An eminent public historian offers perspective on the Trump era.
Hochschild (Journalism/Univ. of California; Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 2016, etc.) has spent his career writing about imperialism, racism, war, tyranny, and the relationships among them. This collection of two dozen previously published essays was explicitly constructed as a response to the presidency of Donald Trump. As he writes in the introduction, “we have some tough years ahead of us….But when times are dark, we need moral ancestors, and I hope the pieces here will be reminders that others have fought and won battles against injustice in the past, including some against racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, and more. The Trumps and Putins of those eras have gotten the ignominy they deserve.” Some of those moral ancestors are famous. He describes a 1994 campaign trip with Nelson Mandela, conveying Mandela’s moral authority but also noting another reason apartheid ended: “South Africa’s largest corporations had had enough. The endless conflicts and the growing international boycotts and embargoes were bad for business.” Of Mark Twain, one of several authors Hochschild spotlights, he writes, “Twain understood, more clearly than most white Americans, that the Civil War had changed too little, and that for former slaves, the United States could still be a place of lynchings and terror.” Some of the inspiring individuals he writes about are not as well-known—e.g., Rebecca Masika Katsuva, who runs a program to aid some of the thousands of girls and women raped during civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (she herself was a victim of multiple rapes). In these essays about places around the globe, Hochschild’s graceful, informative, straightforward writing always finds the telling detail as well as the people of courage in the most horrifying of situations.
Focusing on some of the direst eras of recent history, these potent essays nevertheless find reason for hope in the idealism of individuals.