Dr. Raymond W. Smock is an American historian, currently serving as director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education at Shepherd University. He recently published a book titled Trump Tsunami: A Historian’s Diary of the Trump Campaign and His First Year in Office.
I sat down with him recently to discuss his career, the cottage industry of “Trump books” that has emerged in the last several years, and where his book lands in the context of this new literature.
Chalmers: You were the Historian for the U.S. House of Representatives for quite a while.
Smock: Yes, from 1983-1995. I was the first one—selected after a nation-wide search. I was an appointed officer of the House and served under three Speakers. I reported directly to the Speaker of the House.
Chalmers: You left Congress after 1995 and started a consulting firm.
Smock: I did. I had a number of interesting contracts—the two most exciting of which involved working as a historical consultant to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and then with [WV] Senator Byrd while he was looking for a place to create his archive—which he also wanted to be a congressional research center. Shepherd University was the logical destination for it—a West Virginia location in close proximity to D.C.
I worked with Senator Byrd and his staff closely for several years, and both the Constitution Center and the Byrd Center opened around the same time in 2002. I was offered a vice presidency of the Constitution Center or the director position of the Byrd Center. At that point in my career, this job appealed more to me because I could run my own research shop, could be working to preserve one of the great Senate collections, and it kept me directly in connection with congressional history—which is my love. I’ve been here for 15 years.
Chalmers: In the last year or so, you started keeping an online diary in regards to what you were witnessing within the Trump campaign and administration. Why?
Smock: Writing about Donald Trump is an important example of the press, and serious writers—historians, journalists, and others—stepping up to the plate. We didn’t know how a lot of this was going to unfold, but now that we’ve had a long, divisive election, and the strangest first year of any president in the history of this country, it’s not surprising that serious journalists, historians, writers, and others are looking into this.
I have about 500 friends on Facebook—many local and other longstanding friends all over the country. I started trying to figure out what was happening. It was therapeutic. I began to write longer essays on Facebook, and was surprised at the amount of people who told me to keep writing, because it helped them too. I looked back on my activity log at a certain point and realized I had about 85,000 words of content—enough for a 200-page book.
Chalmers: You’re critical of Trump, but you try to place it in a historical context.
Smock: Yes, I’ve been watching government for more than a half a century. I am a non-partisan professional—I know how to do that. But I became a partisan in writing this—I’m aware of the irony. But in writing, I make a point of relating it all to history—to a context of the Constitution. Why am I being so critical of something that Trump is doing? Because it’s clearly UN-Constitutional. I don’t see this book as becoming some major part of the literature, but it is part of the cultural response—my way of not being silent.
Chalmers: Regardless of where it lands within the literature, why is this book important?
Smock: I find that this man does something tasteless and insensitive to the traditions of the United States and to the way we conduct ourselves, almost daily. So I felt compelled to write about that—to document my reaction and share that with others. He also only Tweets—and you can’t explain anything as complex as the inner workings of our government and the political system in 50-word sound bites. I wanted to counter his method, and I wasn’t going to let word count stand in the way.
— Trump Tsunami can easily be purchased on Amazon.