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: Ever since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, many historians have been asking whether it’s now safe to say that this scandal is starting to look a lot like Watergate. There are obviously many important differences, including the fact that President Nixon fired a special prosecutor appointed specifically to investigate Watergate while Trump used his legal authority to remove the head of the FBI. We don’t yet know how extensive and how wide-ranging the connections are between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian interference in the election. And whereas Nixon’s scandal broke after a massive reelection victory, Trump’s troubles are happening shortly after the first 100 days.