The Uses and Abuses of History in the Trump Era Conference
The past is infinitely productive as a deep well of symbolic persuasion. Political actors dip into the well for inspirational tales of heroes and cautionary tales of reprobates and failed experiments. Evocations of the past insinuate messages of belonging, the contours of the polity, values, and leadership.
During the 2016 US presidential campaign, the candidates harnessed public memory to gain support. While Hillary Clinton aligned herself with the suffragists as she aimed to become the country’s first female president nearly a century after women gained the right to vote, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” stirred up nostalgic visions of hope for white, working-class male prosperity and pride.
Since the election, the historical imagination has been pushed into overdrive, as a highly polarized electorate aims to promote its vision of the nation’s future, often by asserting certain narratives about the past. Examples can be seen in debates about the racism of famous suffragists, the statues of confederate soldiers, a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, “Pocahontas” as a slur, Harriett Tubman’s image on the $20 bill, the flag as a symbol of “our heritage,”“chain migration”and “anchor babies,” whether the country is a “nation of immigrants,” and whether it was “founded on Judeo-Christian principles.”
This conference celebrates the publication of and features work by contributors to the interdisciplinary volume, Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election (Christine A. Kray, Tamar W. Carroll, and Hinda Mandell, eds., University of Rochester Press, forthcoming October 2018). While the book sits at the heart of the conference, we also call upon scholars, artists and writers to present new works related to the conference themes.