With Republicans slowly starting to come to terms with President Trump’s defeat this year, there’s been talk about how “history will judge” his administration.
Sometimes that refrain is used to reassure that there will be an accounting for the awful things that have happened on his watch, while others are using it to argue that we should just let the past be the past and move forward; let’s forget about investigations, truth commissions, or prosecutions and leave the judgements to subsequent generations of historians. All of those invocations of history are implicitly celebrating a return to “normalcy” under a President Biden.
But historians know better. We know that history is not some abstract collection of truths, but is subject to the deliberate manipulations of people aided by the vagaries of time. If history is going to judge Donald Trump, we’re going to have to do a lot of work in the present, despite some recent claims to the contrary. History itself isn’t an actor; people determine how things are remembered, and historians can only render a reliable judgement if we judge him and his administration now.