Jon Stewart’s interview with Andrew Napolitano got a lot of attention. I’m not sure it was worth the wait.
First, there was the one-on-one interview, here and here. Note that Napolitano deplores slavery; he’s so badly wrong about the Fugitive Slave Act that I’m astonished (and it appears the judge overlooked that the act was to implement a provision of the Constitution). The equating of the transAtlantic slave trade with the Civil War’s death toll makes no sense; Lincoln offered to buy the slaves (and then provide for their voluntary relocation elsewhere), but white southerners were not interested in selling. The tariff business is “silly,” but you know that. In fact, the conversation became incoherent at several points. Stewart’s done some reading, but he doesn’t have command of his material, and it shows.
And then there was a lame attempt at a game show, called “The Weakest Lincoln,” here (short version) and here (long version), in which historians James Oakes, Eric Foner, and Manisha Sinha act as judges while Napolitano spars with a faux Lincoln. Once more Napolitano raises tariffs as a cause for the war; once more we hear the flawed discussion about emancipation through purchase (Foner reminds us that slavery was a prosperous institution in 1860); once more someone thinks that the comparison between the human cost of the war and the slave trade, where the linkage continues to escape me.
I’m not sure that the game show exhibited professional historians to best advantage, but it may say something about how people might have to rethink conveying historical understanding to an audience that’s used to short videos, snappy comments, finger-thrusting, and letting the loudest voice win. To me it looked like a bad night in the comments section.
If you found this informative, well, I wonder why. If you found it compelling, well, to each his own. If you found it somewhere between slightly amusing and sad (and yet, ultimately, a little bit boring, to continue the theme of the week), well, I’ll make room for you right here.