Breaking Points’ Saagar Enjeti Smears Howard Zinn
On June 18th, Saagar Enjeti, the host of a new and very popular political podcast called Breaking Points, rehashed an old and completely dishonest smear of the Historian Howard Zinn. Saagar, a self-proclaimed anti-establishment conservative, and his progressive co-host, Krystal Ball, were discussing a recent comment from President Biden, in which he strongly implied that the U.S. did not engage in election interference in other countries. The hosts were correctly pointing out that Biden was completely wrong. It is well documented that the U.S. has interfered in elections in dozens of other countries, not to mention other covert actions and military operations to overthrow the governments of other countries.
However, Saagar then went on to talk about the need for balance, suggesting that he is not on board with those, like Howard Zinn, who say “America is always the worst.” Enjeti clearly has not read much of Zinn’s work. He certainly has never read or heard Zinn say anything like “America is always the worst” because Zinn never said anything like that.
What Saagar did here was rehashing an old smear that folks used to throw around to discredit Zinn as being anti-America or unpatriotic in some way in order to avoid having to grapple with his scholarship. Anyone who actually read Zinn’s work, particularly his most famous piece, A People’s History of the United States, knows that Zinn challenged the prevailing narratives about America’s past. In doing so, he brought to light a lot of negative things that took place in our past. But he never said American was bad. In fact, while he challenged the heroic stature of specific figures in our history (Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt, many of Founding Fathers), he offered up a new potential pantheon of heroes that challenged the status quo of their time period; heroes like Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, and Eugene Debs, all of whom, are also Americans.
When I heard Saagar’s baseless attack on Howard Zinn, I couldn’t help but think of the obituary that Roger Kimball wrote for the Nation Review in 2010. In it, Kimball compared Zinn’s historical perspective to someone who visits the Versailles, sees a broken-down shed nearby, and says “you see, pretty shabby, isn’t it?” Once again, this attack completely and intentionally misrepresents what Zinn was trying to do in his work. Zinn would almost certainly not denigrate Versaille and its beauty. What he would do is point out that the lavish lifestyle of the royal family that lived in Versaille was not in any way representative of the other 99.99% of the French population. He would also point out that the treasure that was spent to build the palace came directly at the expense of the ordinary people of France, many of whom were struggling to get by. He might then explain how such extreme inequality eventually contributed to the French Revolution.
Overall, the segment was important because they were doing something that the rest of the media has refused to do, pointing out the tremendously inaccurate statement from President Biden. That said, There was no reason for Saagar to randomly attack Zinn in this clip. There is a totally irrational fear of Howard Zinn in conservative circles and Saagar has revealed that, in his extreme ignorance of the topic, he shares that fear.