Written by Daniel Sharp
If you have never listened to The Whiskey Rebellion I can highly recommend it. Hosted by Dr David Silkenat and Professor Frank Cogliano of the University of Edinburgh – specialists in nineteenth and eighteenth-century American history respectively – it is a podcast which tries to put current developments in the Trump administration into historical context.
So, on 7 November 2017, almost a year to the day Donald Trump won the presidency, they hosted a live podcast recording looking back at a year of Trump. In David Hume Tower, a small room was packed to the fullest, with some people having to stand or sit on the floor (luckily, I got a seat). David and Frank entered to rapturous applause (requested by them for a dramatic entry, of course). And so, sitting down with a tumbler of whiskey each, they started with a discussion on what events of the Trump administration have surprised them most, before moving on to a question and answer session with the audience.
Sprinkled throughout with jokes – mostly focusing on the relevance of David and Frank’s respective eras of specialisation in the current climate – and with the genial yet informative hosting any listener to the podcast knows and loves, it was a great evening, however unsavoury the topic of discussion. As an indication of this, Frank at one point described the election event last year at Teviot as turning from a party into a wake as the realisation of who had won seeped into the minds of those present.
Reflecting on what surprised him most Frank discussed the sheer incompetence of the administration and the apparently great degree of Russian interference in the election. Optimistically, he pointed out that the Constitution has thus far done its job – Trump has been checked on the ‘Muslim ban’ by the courts for example – though he noted that norms have been relentlessly trampled upon.
David noted the unprecedented fact that, while candidates usually become more ‘presidential’ upon taking office, Trump is exactly the same person we saw on the campaign trail, that is to say, vulgar and stupid. David noted with glee that nineteenth century history has come to the fore in the past year, with Trump’s fetishizing of Andrew Jackson and his apparent ignorance of who Frederick Douglass was during Black History Month; not to mention the debates over Civil War monuments, notably in Charlottesville, Virginia.
What came across as most shocking was the unprecedented nature of the Trump regime. Almost everything he has done has been surprising or lacking in historical mirroring. Thus, as David and Frank noted, the future is opaque when it comes to this President in particular.
A question and answer session with the audience followed, and many illuminating points were raised. To take just one here, someone asked what history lesson David and Frank would teach Trump. David said he would tell Trump about Abraham Lincoln’s open and flexible mind, whose ability to react to evidence and change his mind could benefit Trump. Ominously, Frank thought the President should know more about the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s management of the debacle, as Trump, while incompetent domestically, has great power internationally, and should he handle a major crisis wrongly, many lives could be lost due to his failings.
The full recording of the event is available as a podcast on The Whiskey Rebellion’s pages. Do listen, as lots more than I have space to go into here was discussed. It was a very interesting event, and again I recommend listening to the podcast. For now, though, I shall sign off in the style of Frank and David: with a cheers to the reader (you shall just have to imagine the clink of whiskey glasses, however).