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Historian Jill Lepore On How We Arrived At Moment Of Chaos At U.S. Capitol03:50
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The U.S. Capitol is seen Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. ( Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol is seen Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. ( Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The image of right-wing extremists storming the halls of Congress will now forever be a part of this country's history.

To help us understand the events of Wednesday and how we arrived at this moment, Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Bob Oakes.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On what stood out as events unfurled at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday:

"I was as speechless as anyone else. Historians don't have any special privilege on prediction in this. In some ways, what looks predictable in retrospect was just unthinkable. And the sense of defilement and watching people ramble around, swagger around, grab things, smash things. It will be the lasting image of the Trump presidency."

"In some ways, what looks predictable in retrospect was just unthinkable."

On whether a struggle against chaos will be a losing battle going forward:

"I think we — all of us who are worried — are right to worry. Trump sends out these messages, Republicans give him cover, but then his followers are stuck in a kind of automation machine of polarization, right, where they cannot but receive information that is unquestioned. The chaos is made possible by the failure of citizens to conduct due diligence in making an inquiry into the state of affairs in the government."

On what moments in history might be instructive for President-elect Joe Biden as he takes office and attempts to move the country forward:

"I mean, I think there are episodes that there will always be inspiring to people. I think if anything, though, those moments don't come from American history at this point, right? We are off the grid of the trajectory of American history.

"These kind of — you know, insurrectionists, some of them armed, seizing and occupying the Capitol building in the nation's capital — this comes out of the pages of the history of other countries. So how other countries, failed states have restored order and rearranged themselves into a condition of political stability and the full consent of the governed. Those are where the lessons are to be found, frankly, not in the pages of American history. Trump is unprecedented, and it will always be a mistake to try to predict what can be done to answer his depredations by looking to the past."

"Trump is unprecedented, and it will always be a mistake to try to predict what can be done to answer his depredations by looking to the past."

On how history will remember President Trump:

"I think history will pay a lot of attention to Trump because it's a story that makes sense as a parable about a much bigger set of political dysfunctions. But I think that we would do well to pay far more attention to the developments that led to Trump's rise and to — into the night, into the early hours of this morning — the Republicans who continued to defend the position that amounts to political incitement and gross deception of voters in their home states and across the country."

This article was originally published on January 07, 2021.

This segment aired on January 7, 2021.

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Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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