The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.
To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum
Julian Zelizer: After President Trump’s rally last weekend there has been a lot of talk about how his predecessors viewed the press. Trump reminded his audience that many others before him have also expressed harsh words for journalists. It seems that Trump is not wrong. From Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln to FDR to Barack Obama, it has been conventional for presidents to complain, criticize and even attack the media for the way that they cover politics. Of course, President Nixon and Vice President Agnew were among the toughest critics of a press they believed to be biased, slanted, and just wrong. Ever since FDR’s fireside chats, presidents have also looked for ways to circumvent reporters and speak directly to the people.