Donald Trump is so ignorant and illiterate that apparently his aides read their briefing notes aloud, to him, like he’s a child with no attention-span. So, I can be sure that – if he’s ever held a copy of a book – he probably hasn’t delved past the cover.
On top of that, he’s got only the most passing acquaintance with the truth – this is a guy who lies so often (and badly) that newspapers employ staff to count them. It’s safe to say that he wouldn’t know history if it bit him on the ass and, unfortunately, he’ll never read the excruciating summaries of his failings that will be written by historians. Will revisionist historians 100 years from now write “he wasn’t so bad, really, he just surrounded himself with low-rent grifters including his family”? How many writers will try to delicately call him something other than “asshole”? It’s a waste of time.
You can imagine my towering purple rage when I heard that Trump had called Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States “propaganda.” Zinn has never had such an unworthy foe. After all, Trump’s the dipshit who appears to think Frederick Douglass is still plying his pen, today. [“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”] He’s either suffering from dementia or a stroke, which is why he’s taking cognitive diagnostic tests – so I suppose I can be accused of being ungenerous to someone who is suffering from a serious medical condition. But fuck that, I am also suffering from his medical condition.
A month or so ago, I got a $1200 stimulus check. It’s odd because Anna, who is black and registered as a democrat, never got one – but I’m white, registered as a republican, and financially well-off. It seems like another one of those things that is in keeping with the times. I didn’t return the check, because I believe that the government will only waste any money it is able to extort (add a few hundred million bucks and they could buy an F-35) It’s been sitting in a corner of my savings account; I had been thinking of sending the money along to BDS or BLM. But, now I have an idea.
Perhaps you have a republican tub thumping uncle who really needs a copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History sent to them from out of the blue. Or perhaps you know a kid who may grow up to be the revolutionary that tears down this entire shambles and burns the ruins. Maybe you’ve always wanted a copy but are short on cash. Or you have access to a public library where they’ve taken it off the shelves, and you want to put a copy back. I’m hereby pledging to send out at least $1200 worth of copies of A People’s History – contact me with an address and I’ll launch a copy. If you want me to include a sincere, cheerful, nasty, or goofy note feel free to suggest what I should say. Feel free to send a copy to yourself, perhaps you can get one of your aides to read it to you.
I got an email last year from an old acquaintance who asked me: “so-and-so was saying that Howard Zinn was a revisionist historian, and that his books are not worth reading because he was trying to warp history.”
My response, after a few passes of editing for calmness, was something like this: [edited slightly from the email]
The term ‘revisionist’ applies to historians that are trying to change how the public views historical events. So, for example, one revisionist historian might be trying to put forward the idea that “Hitler was actually a pretty decent fellow and all that stuff about 6 million murdered jews is nonsense.” Another revisionist historian might live in a world where Hitler is already revered as a great leader, and is trying to correct (i.e.: revise) his legacy back toward something closer to what it actually should be. Howard Zinn looked at US history and felt that it is usually told from the perspective of the establishment, of power, of the winners – and he realized that history ought just as much to be told from the perspective of the victims, the losers, and the disempowered. In other words ‘revisionist’ history is not necessarily a pack of lies – though it can be – the reader’s responsibility is to challenge a historian’s analysis and the facts that they present. Zinn, in fact, pointed this out; he said: “it’s as important to consider the facts that a historian left out as much as the ones that they included.” History is not a simple narrative suitable for children; there are very few “good guys” and “great men” and a lot of self-important authoritarians. Consider, for example, Theodore Roosevelt. Now, there’s a complicated fellow, indeed. He seems to have been personally brave, energetic, fairly honest – as well as vain, racist, and an imperialist. When I was a child I learned that there was an attempt to assassinate him, once, and he was hit in the chest by a bullet but continued his speech until it was done, then sought medical help. I was impressed by that and if that was all I knew of Roosevelt I’d think him quite a guy. If I knew at the time that Roosevelt had done a great deal to suppress labor organization in favor of industrial capitalists, I’d think he was an establishment stooge. Historical figures are seldom as cleanly-drawn as Stalin, Hitler, or Torquemada. I believe Zinn did us all a great service by adding a lot of new perspectives to US history, including the voices that more conventional histories deliberately silence.
Our responsibility as consumers of history is to remain skeptical of the analysis, and even sometimes the facts. If we aren’t, and just accept the story handed to us by authority and the establishment, we are allowing them to propagandize us and they will not pass up the opportunity. When I was a kid, I was taught that Christopher Columbus was a great visionary who opened the new world for colonization by Europe. When I was a teen-ager I learned that he was also motivated almost entirely by greed and was seeking gold, slaves, and his ships were kitted out for a looting/raiding expedition more than they were for exploration. When I read Zinn, I learned that Columbus’ first actions on landing in the new world was to claim it for an imperial power, and to round up a few slaves, then tortured some islanders to death inquiring as to whether or not they had any gold. All of those things are facts. The interpretation of them is what the historian (and the reader) must provide; the significant choice the historian makes is which facts to leave in and which to leave out.
When I first read Zinn, I sometimes felt as though my world was tilting underneath me.
That’s how it’s supposed to work.
If you need a copy of you know someone who needs a copy, email me. (just google my name + “contact info”)
[ct] Nearly 9 million eligible Americans may miss out on $1,200 stimulus checks, GAO warns