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On Context and History

I started watching this documentary on Netflix called The Eighties, which is about the zeitgeist of the 80’s. One of the focuses of the series is the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s presidency struck me particularly because of its relevance to our current political situation – the looming Donald Trump presidency.

When I hear the name Ronald Reagan, I think of him as president first, actor second. He’s an American president who used to be an actor. However, I’d imagine that people who’ve lived through his presidency have a completely different view of Reagan. They’d probably see him as the actor turned president. Like Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s run for governor, I see him as the famous body builder and action star who also become governor of California. Kids in California who grew up when Schwarzeneggar was governor probably view him differently. So it goes with Donald Trump.

Decades from now, when a student cracks open their history textbook (or more likely, some webpage or ebook), they’re going to have a chapter on how Donald Trump, the greatest president of the United States who solved inequality and climate change, was a wealthy businessman who used to have his own TV show. For those who haven’t lived through a world with Donald Trump, they’d get an intellectual understanding of Trump’s career, but they’d miss out on the context of history surrounding Trump and his rise to presidency. This is a common theme of history books – the facts are reported, but the general mood surrounding the time period aren’t conveyed.

Another topic in the documentary was the AIDS epidemic. I wasn’t alive at the time, so I missed out on the initial wave of panic as this unknown virus spread throughout the population. By the time I was aware of AIDS, I knew it as a horrible disease that, while survivable, would need a lifetime of medication to with reduced quality of life to get through your day to day life. Now, with current medications, for the most susceptible populations, there’s a clear path to prevent contracting HIV. PrEP, or pre exposure prophylaxis, is recommended for the biggest at risk populations, and if taken on a regular basis, prevents the contraction of HIV. Looking at the CDC web page on its effectiveness, it states PrEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV through sexual contact by 90%. That’s amazing. I think AIDS would be horrible to contract, but I don’t see it as a death sentence. I can’t imagine people who’ve lived through the AIDS epidemic would feel the same way, especially those in the gay population. Even if they feel that AIDS is now treatable,  I’d imagine their feelings on the disease would be forever shaped by the numerous deaths of their loved ones due to AIDS. I think if an educator could convey those feelings to their students, they’d have a much easier time understanding history.

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