Commonplace Book #59

…educators for economic growth will not want a study of history that focuses on injustices of class, caste, gender, and ethnoreligious membership, because this will prompt critical thinking about the present.  Nor will such educators want any serious consideration of the rise of nationalism, of the damages done by nationalist ideas, and of the way in which the moral imagination too often becomes numbed under the sway of technical mastery–all themes developed with scathing pessimism by Rabindranath Tagore in Nationalism, lectures delivered during the First World War, which are ignored in today’s India, despite the universal fame of Tagore as Nobel-Prize-winning author.  So the version of history that will be presented will present national ambition, especially ambition for wealth, as a great good, and will downplay issues of poverty and of global accountability.  Once again, real-life examples of this sort of education are easy to find.

Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, 21.

A Day in the Pacific Northwest

Whitworth

Last night the Believe Me book tour made its one and only stop in the Pacific Northwest.  Thanks to Dale Soden of Whitworth University‘s Weyerhauster Center for Christian Faith and Learning for inviting me to speak at this excellent Christian college in Spokane.

Dale even gave me a quick tour of the Gonzaga University campus. We drove past “The New Kennell,” home of the Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team on the evening they received a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  I also learned that Bing Crosby’s boyhood home is on Gonzaga’s campus.

It was good to see my old friend Arlin Migliazzo (recently retired from Whitworth’s history department), touch base with Elise Leal (a very promising faculty member in early America who just joined the department this year and recently won the Sidney Mead Prize from the American Society of Church History), and meet so many of Whitworth’s outstanding history students.  I also got to chat briefly over lunch with Jerry Sittser, author of The Will of God as a Way of Lifea book I once taught as part of Messiah College’s first-year CORE.  Whitworth seems like a great place to work and study. It has been one of my favorite stops on the Believe Me tour.

I think it is fair to say that the audience response to my lecture was generally positive, but there were a few outliers.  Students from the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth were out in force.  I know most of them disagreed with the central premise of my talk, but they were polite and respectable.  (The Whitworth YAF chapter is reeling in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding an invitation to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro).  Another student (I am not sure if he was part of YAF) wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and then waited patiently after the lecture to tell me I was wrong about Trump.  We had a nice conversation and I asked him if he would read my book if I sent him a copy.  He said he would. The book will be in the mail soon.

The Q&A session was spirited, but that is how I like it.  Whitworth was a great host and the students and faculty who came to the lecture modeled civil dialogue.  I hope to come back to campus one day!

Off to Greensboro College in Greensboro, NC on Thursday.  See you there!

Even White Evangelicals Oppose Trump’s Bible-Signing

Trump BIbles

Check out journalist Joanna Piacenza piece at Morning Consult.  According to a Morning Consult poll, most white evangelicals think that Trump’s signing of Bibles at an Alabama Baptist church earlier this month was “inappropriate.”  U.S. adults, Republicans, Christians, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants also think Trump’s signing of Bibles was “inappropriate.” The only identity group that thinks the president’s signing of Bible is appropriate are Trump voters, but only by a 43% to 42% margin.

Read the piece here.  I was happy to help Piacenza with her story.

Commonplace Book #58

The profit motive suggests to many concerned leaders that science and technology are of crucial importance for the future health of their nations.  We should have no objection to good scientific and technical education, and I shall not suggest that nations should stop trying to improve in this regard.  My concern is that other abilities, equally crucial, are at risk of getting lost in the competitive flurry, abilities crucial to the health of any democracy internally, and to the creation of a decent world culture capable of constructively addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

These abilities are associated with the humanities and the arts: the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a “citizen of the world “; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.

Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit, Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, 7.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Kagan

the spanish crazeRichard Kagan is Academy Professor and Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on his new book, The Spanish Craze: America’s Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939 (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Spanish Craze?

