CHANNELING THE RAGE: Trump, Populism, and the 2016 Election

images-2How did we get here? I can barely even type the words that will encapsulate our collective future: President Donald Trump. Even now, I have a visceral reaction to typing out those words. But, that is enough about my emotions. This piece is not about my personal distress over the election of Donald Trump. I know a number of good people who voted for Trump. I do not want to alienate them; I do not want to argue with them. Rather, I want to understand their position. Moreover, as a historian, I want to unpack how we got to this place so that we can learn from the historical factors at play.

unknown-copyDonald Trump spent half as much money and had far less official infrastructure for voter turnout than Hillary Clinton, but he still won the election.[1] Trump won fifty-one percent of voters without a high school diploma. He gained the rural vote by sixty-two percent and the suburban vote by fifty percent. Fifty-three percent of men backed Trump and fifty-eight percent of white voters went for Trump.[2] One of the few people to predict a Trump win was historian Allan Lichtman. Lichtman, who was also my PhD advisor, explains Trump’s victory as being a result of the larger forces that shape American politics. According to Lichtman, presidential elections are primarily a referendum on the performance of the party in power. Despite President Obama’s strong approval ratings, the American people wanted a change from the Democratic Party’s leadership.[3]

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Breaking the Silence: The Historiography of the Haitian Revolution

 

“Why am I just now learning about the Haitian Revolution, especially in a modern European history course? Is it really that significant?” She was a young student. Although I cannot fully remember, I think she was a freshman. I stared back at her desperately trying to pretend that I was not frantically searching my brain for a clear answer. The problem was not a lack of answers; on the contrary, the problem was an overflow of ideas. It was my first semester working as a teaching assistant for a course on the history of modern Europe. At this stage, I still thought that as the instructor, I was supposed to know everything and anything at any given moment. In these early days, my discussion sections felt like twice-weekly pop quizzes.

Returning to the young student, I cleared my throat, broke my silence, and insecurely delivered what I prayed was a satisfactory answer. Gazing at her inquisitive eyes and feeling the other student’s predatory stares, I explained how the Haitian Revolution is significant to our understanding of the French Revolution.[1] I continued: “The Haitian Revolution signals the inconsistencies within the French Revolution.” Gaining a little bit more confidence, I turned the question back to my class exclaiming, “The Haitian Revolution makes us ask, ‘was the French Revolution about liberty and equality or was it about private property rights?” I finished: “It makes us question the nature of revolution, or if there is even a nature that can be indentified.” Realizing I was getting a little carried away with my own thoughts, I turned back to the student. She seemed satisfied since she now had some discussion points on the Haitian Revolution to include in her midterm exam. While my student was satisfied, I was not. In all honestly, that was the first time I had ever studied the Haitian Revolution and I began to wonder why the history of the Haitian Revolution appeared to be such an obscure topic.

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Revolutionary Style: A Review of Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion

For decades, scholars have attempted to capture the circumstances that led up to the French Revolution. In The Coming of the French Revolution, for instance, Georges Lefebvre explains the causes of the French Revolution with a socioeconomic interpretation. In particular, Lefebvre argues that the rising dominance of the bourgeoisie produced the political turmoil of the revolution.[1] In other works, scholars, such as Francois Furet, Robert Darnton, and Keith Michael Baker, underscore the importance of political ideologies and culture for understanding the causes of the revolution.[2] Still others historians, such as Timothy Tackett, contend that the ineptitude of the royal family also helped to bring about the war. Tackett, for example, insists that the salacious and careless actions of the royal family before and during the war undermined the public’s perception of the family as a symbol of sacred authority.[3]

Similar to Tackett’s analysis, Caroline Weber also draws attention to the significance of the royal family in Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.[4] The central aim of Weber’s study is to show how Marie Antoinette used the appeal of court fashion to exert political power. Through a comparison of Marie Antoinette to her famous ancestor, Louis XIV, Weber argues that the queen “identified fashion as a key weapon in her struggle for personal prestige, authority, and sometimes mere survival.”[5] In all, Weber concludes that Marie Antoinette fought her political adversaries with style.

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DROPPING THE BOMB: The Myths and Legacies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This past August marked exactly 70 years since American bombers dropped an uranium gun-type bomb (nicknamed Little Boy) on Hiroshima; this was an event that witnessed the obliteration of a large city in the blink of an eye.[1] Hiroshima did have a military presence, since it contained a naval base and the home of the Second General Army Headquarters. Nonetheless, American strategic planners aimed the bomb not at the army base, but at the very center of the civilian part of the city in order to maximize the bomb’s devastation.[2] On August 6, 1945, Little Boy exploded 1,900 feet above the courtyard of Shima Hospital with a yield equivalent to 12,500 TNT. The temperature at ground zero reached 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, which immediately created a fireball within half a mile. The absolute devastation roasted many people alive; thousands of charred bundles were strew in the streets, sidewalks, and bridges. The instant destructive power of the bomb also vaporized many others. The bomb, for instance, left only the shadow of one man imprinted onto the granite steps of a bank; he had been waiting for the bank to open before the bomb hit. The blasts that followed the original explosion obliterated thousands of houses. Of 76,000 buildings in the industrial city, 70,000 were destroyed.[3] Altogether, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed around 90,000 to 100,000 persons instantly; by the end of 1945, the number of those lost had risen to 145,000 (only about 20,000 of them soldiers).[4]

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Exorcising the Past: The Historiography of Witchcraft Cases in England and New England

 

I have been fascinated by witchcraft trials since I was a child. This fascination is partly rooted in a childhood that was filled with my Grandma’s stories of our ancestor who was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.[1] Today, I am more drawn to understanding the array of interpretations historians have developed to explain the phenomenon of witchcraft accusations. It is believed that the last legal execution of an alleged witch occurred in 1782 at Glarus, Switzerland.[2] Astonishingly, even before the last execution took place skepticism surrounding witch hunts developed among educated European elites. In an attempt to rationalize witch hunts, these early interpretations enlisted “monocausal” explanations blaming the trials on the alleged bigotry and ignorance of the clergy and judges. Essential to these explanations was the assumption that witch hunts occurred because of a pre-enlightened past in which irrationality and a lack of science enabled persecution. This Crucible- like interpretation is still the most widespread understanding of witchcraft trials in popular culture. [3]

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