Are Americans ignorant of American history?

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Unlike many others, US President Donald Trump makes Dr. Jan Hildenhagen little worries: His look at American history shows that there were similar presidents long before Trump, who came to power as politically inexperienced men and ruled as supposedly unpredictable autocrats. For his doctoral thesis, which he wrote at the Historical Institute of the RUB, Jan Hildenhagen analyzed the era of Andrew Jackson. The US President from 1829 to 1837 is a declared role model for Trump.

The fact that the Republican Donald Trump has chosen the founder of the Democrats, Andrew Jackson, as a role model and hung his picture in the Oval Office is only surprising at first glance: Andrew Jackson also declared war on the political elite at the time and came as a politically inexperienced self-made man to power.

It's about saving the republic

Jan Hildenhagen shows that the political discourse in the USA since the founding of the republic has repeatedly referred to ancient history and the rise and fall of earlier republics. This has succeeded and does succeed in presenting complex political developments in a simplified manner so that every voter understands them.

The respective political side interprets the ancient events according to their view of things. Both parties are always concerned with saving the republic in their arguments. They see this threatened, for example, by a power-hungry autocratic ruler or by too much participation by the politically ignorant and easily manipulable people. The other side is afraid of elites who exercise political power only for self-interest.

Look ahead or back

While some look positively ahead - as Barack Obama put it in a nutshell in his election campaign with slogans like “Yes, we can” and “Change” - the other side seeks salvation in a supposedly simpler past. The latter is also behind Donald Trump's maxim "Make America great again".

Jan Hildenhagen states that the discourse on democracy and the future of the republic can be seen very clearly in the American public today. However, he himself does not see the republic threatened by a Donald Trump: "The fact that two different ideas about the future of the republic are currently clashing in the USA shows that the republic is still intact," he says.

Jan Hildenhagen: Democracy as a threat to the republic, Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2017, 268 pages, ISBN 9783837639971