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UTSA Professor Gives Historical Context To The Trump Era

Donald Trump ‘Fears He’ll Be Prosecuted If He Loses Presidential Election’
Douliery Olivier/ABACA/Douliery Olivier/ABACA via Reuters
US President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during an Opportunity Zone conference with State, local, tribal, and community leaders in the South Court Auditorium April 17, 2019. Donald Trump has privately confided that he fears he will face multiple prosecutions if he loses the presidential election. The President of the United States has told aides he expects the chances of criminal charges against him to dramatically increase if he loses to Joe Biden on November 3. According to The New York Times, Trump is worried about an ongoing probe into his finances by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

The presidential election of 2020 is sure to go down in history.

Texas Public Radio's Jerry Clayton had a conversation with historian Dr. Catherine Clinton to put the Trump Presidency in historical context. Clinton is a pioneering historian of the American South and the Civil War. She's the Denman Endowed Professor in American history at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Clinton earned her B.A. from Harvard, her M.A. from the University of Sussex and her Ph.D. from Princeton. She is the author or editor of 25 books on history.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jerry Clayton: First of all, let's talk about precedents. Has there ever been a presidential candidate or incumbent who has reacted the way Donald Trump has in the recent days?

Dr. Catherine Clinton: No, I think that we're in very historic times. We're particularly concerned because we live in an electronic age and instant age where we can get all of our answers on Google. But we have to really remember that there is a process; there is a way of handling this election. And we also have the current occupant of the White House who told us what his plans were for the upcoming election.

Clayton: With regard to President Trump, how does he compare with other presidents or candidates who saw unfavorable election results?

Clinton: Well, I think that I can look back at the first great disputed election of 1876. We just fought a civil war and were going through a process of healing. And recently there's been a lot in the media about the issue of healing, the electorate being quite divided, the idea being that we are politically at loggerhead. And I look back at the election of 1876 and see that when Rutherford B. Hayes wanted to maintain the Republican Party hold on the White House and Samuel Tilden challenged, electoral college votes became disputed. There were debates and there were many weeks, months before the election was settled and it was all done in a compromise in a back room. So at least I think we have a more transparent process going on now.

Clayton: In your classes that you teach, have you directly discussed the Trump presidency?

Clinton: Well, interestingly, this particular semester I'm teaching a graduate course on women in American history. We have a woman of color as a vice presidential candidate. How and in what way that has shifted the electorate toward the Democratic ticket will be a matter of great debate and discussion in the coming weeks and months. It's also true that I teach a course on madness in American society, and my students have been made well aware of the Goldwater rule, which was something that came forward in the wake of Goldwater's candidacy, when there were several doctors and physicians who observed him and made the claim that he was mentally unstable.

Clayton: How have you personally placed the Trump era in historical context?

Clinton: Well, I would say that when I was teaching American history abroad, which I was for a decade, and the election of Barack Obama signaled a certain interesting shift in American politics. And then we had a period where clearly the election of Donald Trump — quite an outsider to the political process and someone who had been such a repudiation of Obama and all of his policies — showed a very wild pendulum swing in terms of American politics. And I think it's something that I often say, we we have to study the past, but we can't look at the past as a predictor for the present or the future.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.