The news comes this morning, following an online global shaming, of the resignation of the mayor of a small town in Clay County, WV, who had praised a revolting internet post by the director of the local development agency in which she had described Michelle Obama as an ape. I don't have to tell you that it was right that she should resign, and right that others in the community should condemn hate. The two women should send personal letters of apology to Mrs. Obama.
But note this from the article on the resignation: "The uproar occurred as the town of about 500 residents is still trying to recover from severe flooding in late June along the nearby Elk River. Clay County also has been hit by hundreds of layoffs in the coal industry this decade."
Now let's think. Was there the same national and international publicity about the catastrophes that have crushed this little community? Will there now be calls for aid?
Of course not. And therein lies a little clue to where Trumpism came from.
Most historians-- not all-- tend to stay away from active involvement in politics. Sure, we have views, but we're slippery creatures, always beholden to evidence, and subject to changing our minds as new evidence comes available. That's why we prefer to wait on current events to recede into the past before we start forming arguments about them. Personally, I prefer early American history, because all my subjects are safely dead, and we have a long -term perspective, three centuries in fact, on their lives.
I cannot, however, pretend that this election did not happen. I can tell you this much: Not one professional historian of whom I am aware supported Donald Trump for president. Not one. If I am wrong, I would be delighted to stand corrected. But I don't think I am. We are not all "liberals", a word with many meanings. We are not all upper-middle-class people. We don't all think the same way--historians sometimes appear to come close to fistfights at their meetings, because ideas and evidence matter. But on Donald Trump, historians agreed. There is no point in my pretending otherwise, nor would I wish to: Historians, even those most critical of how things have been for working people, are afraid, because so much of what is happening right now is evocative of the instability and anger and policies that gave rise to fascism in 1930s Europe. Will it play out now as it did then? No idea. I hope not. It helps that fascism never got very far in Britain or America, even then. But as one of my old professors used to say, historians are great at predicting the past. The future? Not so much.
But that's enough. The most important point I want to make is that, regardless of whom you voted for, there is one point on which I think can all agree. I have attended homeschooling conventions, teachers' conferences, and spoken (and listened) to people of all political persuasions throughout the South, much of that time in rural areas. We all understand that kids need to read books. Lots of them. They need to have available to them a range of books (not just reading the same couple of authors, the same kinds of books) and to make their own choices. Understanding history is not about memorizing facts, no matter what they are, or indoctrinating kids. It is about kids reading books, and forming ever larger and more complex contexts for their own experiences. That is what education must be. It is what schooling is not. We must sweep away the bad curriculum, the excessive bureaucracy, the absolute nonsense of a moribund system, and allow teachers to encourage and enable kids to read. That is what must change. Because, honestly? That's the only thing that will fix what ails us.
Academic & Public Historian, Middle-Grades Author (The Snipesville Chronicles), Practitioner of Non-Boring History, Mother. AnnetteLaing.com