In the past few weeks, I have witnessed excessive misuse of history to justify political opinions. The presidential election seemed to bring out the historian in everyone, much to my chagrin. Generally, I try to avoid debating people on social media (a wise suggestion for everyone), but I couldn’t stand it anymore during the election returns. Way too often people used quotes taken completely out of context (as I’m screaming, “But context matters for understanding that properly!!!”). On every Facebook status that made me cringe, I put in my two cents and tactfully acted as a caped crusader correcting gross historical inaccuracies and rabid attacks on the historical profession. The responses were depressing. The lack of rational discussion I expected to a degree, but the low level of respect for historians was shocking. I wondered, as many of us often do, how to maintain the accessibility of history to the public and yet still retain authority over our expertise?
President Obama’s recognition of Americans’ struggles while voting seemed unexpected, even with all of the news reports about long lines, defective voter machines, and other voter irregularities.What is even more astonishing, and at this point, pretty tone deaf, is that the Supreme Court may hear another case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County, Alabama aspires to have the provision overturned on the grounds that it is archaic and unnecessary in an “American that elected and reelected Barack Obama as its first African-American president.” Section 5 forces particular states with histories of voter disenfranchisement to seek “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before changing voting rules. Conservative justices, according to Adam Serwer writing for Mother Jones, argue that the law discriminates against white southerners despite the fact that Section 5 applies to “all or parts of” Western and Northern states such as New York, New Hampshire, California, and Arizona, nor does it single out white individuals. States and “political subdivisions” are the regulated entities.