After pro-Trump mob attacks U.S. Capitol, history teachers connect the past to the present

McDonogh 35 history teacher Donald Hess works with his students. The Louisiana Department of Education will receive about $2.6 billion from the COVID-19 relief package. (Photo courtesy of Donald Hess)

When Donald Hess, a world history teacher at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans, logged onto his Zoom class Thursday morning, he knew that it wasn’t going to be a typical day. The day before, a mob incited by President Donald Trump had invaded the U.S. Capitol and forced the evacuation of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate which had convened to certify the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

So Hess carved out time for students to talk about their feelings about the previous day’s attack.

“There was a lot of frustration, disbelief and just shock,” Hess said of his students.“For them, it was a very eye-opening experience because they got to clearly see a double standard from the way protests are handled based on the groups that are holding the protests.”

Hess said his class has been studying The English Civil War, when supporters of King Charles I and the monarchy battled those supporting Parliamentary rule. He said Wednesday’s takeover of the Capitol fit perfectly into that lesson plan. 

“Not saying that Trump is the same as King Charles,” Hess said. “But the dictatorship, overthrowing certain parts of the government, inciting the people to do what he wants. It just had a lot of comparisons.”

His students, he said, questioned the stoutness of the country’s national security and the racial bias they said was made evident by a crowd of white protestors being allowed to invade the Capitol.

Danette Thierry, who teaches world history at Edna Karr High School on the West Bank of New Orleans, said Thursday that her students made the same observation.  “The biggest thing (that sticks out) was the kids going back to the treatment of the rioters yesterday compared to the (Black Lives Matter) protesters over the summer,” Thierry said. “And that seemed to make them very, very upset.”

Thierry said there’s a common belief that teenagers “don’t watch news,” but she was pleased by how informed and curious her students were and how their global perspective led them to  openly wonder how Wednesday’s attack makes the U.S. look to the rest of the world.

A pro-Trump mob invaded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in an attack that led to five deaths, including the death of a U.S. Capitol Police officer. (Photo by Alex Kent)

 

Thierry, quoting her students, said, “We’re policing other countries. Now, (those countries) are looking at us like, ‘If something happens here, the United States can’t tell us anything because you allowed these riots to happen.’” 

Thierry said. “I said it in all three classes, ‘Yes, this is a world history class, not a civics class, but the world is watching us.’”

Lawrence Powell, a historian and former Tulane history professor, agreed that America’s image took a severe hit Wednesday. He wrote in an email, “A full-scale legitimacy crisis is what we’re witnessing boiling up from the pavements of America right now.”

President Donald Trump singled out largely black areas — including Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia — when challenging the election returns from Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania, accusing the elections that took place in those areas as fraudulent and criminal.  The mob that gathered on behalf of Trump Wednesday claimed to be there to “Stop the Steal.”

Powell said Wednesday’s ransacking of the Capitol is reminiscent of “the violent white backlash to Reconstruction, what with their promiscuous assumption that Black electoral politics are by definition riddled by fraud and illegal chicanery.”

“Therefore, all’s fair in war and politics because the other side can’t possibly be a legitimate government-in-waiting.” he said.