This op-ed by Jill Lepore is a disturbing example of professional arrogance--a belief that the agenda and needs of one's own profession are actually identical with the needs and agenda of one's community or nation. 1/…
Lepore rejects the idea that the first necessity of a post-Trump (may we be so fortunate) future is justice. As @Ben_Alpers points out in this thread, Lepore rejects both war crimes tribunals and truth and reconciliation commissions by cavalierly 2/

mashing them together as part of an attempt to bind up a wound in the national psyche and close off the desire for revenge. (She uses Nuremberg as a successful example of this pacific alternative to vengeance, a choice which is questionable given that new films and tv shows 3/
about "killing Nazis" remain popular, satisfying an apparently permanent, widespread, and visceral sense of delight in ridding the earth of that evil.) That aside, the real purpose of knocking down the idea of TRCs or war crimes tribunals is 4/
inapplicable because the US is a functioning democracy and we can trust journalists and historians to do the work of bringing the truth out into the open and giving us the intellectual satisfaction of knowing what really went on.

She does acknowledge that "in some instances" 5/
"ordinary courts" may be needed to sort things out, but Lepore seems to place a great deal more faith in the historians and, to a lesser degree, journalists. Because what really has her disturbed is not the violence the Trump administration has inflicted on the bodies of real 6/
humans, but the textual records which Trump and his minions have destroyed. "Stopping the destruction of records is where the real fight lies. The rest is noise." Here's the fuller quote. 7/
So maybe as a historian, I should say, yes! Save the records! Above all, the archives must be preserved!

But as a person and a citizen, I find this elevation of paper over people unethical. "The rest is noise"? Are you forking kidding me?

First, historians and journalists 8/
are literally professionals at filling in gaps in the official record. In fact, most of the greatest failings in historiography have come from taking the official record as complete and from failing to read against its grain. So I am not scared that Trump has ripped up some 9/
memos. But the larger issue is that Lepore's gaze is trained not on how life is going to go on over the next five to ten years but on how the last four years are going to look in print. She is far more concerned about what historians will need in twenty years to write their 10/
monographs and articles than she is in whether or not the men and women who are responsible for fatal schemes of both violence and neglect are allowed to remain in positions of power where they may easily regain control of the government in an election cycle or two.

As Ben 11/
points out, the examples that Lepore uses as her examples of the errors of political "vengeance" actually underline the dangers of permitting criminal political elites to retain their social and financial capital unmolested. Somehow, Lincoln's rhetorical magnanimity toward the 12
enslaver-traitors of the Confederacy is a guide rather than a warning. (In this she follows a long anti-Radical Republican, anti-Reconstructionist line that has been standard among Lost Causers for 150 years.) She thinks Democrats were too eager to capitalize politically on 13/
Watergate, that the trials, hearings, and investigations they pursued were good for nothing except point-scoring. Others have made this point well, but the film Veep makes it especially clear that if Nixon cronies like Cheney and Rumsfeld had been excluded by a GOP truly 14/
committed to cleaning house of that band of political dark artists, the history of the last twenty years would be incredibly different. (Just imagine: Roger Stone plying his trade in obscurity as a maker of deceptive infomercials rather than liaising with Russians.) 15/
There is a cost in not smashing up the political power of people who have seriously abused that power. I am not recommending any particular course of action--I have grave qualms about carceral solutions for one thing--but Lepore's willingness to let crimes slide reflects not 16/
only an abysmal lack of civic prudence but a horrible distortion of the lessons we can actually learn from history, including the most recent history. The both sides-ism of her concluding paragraphs lays bare how absolutely skewed is her understanding of what has occurred 17/
in the last four years. May future historians not have cause to rue the decisions of the next four. 18/18

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15 May 19
A few thoughts about ten-dollar words and cultural capital in academia:

There is definitely a point at which a reasonable suspicion of people showing off in class or in their writing becomes a kind of cynicism about everyone's motivations. I think it is abhorrent to use the 1/
pronunciation of counterintuitive proper names (like Pepys or Anthony Powell) as some kind of test of whether someone belongs in academia. And certainly, academia is not meant to be a vocabulary test.

But it is also not wrong to value accuracy and to delight in language. 2/
It is also, I think, not wrong to take pride in one's own curiosity. If these are the motivating factors which drive one to learn the correct pronunciation of names or to flex one's vocabulary, I feel that such behavior would enrich academia rather than make it more elitist. 3/
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