Award-winning presidential historian and “New York Times” Bestselling author Michael Beschloss ’73 was given the Alumni Award of Distinction at Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM). Later that night, Beschloss presented his talk, “The Ethical Responsibility of a Historian in the Age of Disillusionment,” in Kemper Auditorium.
During ASM, Beschloss attributed much of his success to the opportunities he found at Andover, as well as the strong relationship he formed with faculty, notably the former Head of School, Theodore Sizer. With Sizer’s guidance, Beschloss felt inclined to attend Williams College, where Beschloss begun his now-seasoned career as a presidential history author. According to Beschloss, he would not be where he is today without Andover.
“I could have sat in history courses with large numbers of students and not build a relationship with the teachers I had, [but] that would not have been particularly encouraging. The other thing is, and this is classic Andover, almost the best thing you can do for a student… is to treat them extremely seriously and with great respect and as someone who has a radiant future ahead of them… I think that if I had not had a teacher who had said this is something you can do, if I had not been encouraged and nurtured, it might have wound up differently,” said Beschloss.
According to Beschloss, he first dreamed of becoming a history author at the age of ten. It was not until he arrived at Andover, however, that he began to realize his passion for history, which would later inform his understanding of what it means to be a leader.
“I think that any leader has to be a student of history… If you’re not interested in history, your life experience is going to be limited to what happens to you and what you hear from your friends and family. If you tap into history in some way, you’re tapping into the collective wisdom of billions of people that have walked the earth. That’s the choice – you can either be wise from what happened before, their successes and their mistakes, or you can be in your little cocoon, only aware of what’s happening around you,” said Beschloss.
While paying tribute to the benefits of his time at Andover, Beschloss also acknowledged the limitations of the all-male nature of his class at Andover.
“I think it is important that [Beschloss] acknowledged the old shortcoming of Andover, like how it used to be exclusionary to female students, in his speech. It really shows how he is conscious of how his first-class education still had major gaps,” said Mary Muromcew ’22.
According to Beschloss, in order to understand history, the voices of marginalized communities need to be heard. The historic silencing of voices is now something we are finally making up for, he said.
“Any teacher of history now that does not see it at the absolute top of their assignment to make sure we listen to those voices and understand how much diversity we have as a world is not practicing [history] very well,” said Beschloss.
Following the ASM, Beschloss delivered a talk, focused on the influence of former American presidents on the current political scene. According to Alex Mitchell ’22, the opportunity to hear from Beschloss was truly an honor.
“I haven’t really met anyone of the caliber of Michael Beschloss, someone who has such deep thoughts about presidents and who has clearly studied the differences throughout American history. I really hope that I am able to continue to analyzing his words as I go forward in analyzing the news in the future,” said attendee Mitchell.
In “The Ethical Responsibility of a Historian in the Age of Disillusionment,” Beschloss spoke of the comparison of the Trump Administration towards the rest of presidential history and what it signified for the American people.
“Particularly, in Trump’s case, because he glories in being disruptive, which is the nicest way I can describe it, I think it’s very important to remember how presidents normally behave and remind ourselves that this is not the way it has always been and evaluate him against that standard,” said Beschloss in an interview with The Phillipian.
According to Beschloss, who identifies as a registered independent, Trump is a true threat to democracy and has the potential to begin a precedent of disregarding traditions that have existed for more than 200 years of presidential history.
“What I am really worried about—not just Trump, he’s not going to be there forever—[is that] if people forget that these things aren’t supposed to happen, these things get normalized. Then future people are elected that do the same thing and we’re losing our democracy,” said Beschloss.
Beschloss emphasized that the American people, Andover students included, must protect democracy by ensuring active voting in our communities. In addition, he advised that students should hold both Congress and the Supreme Court accountable in their role to act as a check to the president.
“This isn’t about ideology, this is about things the traditions that earlier presidents had followed, especially in terms of respecting the rule of law, independence of the judiciary system, independence of the Department of Justice, independence of the FBI. For the most part, all those presidents have regarded those things as a given, he does not. It’s important for us to demand that members of Congress, if he does those things, to stand up to him and say that you will not be allowed,” said Beschloss.
According to Beschloss, however, Americans have persevered throughout times of division. Beschloss believes that the motive to preserve unity is inherent, and that it is important for the American people to be aware of current issues and to take direct action.
Beschloss said, “I think one of the reasons [Trump] has such a contempt and indifference to democracy [is] because he does not know history. I think that if you know American history you know… how hard it was for us to have a Republic and also how perishable and vulnerable it is. Also, how dependent it is, not just on legal system but on self-restraint and on traditions. Whenyou have a president that hour by hour is trashing how many of those traditions as possibly as he can and has yet to show an ounce of self-restraint I have seen, that’s when us Americans have to step in and do everything we can to prevent those dangers from happening… I thought I wouldn’t have to talk about a president like that in my lifetime, it makes me sad.”