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Jill Lepore: Americans Aren't Just Divided Politically, They're Divided Over History Too

Historian Jill Lepore tells Rachel Martin that Americans have no shared past, no shared agreement about the facts or meaning of our past — so it's hard to have a shared sense of the present or future.


We've been talking about our disorienting era of change and what got us to this point. It's a series of discussions we call the History of Our Time. Last week, Christian conservative Peter Wehner talked about what he sees as the moral fracturing of our society, and he outlined one cause.

PETER WEHNER: There's been a rather sustained assault on truth. What's happened is that that has now spread to the wider society and including political society. And I think when you lose that, you lose the ability to reason together.

MARTIN: The question of how societies arrive at truth preoccupies our next guest because historian Jill Lepore says today's truth is shaped in part by an understanding of yesterday. And she's chronicled how Americans have been fighting over that for a long time. Jill Lepore has written numerous books and articles exploring American history, and she joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

JILL LEPORE: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: Jill, you've written a lot about how we see our history and how that defines us. And the problem, as you see it, is we don't actually share a common understanding of our history. How so?

LEPORE: One reason is the way our politics works, and all politics works this way to one degree or another, but there's something particularly unstable about the way it works in the United States. Politics is really an argument about how we got to be where we are making that argument in order to convince people that you know how to get them to where we ought to be. So all politics is really an argument about the relationship between the past and the future. And the more polarized our politics has become, the more polarized our past. ...

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