National History Center

Writing the Cold War Back In: How History Influences Chinese Foreign Policy

By Gregg A. Brazinsky

As Sino-American relations have emerged as a critical foreign policy issue in the Trump administration, public discourse has been awash with many all too familiar and ill-informed narratives about China and its global objectives. Often, these narratives are derived from overly simplistic views of how China’s past affects the present. Policymakers and journalists have been obsessed with the idea that the People’s Republic of China is trying to reconstruct the “tributary system” or “Sinocentric order” that governed its relations with its neighbors before the 19th century.

Mexican Migration History in the Era of Border Walls

By Julia G. Young

In March 2015, I submitted the final page proofs for my book on Mexican migration to the United States. In June of that same year, Donald Trump gave his now-infamous speech in which he called Mexican immigrants drug dealers, rapists, and criminals. We all know what has happened since then: a nativist presidential campaign, a rhetorical battle with Mexico over the border wall, an upset election, and a growing number of deportations. 

US-China Diplomacy: Historical Perspectives on Challenges Confronting the People’s Republic

As Donald Trump and Xi Jinping prepared for what Trump has warned will be a “very difficult” meeting at his Florida resort, several leading historians of modern China gave a richly informative briefing on March 27 at the Capitol about the underlying issues that shape the Chinese government’s engagement with the United States and the world. Sponsored by the National History Center, the purpose of the briefing was to give historical context to current tensions between the United States and China, with a particular focus on Chinese aims and anxieties. 

“Boots on the Ground”: US Soldiers and the Strains of Overseas Deployment

By Susan L. Carruthers

On January 16, 2017, the New York Times printed an arresting image of US Marines arriving in Norway, the first foreign troops to be deployed on Norwegian soil since 1945. The accompanying text focused on Norwegians’ anxieties about what this deployment, announced as an opportunity for the Marines to “hone their abilities to fight in tough winter conditions,” might portend in geopolitical terms. Like any display of “alertness,” this show of preparedness risks aggravating tensions rather than alleviating them.

The Paradoxes of Presidential Power: A Brief History of Executive Orders

We’ve all seen the photo ops over the past few weeks: President Donald J. Trump sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, signing executive orders with a flourish, then proudly displaying his handiwork to the cameras. This flurry of controversial orders has given new attention to an old presidential practice. Earlier this month, the National History Center sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill that examined the history of executive orders (EOs). Three leading authorities on the subject traced the evolution and exercise of this presidential power, placing the present moment in a context that offered both reassurance and concern.

February 27, 2017

Today’s Banned Immigrants Are No Different From Our Immigrant Ancestors

By Tyler Anbinder

Underpinning President Donald Trump’s recent ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries is the belief that these immigrants are fundamentally different than those who came to the United States in the past. An unsentimental look at the history of American immigrants, however, shows that the banned immigrants are not fundamentally different from Americans’ foreign-born grandparents, great-grandparents, or even great-great-great-grandparents.

Human Rights in the Era of Trump

By Mark Philip Bradley

Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” then presidential candidate Donald Trump said at a February 2016 campaign event in Bluffton, South Carolina. “Okay, folks, torture—you know, half these guys [say]: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works, okay?” At the time, I was finishing my recent book on Americans and human rights in the 20th century, and Trump’s repeated defense of torture, like so many of his pronouncements, struck me as relics of the past.

Nurses in the Navy attending class, 1940. Wikimedia Commons

Pink-Collar Pain and Our New President

By Katherine Turk

In the wake of this year’s presidential election, many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are struggling to understand why her calls for sisterhood did not persuade the 62 percent of white non-college-educated women who voted for her opponent, Donald J. Trump.[1] One explanation came in Trump’s acceptance speech. In a 21st-century twist on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era appeal to the working class, the president-elect praised the “forgotten men and women” who hoisted him to victory. Many of these women are indeed the pink-collar workers the civil rights revolution forgot.

December 27, 2016