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  • Experts keep saying that history will repudiate Donald Trump. But that cannot be guaranteed.

  • American history often leaves out the ugly truths and cleanses the powerful.

  • If we want the story to say anything, we have to fight for it in the present.

  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

  • Visit Insider’s Business section for more stories.

I know you’ve been hearing this proclamation on network news and have been reading it in columns for years.

“History will judge us.” “History will repudiate Donald Trump and the January 6 rioters.” “History will see people like GOP Senator Mitt Romney as heroes for taking on their own party.” “History will show that Democrats were people who took a stand for our democracy and our values.”

It sounds good, but there is a danger in the idea that history will reveal the truth of our moment and sort out the good from the bad. Past events don’t change, but telling the story is a conversation that lasts as long as we exist on this planet. In the course of our lives, Americans have discovered things they had forgotten and rehabilitated people in our history who were once maligned.

If we want history to tell the true story of Donald Trump’s violent presidency long after our death, we must actively and vigilantly reinforce this truth in our lifetime. We cannot guarantee that Americans will know the story right after we leave.

A story of holes

The past does not change, but what we say about it. Americans are notorious for concealment by omission. It wasn’t until a year or two ago that the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 became widespread, for example, when racists destroyed “Black Wall Street” and murdered the people who lived there in a fit of organized rage.

It was just one of our country’s multiple genocides against black Americans, but we don’t talk much about it. They are unpleasant and do not fit the rhetoric that America is the oldest multiracial democracy in the world.

Just as it was easier for Americans in the past to forget the significance of the Tulsa Massacre, it might be easier for Americans in the future to forget the ugliness that led to the January 6 attack. against the Capitol.

It is also possible that future Americans could manipulate events around January 6. We have already seen this happen immediately after the attack. Some right-wing media have tried to blame Antifa, and polls indicate that is now what half of Republicans believe. It is quite possible that future generations will believe this as well.

We already know that history changes when different people have the power to tell. Almost every chair worth thinking about has been imagined and redesigned. President Ulysses S. Grant has been decried as a corrupt drunkard for decades, in part by Americans who wanted to repudiate reconstruction and its support for the civil rights of black Americans.

It was not until the 21st century that historians attempted to reclaim his heroism, not only as a general but also as president. It’s not because it changed (obviously), but because we did. As our society embraced racial equality, it became clear to historians that our account of Grant’s presidency was tinted with white supremacy. Turns out he might not even be an alcoholic, he just liked to drink (Who among us?).

All this to say that we assume that history will do things right, when history has shown us that it is often wrong. It depends a lot on the people who write it, their power and how they want us to see ourselves in a great American story.

See it, whatever

History’s ability to be influenced and written in real time is the reason you can’t have a racist, demagogue, or boss in the White House – especially not someone who knows the power of history. as well as Trump. Given the opportunity to rewrite history, these types of rulers will take it and distort it with lies.

The Trump administration has attempted to do this in a number of ways. He tried to delay Harriet Tubman’s appearance on the $ 20 bill. It was both a way to cover up the importance of Tubman’s work to save slaves and serve in the military as a spy, and a way to preserve the glorification of racist President Andrew Jackson.

And then, of course, there was the “1776 Report” – a shining example of what happens when a young man who spends too much time in racist discussion forums tries to write a history thesis afterwards. never been to class or read. This report, published on the White House website on Jan. 18, was the Trump administration’s attempt at “patriotic education,” a narrative of our history that downplayed the importance and brutality of slavery and demonized the American left.

As soon as he took office, the Biden administration quickly removed him. This is the kind of vigilance we must maintain in the face of what happened on January 6 and for the next four years. There are powerful and relentless forces in this country that will want to hide it or distort it into glorification. It’s up to us, now and in the future, to make sure they don’t have a say.

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