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Hit the History Books (and Movies), Americans!


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Without knowledge of the past, we can’t hold our government to account. Plus, history is entertaining.

Jay Cost

Oct 23 2017


By and large, the two parties have very different performance routines they employ to build and sustain their voting coalitions. The GOP will tell you that the Democrats are a bunch of godless socialists who want to quash all individual initiative. Democrats will assure you that the GOP is a party of oligarchic theocrats who want to give all your money to the rich and make you go to church.

Sometimes, though, the two parties sing a similar tune — inadvertently, of course. You may have to listen closely to notice, but when you do, it can be revealing.

Consider, for instance, the recent grumblings from DNC chairman Tom Perez and former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Last Saturday, Bannon went after Tennessee senator Bob Corker for having * “mocked and ridiculed a commander in chief” when we have “kids in the field.” This had never happened, he said, “in the history of our republic.” Then late last week, Perez said that Trump was an “existential threat” to American democracy, and the “most dangerous president in American history.”

Though these are opposite statements in terms of substance, they’re thematically similar. The upshot is that Trump represents something unprecedented in American history. The specifics of the arguments are totally wrong, by the way. Sitting senators criticize presidents all the time. And, as for dangerous, reckless, and existential threats, James Buchanan, the president immediately before the Civil War and usually ranked one of the worst presidents by historians, remains in a league all of his own — thank goodness!





Obviously, the problem of public ignorance is not limited to history. If voters do not know the basic contours of current public policy, they will struggle to hold politicians to account. But knowledge of our history is at least as important as policy. And, unlike public policy, it is pretty easy to learn history, at least the basics of. Plus, it is actually a lot of fun to discover the heroes and villains of America’s past.

If we want to do a better job as citizens of this great republic, we should recommit ourselves to learning our own past. It will really make a difference.




* My Opinion of Bannon (never very high) just dropped 68 points.


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