A Response to Moshik Temkin’s “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits”

November 15, 2018 |  Tagged | Comments Off on A Response to Moshik Temkin’s “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Dominique Mathura

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 A Response to Moshik Temkin’s “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits”
Moshik Temkin’s thesis in his op-ed is that when historians become pundits, they tend to use analogies that are meaningless and dangerous. Temkin discusses several analogies between President Trump and previous leaders, such as Huey Long, Richard Nixon, Hitler, and others, in order to show how inaccurate analogies are. Temkin’s suggestion is for historians to “take advantage of this media by dismantling facile analogies.” I agree completely. Trump is not my favorite however comparing him to Hitler is inaccurate for all kinds of reasons, especially the fact that Hitler ordered the genocide of six million people.
Temkin is completely against sound bites and pundit-friendly analogies, and I agree with his view because it makes sense. By definition, sound bites reduce complex events into simple-minded slogans. Moreover, making a precise analogy is very difficult to do well, because the two analogs are two different realities whose similarities are few and whose differences are often many. As a result, I agree completely with Temkin’s proposal that “the most important thing historians can do is leave the analogies to the pundits, and instead provide a critical, uncomfortable account of how we arrived at our seemingly incomprehensible current moment.” In other words, historians must refuse to go on superficial shows where several guests are interviewed for a few minutes each. Instead, historians should go on only serious programs that take the time to go into depth. In other words, historians must be very picky about the programs they choose to go on. Historians should never go on slick shows on commercial channels that feature advertisements every few minutes, with hosts whose focus is on entertainment, sound bites, controversy, sensationalism, and all the other mindless characteristics of sensationalist culture.
Instead, historians should go only on serious programs with serious hosts who explore depth and try to get to the truth, without pausing every ten minutes for commercials. For example, NPR programs like Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross, is an excellent example of a program that lasts for an hour and often features one or two guests, at most. Moreover, Terry Gross is a well-prepared and intelligent woman who asks serious questions in a friendly and easy-going way. That way, she and her guests cover a lot of serious ground, raise important questions, and reach a depth of understanding that mainstream television or other radio programs never approach.
To do that, hosts must have the courage to ask the kinds of probing questions that Temkin proposes in his op-ed, about Donald Trump: “How did a rich guy who never contributed a thing to the public good become a public figure? Why did his ill-informed opinions on everything from China to Barack Obama’s birthplace matter to millions? How did private wealth come to provide such access to power and influence in politics? Why has xenophobia been such a force in a country built by immigrants?” These are uncomfortable but necessary questions because almost 63 million Americans voted for a wealthy reality-TV star who is frivolous, uninformed, aggressive, sexist, racist, and ignorant.
For example, several times in the past few months, Trump called Stacey Abrams “unqualified”, a term that applies to him, not Stacey Abrams. In fact, in addition to her many years of service in Georgia’s state government, Stacey Abrams has a BA and a JD, which is a doctorate in jurisprudence! A simple Google search could confirm these facts if Trump had an interest in truth. However, his only interest is ego-tripping. Unfortunately, millions of Americans voted for a man who has said similar and worse things about people who are far better qualified, more experienced, and better educated. What does that say about Trump voters? These are the types of questions that hosts should be asking historians, on serious programs that don’t do sound bites and pundit-friendly analogies. That’s what Temkin proposes, and I agree completely with him because logic doesn’t lie, like Trump does all the time.
Unfortunately, however, that kind of serious discussion goes against the values of the reality-TV culture that people like Donald Trump gave us. For example, Temkin wrote the following: “Trading in such complexities might get lower TV ratings than drawing parallels with prior presidents, but it would do a better job of explaining Mr. Trump, and make clear that Americans can make a better history for themselves.” In other words, Temkin is basically suggesting that historians should forget about going on frivolous shows and networks associated with reality-TV type programming.
For example, historians should never go on any shows on the Fox network because it is committed to right-wing ideology and tows the Trump line. Fox hosts are Trump apologists who turn truth upside down, repeating Trump’s idiotic claim that CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other similar institutions are “fake news”. In reality, Donald Trump is the one who says fake things all the time, exaggerating numbers, making up staff, and dismissing people who are far better educated and more qualified than he is. The fact he is 72 years old often makes me wonder how can someone live that long but have no wisdom. Moreover, he often says things that are the opposite of the reality of life. For example, he often calls himself “a great moral leader” when in reality he has been laundering money for the Russian mafia because banks have refused to lend him money!
However, I think historians should consider going on serious mainstream shows like The Rachel Maddow Show, The Last Word with Lawrence O-Donnell, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, Face the Nation with Chuck Todd, , and others. These shows stay away from sound bites and pundit-friendly analogies. I have been watching them for a while now, and I never heard anyone refer to Trump as Hitler and so on. In fact, I recently saw the historian Michael Beschloss, who specializes in the history of American Presidents. He was promoting his most recent book, and he offered some parallels between Richard Nixon’s last few weeks in office before he resigned to what Donald Trump may do if he is impeached. Beschloss said that he has “never seen anything like this in modern Presidential history.” It was on Face the Nation, and in a few minutes he summarized very well the essential differences between Nixon’s last days and what may happen to Trump.
In the final analysis, Temkin makes a strong case why historians should stay away from all media that deal in sound bites and pundit-friendly analogies. History is too complex for simplistic comparisons. In fact, I remember a professor in undergrad school telling us one day, “Analogies are literary flourishes, not logical proofs.” In other words, we should never accept arguments using analogies because they are limited. In fact, the concept of faulty analogy is a logical fallacy. I think all analogies are faulty as far as logic is concerned. The fact that two analogs have some things in common doesn’t mean that they have everything in common.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Works Cited
Temkin, Moshik. “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits.” June 26, 2017. The New York Times.


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