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Learning from History: Resistance in the 1850s and Today

By: 
Jay Moore

History never really repeats itself, neither as tragedy nor as farce nor as something else entirely.  Donald Trump is both a narcissistic and megalomanical fool and a tragedy for the U.S. and the planet.  Yet, although there are certainly some alarming resemblances with Trump, he is not a reborn Mussolini or Hitler or some other fascistic demagogue from 1920s Europe.   Trump comes out of a very American background of anti-intellectualism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia.  Andrew Jackson, a president with those attributes and a faux claim to support the interests of the “little man” is an apt model for Trump.

That said, one compelling reason to study what happened in the past is to see if there might actually be any similar or parallel situations both in global history and in our own national history that might be a “useable past” for us radical social justice and anti-fascist activists today.   A number of recent news commentaries have noted the strong similarities between what happened in the 1850s when the country was heavily divided around the issue of slavery and experiencing a great deal of Northern resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act and what’s happening now between Red states and Blue states and with people of conscience everywhere involved in the resistance to the Trump regime’s racist Executive Orders on immigrants and refugees.  It is hoped that a closer examination of the older resistance narratives and the “repertoire of protest” from that earlier time period will be worthwhile in providing us today with ideas and inspiration for things to do in coming to the aid of our undocumented brothers and sisters who are under the most immediate threat from a reactionary federal government as fugitive slaves were then.