Might the Coronavirus Be a Peacemaker?Historians in the News
tags: politics, Donald Trump, coronavirus
Let me quote a Trumpian figure from long ago, Henry Ford. That’s right, the bigot who created the Ford Motor Company (and once even ran for president). Back in 1916, in an interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter, he offered this bit of wisdom on the subject of history:
"Say, what do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? I don't know whether Napoleon did or did not try to get across and I don't care. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's dam is the history we make today."
As it happened, Napoleon Bonaparte died only 42 years before Henry Ford was born and I’m not sure he tried to cross anything except a significant part of Russia (unsuccessfully). My suspicion: Ford may have been thinking, in the associative fashion we’ve become used to in the age of Trump, of Julius Caesar’s famed crossing of the Rubicon almost 2,000 years earlier. But really, who knows or cares in a world in which “bunk” has become the definition of history -- a world in which Donald Trump, in news conference after news conference, is the only person worth a tinker’s dam (or damn)?
In fact, call Ford a prophet (as well as a profiteer) because so many years after he died in 1947 -- I was three then, but you already knew I was mighty old, right? -- we find ourselves in a moment that couldn’t be bunkier. We now have a president who undoubtedly doesn’t know Nero -- the infamous fiddling Roman emperor (although he was probably playing a cithara) -- from Spiro -- that’s Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president who lived god knows how long ago. In fact, Agnew was the crook who fell even before his president was shown the door. But why linger on ancient history? After all, even yesterday’s history is water through the gate, if not under the bridge, and in these glory days of Donald Trump, who cares? Not him, that’s for sure.