As much as this assessment from Bill
Leuchtenburg looks like it’s from the 2016
election, it is not. He said it in 1992, during
the primary season that would leave George
H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot on
the November ballot.
In 2016, the activist side of Leuchtenburg weighed in on Donald Trump
when Leuchtenburg joined a number of
prominent historians — Ken Burns, David
McCullough, Robert Caro, Nell Irvin
Painter, Ron Chernow and Vicki Lynn
Ruiz — to comment on Trump’s candidacy.
They posted videos to a Facebook
page called “Historians on Donald Trump.”
Leuchtenburg called Trump unique: “We
have never before had a candidate of a
major party so abusive toward women,
toward minorities, to so many millions of
our American citizens.” Trump, he said, is
not a patriot, lacks a “sense of the American
past, and he doesn’t understand the achieve-
Leuchtenburg dislikes being asked to
make predictions. But he does not shy from
what he sees as the truth.
In an interview during the campaign, he
said: “Never before have we had two can-
didates who are so disliked, so disrespected
and so unable to generate enthusiasm for
their candidacies.” He expressed concern
that the country’s deep divisions have
forced people farther apart, said he doubts
this alienation will become permanent but
noted that “all the polls indicate that voters
believe neither of the candidates will pull
the nation together. … We have reached
a point where the constant talk radio and
commentators on TV simply lacerate polit-
ical comity and discourage politicians from
working together. I don’t know how that is
going to change.”
On Nov. 10, two days after Trump was
elected, the Review asked Leuchtenburg
what he took away from this campaign.
CAR: Will the 2016 presidential election’s nastiness become the norm?
WL: It is easy to forget how quickly
national moods alter. Four years from
now could be, and we hope will be, very
different in spirit. I don’t see this in itself
as something that is long-lasting. For one
reason, there is a very considerable revulsion
CAR: This was the fifth election in U.S.
history in which the losing candidate won the
popular vote but lost in the Electoral College.
Any chance this process will ever change —
that a president will be elected by popular vote?
WL: The likelihood of it being changed
is so slim that I have stopped worrying
about it. So many states have a stake in the
present system that chances of ratification
Leuchtenburg: 2016 in the Rearview Mirror
‘It appears as though the country can suddenly be swept by crazes in a way that I don’t recall having happened in the past and that are
more characteristic of countries that have eventually moved in a fascist direction. Now I don’t think we are in danger of that kind of ending.
But I do find this mercurial national temperament disturbing and hard to understand. The one encouraging thing I find is
that they tend to be short-lived. … We are going to get the kinds of presidential candidates we deserve.’