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It has now been seven weeks since Joseph R. Biden defeated Donald Trump in the Presidential election of 2020. It’s a historical fact, indisputable beyond any shadow of doubt, that this is what happened. But in the last seven weeks, Trump’s utter denial of the election results — which some in the press originally thought to be a political stunt to hold on to his supporters’ backing, or a grift to fleece them of their money — seems to have gotten stronger. This week, Trump held a fiery meeting in the Oval Office in which he floated, among other things, the notion of declaring martial law to rerun the election. There are reports that, far from merely saying that he won the election, he’s somehow talked himself into really believing that he did. This seems unfathomable to rational people, and it should. …


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At this writing, about 70% of Republicans in America believe the 2020 election was somehow rigged. Of that number, a substantial amount believe that President Donald Trump won re-election outright, “BY A LOT!” in the President’s screaming tweeted words. This is despite there being exactly zero evidence of this. Though I doubt the intersection of these beliefs has been tested by specific polling, I’d venture a guess that a solid if not overwhelming majority of these people deny the proven scientific reality of human-caused climate change — despite decades of irrefutable scientific proof. The pattern here is disturbing. For a large number of people, something they want to believe needs no evidence to support it. …


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Today, November 22, 2020, is the 57th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. JFK is a personal hero of mine, and while I would much rather remember the wisdom and compassion he espoused during his short lifetime, especially now, in this era of fake news and fake history — when even Presidents make a game of denying reality — it’s hard to step out of the shadow of his assassination. It’s especially hard for a historian, because what most people believe about the Kennedy assassination is not historical fact, but mythology, folklore and conspiracy. Pushing back against fake history is a daunting job at the best of times. It’s even more so when a majority of the public is convinced that an important event of the past occurred in some way different than what the historical facts and evidence show it to be. But this is the job of a historian: to educate people on what really happened. …


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As I write this, it’s nearly a week since Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election by a decisive margin. Yet about a third of the American public questions this result or rejects it outright — and President Donald Trump is one of them, having refused to concede. To be sure, they’re not merely denying the legitimacy of the election. They’re denying the facts. From the signs we’ve seen of President Trump’s petulant performance since November 3 it seems apparent that he believes something else happened that day than the rest of us saw. …


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Right now, in the late summer of 2020, a significant number of people believe that cabals of Satanists are kidnapping children in America, trafficking them into sex cults and abusing them in bizarre and evil occult rituals. The phenomenon is known as “QAnon,” and it’s mostly a political movement allied with extreme fringe right-wing politics, bubbling up out of the conspiracy-soaked fever swamps of the Internet. But if you were a kid in suburban America in the ’80s, as I was, this delusion should sound very familiar to you. …


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Today (August 9) is a historical anniversary that, while I’m sure won’t go un-noticed, may well go unappreciated. Forty-six years ago today, on August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States, the only president (thus far) to do so. Gerald Ford took over as the nation’s 37th President that afternoon. This was a pivotal event in U.S. political and social history. Nothing was ever quite the same, but perhaps for reasons that are under-appreciated or outright misunderstood.

Nixon, of course, resigned because of the Watergate scandal. In 1972, as he was running for re-election, a group of political spies paid by the White House broke into some Democratic Party offices to snoop around, and they got caught. This wasn’t really what got Nixon into trouble. What happened was, three days later, he told an aide, Bob Haldeman, to call the FBI and tell them to stop investigating the case. With those words, Nixon committed a crime — obstruction of justice — and the crime was caught on tape. In 1973 it was revealed Nixon recorded many of his conversations in the White House. He fought a year-long battle to keep the tapes, and especially this one, from coming out, but the Supreme Court ruled he had to turn them over. His political support drained away. …


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Last week’s “geohistory” post was, admittedly, a little heavy, though with all that’s been happening lately I felt it was good to get it out there. This week I’m going to go a little lighter — and tastier — by using my signature technique of presenting history through geographic places to tell the story of a great American culinary and cultural tradition: the steak house.

On the surface of it you might think there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or historically significant about a certain kind of restaurant that we take for granted. But, I’m not talking about just any restaurant where steaks and other carnivorous delicacies are a mainstay, but the culturally distinctive brand of steak houses that developed particularly in the middle of the 20th century and which are, with some fortunately wonderful exceptions, mostly gone now, in favor of big chain restaurants like Outback which imitate their gestalt. …


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History is often painful. For every story of valor, compassion or accomplishment we find in the past, there are an equal number of stories we’d rather not remember. As a historian — whose job is to try to put the past into the service of solving modern-day problems — I know that we can’t shy away from uncomfortable history. We must learn from it. Trying to solve the legacies of injustice and inequality that stem from our past is one of the most important things we can do, and for that reason alone, the value of history is inestimable. Unfortunately the history of racism in America is all around us: in our streets, our hills, the historic mansions of our heroes, in the very soil that was once worked by slaves. …


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I’m a historian, but a lot of my work involves climate change. It’s right that I’m focused on it, because global warming represents nothing less than the transition of one era of human history to another and the biggest engine of historical change in our modern world. I’ve been working on climate change for some time now, and let me make a candid admission: if I see another graph, chart or map as the lead image in an article or presentation on climate change, my head is going to explode.

The reign of the graph in the realm of climate change communication needs to end. Many things need to be reformed within the realm of climate change communication — for one thing, we need an across-the-board, pain-of-death ban on images of polar bears clinging to icebergs — but one of the most important things that those of us engaged in the issue of climate change can do is to stop using those [bleeping] graphs. Why? Because they’re counterproductive, and they’re making it harder, not easier, for the issue of climate change to resonate with decisionmakers and the general public. The fact that so few people in the field of climate change realize this, to me, is astonishing. …


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This blog originally appeared on my professional website, here.

Dear “M.”:

We’ve talked a bit about climate change recently, and I decided to respond to you in the form of an open letter, because I think your case is a “teachable moment” that perhaps others can draw from. I think there are a lot of other people in your situation, and in any event what you’re feeling needs to be addressed — quite urgently.

You’re overwhelmed by climate change. I get it. The problem seems so daunting, so dire, and there seems to be so little progress toward solving it. You see things in the press, or on Twitter or Facebook, that all seem to be bad news: Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accords in defiance of literally every other country in the world except one; hurricanes, heat waves and forest fires wreaking havoc; reports from scientists about accelerating species extinction, the latest temperature records shattered (which happens every month), sea level rise, an iceberg the size of [fill in whatever small U.S. state you like] just broke off from Antarctica. You even told me recently, your words: “Reading about climate change literally makes me want to die.” You’re overwhelmed. …

About

Sean Munger

Historian, teacher, consultant, author and podcaster. Dr. Munger teaches history classes online at his website, https://www.seanmunger.com/

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