Image from the NY Daily News
My Fellow Americans,
Bear with me a moment as I bury the lead. A recent XKCD comic got me thinking about historical perspective. Munroe’s emphasis added to an excerpt from an 1881 newspaper, along with commentary by the characters in the comic, draws attention to the enormity of historical events and the question of whether future people looking back can hope to fully grasp them. As a historian by training, if not by trade, I can empathize with that position.
What drew my attention, however, was the specific event the newspaper article is discussing: the assassination of President Garfield. Despite the shock of the writer and the nation in general, the events which so greatly disturbed them have not become a focal point in American history. What seemed so momentous and important at the time has ultimately become more of a footnote.
Now, the last thing I want to do is undercut the importance of the past two years, or undermine the efforts of people like us who resist the current administration. We must not succumb to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail “the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” Simply waiting will not make things better, and we should not pin our hopes on some scandal or investigation solving the problem for us.
What I find heartening, however, is the thought that if we fight hard enough, the Trump administration will be a footnote, not a breaking point, in the scope of American history. That while it currently seems like everything has changed for the worse and current events will receive whole chapters in history textbooks, we can put things back on track.
Or, we can do one better, and use these times as the impetus to create a new era of justice and equality, and be important history in spite of Trump.