. I wrote an essay that year on Edward Gibbon. Then in 1962 I came first in Asian History, taught by two more stars: Marjorie Jacobs on India and Ian Nish on China and Japan: see that review of his Japanese Foreign Policy in the Interwar Period: “Numerous scholars have written about Japanese foreign policy in the interwar period, and one is tempted to wonder if yet another account is genuinely needed, but when it comes from the pen of such a senior historian as Ian Nish, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ Nish has produced an archetypical study through his careful collection of evidence, through his judicious assessments, and through his lucid presentation: in short, this study is a hallmark of professional maturity and sophistication.” That year my essays, more successful than the Gibbon had been, were on Ram Mohan Roy and Mao Tse Tung and Chiang Kai Shek. Very exotic for 1962.

So, good fortune for me, and an approach to History that has never left me. I am not a raging left-winger when it comes to historiography; indeed, I am generally comfortable with Richard Evans, In Defence of History, despite the pomo rubbishing Antony Easthope gives it in that review! But then I am also a great fan of Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars. And I actually enjoy Manning Clark, as literature as much as history.

Richard Evans. Quite a formidable historian whose specialty has been The Third Reich., more recently in The Third Reich in History and Memory.

Richard Evans has ventured into this arena in the past few days:


Now while I am clearly not overimpressed with Donald J Trump, I am also cautious about glib comparisons. The counter-argument to the image above may be found all over, including You’ve Heard People Compare Trump to Hitler. So We Asked a Woman Who Was Born in Nazi Germany….

Bur when Richard Evans weighs in I think we need to listen.

I spoke by phone with Evans, who is based in England and whose latest book is The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914,  this week. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the differences and similarities between the 1930s and today, why fascists need to undermine the legal system, and the danger of calling seemingly unbalanced leaders “crazy.”

Isaac Chotiner: What do you make of Trump as a leader in these early days, and how would you compare it to the way other authoritarians have started their time in power?

Richard Evans: When you look at President Trump’s statements, I’m afraid you do see echoes, and they are very alarming…

Of course history never repeats itself. Democracy dies in different ways at different times. The First World War did have this brutalizing effect on public life right across Europe. It was heavily militarized. You can’t go out on the street without seeing squads of thugs in uniform beating each other up. That’s simply not characteristic of our own times. I think the Second World War cured Western society of that level of violence. But there has been an economic crisis. America is deeply divided. Britain is deeply divided. There are massive and bitter political divisions and social divisions in many European countries, so there is a parallel there, certainly…

I commend the article to you.


*On that motormouth: How Stephen Miller went from obscure Capitol Hill staffer to Donald Trump’s warm-up act—and resident ideologue.

Miller is 30 years old, and in some ways a quintessential member of the Trump 2016 menagerie: an obscure character suddenly elevated to a national role by dint of hard work, loyalty and the boss’s favor…

There is something eerily vintage about Miller’s stump speeches. The combination of their substance—vilifying immigrants as killers, the promise of nativist glory days ahead—and their delivery with a calm face around a loud, droning mouth, slicked-back hair and sharp suit, floridly invoking powerful cabals against the people: All of it harks back to an earlier time. It’s as if the video should be in black and white, and the microphone in front of Miller an antique, metallic affair….

Breitbart is Miller’s preferred media ally. “Every movement needs a dialogue,” Miller says. “Breitbart was a big part of that.” Miller worked tirelessly to make sure the dialogue kept going, and in the right direction…