There’s an interesting piece at the New York Times by Moshik Temkin critiquing the “historian as pundit” trend. There have always been a few name brand popular historians punditting on the boob tube including such recent examples as Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Douglas Brinkley. But the Trump presidency* has transformed a trickle into a flood. Professor Temkin dissents from the trend with some vehemence.
The wonderfully named Moshik Temkin professes at Harvard’s Kennedy Scool of guvmint. His best known book is The Sacco-Venzetti Affair: America On Trial. I haven’t read it but I’ve heard good things.
The money quote in the article addresses comparisons between the Insult Comedian and the Gret Stet’s own Kingfish. Since I posted the Ken Burns film, Huey Long, yesterday, this was an easy pick as QOTD:
To take just one example, during his campaign, Mr. Trump was frequently compared to Huey Long, the Depression-era governor of Louisiana. Sure, there are similarities: Like Mr. Trump, Long ran in the name of the “people,” attacked the establishment and was labeled a demagogue and fascist by his critics. But the differences are even more important: Long was self-made, a genuine populist who took on powerful interests, and as governor was responsible for building roads, bridges and hospitals and helping the poor. He never engaged in race baiting — astonishing for a populist Southern politician in that era. The point isn’t that Mr. Trump is or is not like Long (and he’s not); it’s that the analogy is meaningless.
I don’t entirely agree that the analogy is meaningless. Anything that gets people interested in history is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I am more likely to object to politicians who warp history to serve their own purposes. Apparently, Vladimir Putin does so repeatedly in his interviews with that credulous boob, Oliver Stone. Since Stone is ignorant of Russian history, Putin can lie with impunity. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate Oliver Stone? He’s a heavy-handed film director having a second life as a dictator fan boy. So it goes.
Back to Temkin’s piece. I am glad that he understands that Huey P. Long was the ultimate mixed bag but his legacy is overall a positive one. All the Current Occupant wants to do is destroy his predecessor’s legacy as well as one of America’s greatest achievements, NATO. Additionally, Huey was brilliant and Trump is a moron.
Reading Professor Temkin’s piece for second time, I begin to wonder if he’s what Gore Vidal called “a scholar squirrel.” The scholar squirrels of the Master’s day were academic historians who were jealous of those who wrote popular histories or, in Vidal’s case, best-selling historical novels. Envy is never a pretty sight.
For now, I take Temkin at his word when he states categorically that Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits. But I reserve the right to mock him if starts turning up on cable teevee as an expert and/or pundit. That would be confirmation that he’s a scholar squirrel; as such he should be pelted with envy-green acorns or pistachios. Others might feed him crow but I prefer dispensing mercy as well as mockery. It’s a kinder murder…of crows.
The last word goes to the late great Levon Helm performing a certain Randy Newman tune that I’ve posted before:
I hope y’all are proud of me for getting through the post without punning on the Professor’s name. I didn’t even call him Boychik but the Temkin was killing me…