The premise and starting point for this selection of a decade of essays, on bad history’s toxic effects on American civics, is here. By “bad history” I mean a whole cluster of wrongheaded ways of “doing” American history, presenting it, studying it, debating it, invoking it, thinking about it, and I’ve embraced in the blunt characterization “bad” a wide range of cultural phenomena, from sectors of the scholarly history profession to museum exhibitions to political speeches to broadcasting to upscale journalism and beyond.
Today’s re-post, from the Spring ’18 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, will be the final entry in this selection of essays.
We began in ’08, with candidate Obama’s fantasies about the Constitution; we end in ’18, with liberal civics’ inability to fight Trump. In between came hiphop Hamilton, first at the Obama White House, then on Broadway. While the past decade can sometimes feel to me as if it went by in a blur — that’s a famous feature of aging — this particular memory trip has made the decade seem at least a century long.
I seem to have gone through some actual intellectual/critical/artistic development. That’s good — for me. What happened to the country, and especially to our public discourse about the country, wasn’t good, though. And it didn’t start to go bad on Election Day 2016.
Now I have to end this run with a kind of anticlimax, because, really, a selection of essays like this needs an introduction and a conclusion. I’ll do that something like that at some point. But in this essay, I explored Adams, Hamilton, and Federalist 78 to show how liberal history and civics have made themselves helpless in the Trump crisis: “Separation of Power.”
I’ll round things off by quoting Waylon: “Are you sure Hank done it this way?” We need a change — in how our history has engaged the American public since the middle of the last century. Maybe even an outlaw movement . . .