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Historians Weigh In On Where America Stands Today

Two big historians join us for the long view on where the country stands now, within and maybe beyond the American tradition.

American history ripples with grandeur and shame. Liberty and freedom. Genocide and slavery. Thrilling ideas of equality and opportunity. Tough realities of the opposite. Nobility, unity, civil war. For a brief moment at the end of the Cold War, we heard history was over. Smooth sailing ahead. Then came polarization and, eventually, Donald Trump. Now, many Americans wonder if we going forward or back. Within the American tradition or beyond it. This hour, On Point: historians, on where we stand now. — Tom Ashbrook.


Judith Giesberg, Professor of History at Villanova University and Editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era. (@JGiesberg)

Julian Zelizer, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University. CNN Political Analyst. Author of “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Greater Society.” (@julianzelizer)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: Is America Headed For A New Kind Of Civil War? — ““When you look at the map of red and blue states and overlap on top of it the map of the Civil War—and who was allied with who in the Civil War—not much has changed,” Judith Giesberg, the editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era and a historian at Villanova University, told me. ‘We never agreed on the outcome of the Civil War and the direction the country should go in. The postwar amendments were highly contentious—especially the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law—and they still are today. What does it mean to deliver voting rights to people of color? We still don’t know.'”

The Hill: The Memo: Trump Faces Critical Fall — “Asked about the overall outlook for Trump, Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer pronounced it ‘very bad.’ Zelizer noted Trump’s approval ratings and the Russia probes, adding, “he has a restive and angry Congress, and he has Republican elected officials, many of whom are unhappy with how everything has unfolded.”

The Guardian: ‘The Civil War Lies On Us Like A Sleeping Dragon’: America’s Deadly Divide – And Why It Has Returned — “We are in conflict about real and divergent ideas. Are we engaged, half-wittingly, in a slow suicide as a democracy? Are we engaged in a “cold civil war” as one writer has suggested? Or does it feel like 1859, as another expert wondered, with so much rhetorical and real violence in the air? The election, and performance in office of Donald Trump, have many serious people using words like “unprecedented”, or phrases like “where in time are we” or “we haven’t been here before”. Commentators and ordinary citizens have been asking how or where in the past we can find parallels for our current condition.”

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