"Historians Against Trump" Demonstrates Crucial Role for Public Intellectuals

Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar in Mesa, Arizona, on December 16, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks with the media at a hangar in Mesa, Arizona, on December 16, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Stanley Fish’s article “Professors, Stop Opining About Trump,” which appeared in The New York Times recently, objects strongly to an open letter published by a group that calls itself “Historians Against Trump.” Fish, a professor himself and resident intellectual for the Times, makes a strong statement against academics engaging in public life. As such, his essay merits the attention of anyone interested in the role of public intellectuals in our society. But even more, this exchange deserves to be studied by anyone interested in the public discussion of politics today.

The letter from Historians Against Trump asserts,

As historians, we recognize both the ominous precedents for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and the exceptional challenge it poses to civil society. Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.

Historians Against Trump does not align itself with any political party or candidate. Many among us do not identify as activists and have never before taken part in such a campaign. We are history professors, school teachers, public historians and museum professionals, independent scholars and graduate students. We are united by the belief that the candidacy of Donald J. Trump poses a threat to American democracy.

Fish does not defend Trump against the charges the group makes — his op-ed instead targets the group for supposedly using their credentials to authorize what he feels is an overreaching statement:

By dressing up their obviously…

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