Memory  /  Comment

The Rise of Anti-History

The Trumpist wing of the GOP uses history as a bludgeon, without regard to context, logic, or proportionality.

In June, Marjorie Taylor Greene visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The visit was, by her own account, revelatory. Earlier in the spring, the Georgia member of the U.S. House compared Food City, a grocery chain that identified vaccinated employees on their name tags, to the Nazis, who forced Jews to wear Stars of David. A few days later, she compared Democrats to Nazis.

Now she was contrite. “When you make a mistake, you should own it. I have made a mistake, and it’s really bothered me for a couple of weeks now, so I definitely want to own it,” she said. “The Holocaust—there’s nothing comparable to it.”

The lesson wore off in less than a month. When President Joe Biden announced plans to send public-health workers door-to-door to encourage people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Greene tweeted: “People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations.”

Another museum visit would probably be futile. For Greene and others in the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party, anti-history has become a shibboleth. They drop historical references and facts into political debates, but without regard to context, logic, or proportionality. Their villains include Adolf Hitler, but also Mao Zedong and Joseph McCarthy; the Holocaust was bad, but also, Jewish people control the weather. The pose is more than the simple historical illiteracy that’s endemic among American politicians. In this GOP faction, members are willfully ignorant of history, which they view in purely instrumental terms, as a bludgeon to wield even as they do not bother to understand it.

As usual, Donald Trump himself has led the way. In 2018, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had to give the then-president a capsule lesson about interwar history and which countries were on what side of the two world wars, according to a new book from the Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender. “Well, Hitler did a lot of good things,” Trump reportedly replied, citing the improving German economy in the 1930s. (Trump denies this.) “You cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler,” Kelly replied. “You just can’t.” He was right, though he somehow didn’t see this as a reason to quit on the spot.