Quotes of the Day: Historians Haggle, But Lincoln Lingers, & Kelly Ann Conway Pontificates


Quotes of the Day:

Today’s New York Times yielded a rich trove . . .

One was about historian Jon Meacham’s new book, And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle (Random House)

A New York  Times interviewer asked, “So, having delved into the legacies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush, why did Meacham take so long to turn his sights on Lincoln?

Meacham: “Because the constitutional order has not been in as perilous a state since Lincoln himself became president,” he explained. “I actually started thinking about it after the 2016 election, wondering if the fears that many of us in the country had about threats to the constitutional order would in fact come to pass. And they did.”

He said, “My project was to be in conversation with Lincoln to see what his worldview could tell us about securing the journey toward a more perfect union. I was right that things had not been as touch and go since the 1850s, which the events of Jan. 6 clearly prove.”

But writing about “the battle to preserve the possibilities of the American experience,” as he put it, did leave Meacham with a sense of hope for the people of our “fallen, frail and fallible” country.

He said, “Just enough of us will do the right thing just enough of the time — and, as cataclysmic as the Civil War was, just enough of us did the right thing just long enough.”

Speaking of historians, as a group they seem much less sanguine about the prospects for their own profession. Three thousand or so recently gathered at their annual American Historical Association convention in Philadelphia.

The initial kerfuffle, says the Times, was an all-but obligatory, inevitably inconclusive debate about whether the association president’s recent critical commentary on the tide of “presentism” (aka wokeness) in recent history writing was diminishing its quality was actually an intolerably racist screed.

That circular firing squad seemed to be a misfire. And only in passing did the issue that’s arguably much more important to the assemblage get mentioned:

There was little reference to the widespread dismay that the field was (as a participant at another session put it) “in contraction, if not collapse.” But during a lightning round of closing comments [in the “presentism” session], Jane Kamensky, a historian of early America at Harvard, was blunt. “We need to talk about money,” she said.

“Ford and Mellon have gotten out of the history business,” she continued, referring to the two mega-foundations, which have recently ended or reduced support for graduate study and higher education generally, as part of a broader refocusing on social justice. “If the support isn’t going to come from there, it certainly isn’t going to come from state legislatures.”

Kamensky also defended the value of “slow, patient, potentially useless” research. “We all want the vaccine,” she said. “We don’t want to just sit in the trenches looking at mRNA for 30 years. But if you don’t spend 30 years looking at mRNA, you don’t have the vaccine.”

“How do we leverage the fierce urgency of now,” she asked, “without being captured by it?”

[COMMENT: And if there were any useful ideas about how to ward off the participants’ anxieties about careers spent in “the history business” stuck in the shadows of Uber moonlighting, food stamps and debt-addled adjunctery, the Times failed to note them.]

Last but Definitely Not Least: The Cases for and Against Trump
By Kellyanne Conway

Donald J. Trump shocked the world in 2016 by winning the White House and becoming the first president in U.S. history with no prior military or government experience. He upended the fiction of electability pushed by pundits, the news media and many political consultants, which arrogantly projects who will or will not win long before votes are cast. He focused instead on capturing a majority in the Electoral College, which is how a candidate does or does not win.

Not unlike Barack Obama eight years earlier, Mr. Trump exposed the limits of Hillary Clinton’s political inevitability and personal likability, connected directly with people, ran an outsider’s campaign taking on the establishment, and tapped into the frustrations and aspirations of millions of Americans.

Some people have never gotten over it. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. There is no vaccine and no booster for it. Cosseted in their social media bubbles and comforted within self-selected communities suffering from sameness, the afflicted disguise their hatred for Mr. Trump as a righteous call for justice or a solemn love of democracy and country. So desperate is the incessant cry to “get Trump!” that millions of otherwise pleasant and productive citizens have become naggingly less so.

They ignore the shortcomings, failings and unpopularity of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and abide the casual misstatements of an administration that says the “border is secure,” inflation is “transitory,” “sanctions are intended to deter” Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and they will “shut down the virus.”

They’ve also done precious little to learn and understand what drives the 74 million fellow Americans who were Trump-Pence voters in 2020 and not in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The obsession with Mr. Trump generates all types of wishful thinking and projection about the next election from both his critics (“He will be indicted!”) and his supporters (“Is he still electable?”).

None of that is provable, but this much is true: Shrugging off Mr. Trump’s 2024 candidacy or writing his political obituary is a fool’s errand — he endures persecution and eludes prosecution like no other public figure. That could change, of course, though that cat has nine lives. . . .

Ms. Conway is a Republican pollster and political consultant who was Donald J. Trump’s campaign manager in 2016 and senior counselor to him from 2017 to 2020. She is not affiliated with his 2024 presidential campaign.


[COMMENT: It is also a journalistic/editorial fool’s errand to involve the Times in a transparent effort to relaunch Conway’s career as a pundit. Her place in American media history is secure, but it was planted in the opening days of 45’s reign with blatant falsehoods (altered photos of Trump’s paltry inaugural crowd), mulched with shameless lies about them (as “alternative facts”) and harvested into endless bouquets of arrant falsehoods and ignorant fabulism (the “Bowling Green Massacre,” unforgettable after Conway’s tribute to it, in that it never happened). Given that record, swabbing out the restrooms at the Times’ offices is as close as Conway should be allowed to get to its keyboards for a rehab assignment.]


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