RK: My interest in US attitudes towards Spain, and more broadly, Hispanic culture in general, dates to the early 1990s, and what I felt was the failure of the AHR, in keeping with the celebration of its centenary, to address the trajectory of US scholarship on Spain. The journal had commissioned articles on US historical scholarship on France, Italy, and other European countries, but not Spain. That lacuna led initially to my “Prescott’s Paradigm: American Historical Writing and the Decline of Spain,” published in the AHR in 1996, and later to other essays and articles on such related issues as the changing image of Spain in the US along the history of collecting of both Spanish and Spanish Colonial art. By 2009, after having explored the history of Spanish-themed architecture in the US, I decided a book that addressed these topics along with the often stormy political relationship between Spain and the US, the history of Spanish language instruction in the country, Spanish-themed movies, music, as well as literature demanded comprehensive treatment as well. The Spanish Craze is the result.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Spanish Craze?

RK: Key to the book is “forgive and forget,” an idea which surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898, a conflict that ended an imperial rivalry that lasted for a well over a century. With Spain no longer to threat US interests, Americans, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, demonstrated a new fascination with Spanish culture–art, architecture, language, music and more –, essentially embracing much of that culture as their own.

JF: Why should we read The Spanish Craze?

RK: I believe that it enriches our understanding the composite character of American culture. It also brings new attention to what Walt Whitman once termed “ The Spanish Element in our Nationality.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RK: For most of my career, I have been a historian of Spain and its overseas empire. American history is a relatively new subject for me, and I still have much to learn. However, I have long been interested in the complex links between Spain, Spanish America, and the US. The Spanish Craze explores some of these links, but there is more, much more, to be done on the subject.

JF: What is your next project?

RK: A biography of Henry Charles Lea, the 19th Century Philadelphia publisher-cum-historian and author of the first comprehensive history of the Spanish Inquisition. Lea’s papers are mainly located in Philadelphia, which, following my retirement from Johns Hopkins in 2013, is where I now live.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

The fate of book reviewing in the age of algorithm

Become a more engaging teacher

White female slave owners in the South

Lucinda Robb reviews Samantha Seiple, Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War

The roots of white nationalism in America

Should historians take over the government?

Where should the Ivy League basketball tournaments be held?

Is Beto O’Rourke an empty candidate?

Reading the memoirs of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates

James Kloppenberg reviews Michael Tomasky, If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might be Saved

Dollar stores and Trump

Who will be the true heir of Andrew Jackson in 2020?

David Brooks makes the case for reparations

Exploring the deep South

Edward Dolnick reviews Greg Grandin, The End of Myth: From Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America 

From suffrage activist to conservative Christian

Robert George and Cornel West on Christian love

Presidential empathy

Commonplace Book #57

And so we visit the past as tourists. Sometimes this is literally so, when we take in Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation, or travel around to Civil War battlefields.  But it is also true in a metaphorical sense.  The past has become a strange and distant country, full of odd people and mysterious customs.  And thought seeing how these people built their homes or raised their children can broaden the mind, most of us don’t go back home determined to learn how to use an axe or a hickory stick.  Knowledge about those strange customs might be interesting, but it is not essential–it does not change our way of doing things.  In the end we will always prefer our own land in the present.  At the end of the tour there is an air-conditioned car and a comfortable hotel room waiting, complete with cable television and refrigerated food.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoying the past this way–it can be a lot of fun, in fact.  But it could be so much more.  The thousands of people who visit Boston and have only a few days to walk the Freedom Trail, visit Fenway Park, and eat a lobster dinner cannot even scratch the surface of what the city is really like.  They have not inhaled the comforting mixture of exhaust fumes and roasted cashews that hangs in the city subways on humid summer days, or learned to love the particular slant of the New England sun on a winter afternoon.

The same would be true of a Bostonian on a day trip to Chicago, Tokyo, Budapest, or Khartoum.  The visit would be exciting, but would not make them cosmopolitan.  Becoming something more than a casual time-tourist requires a willingness to be challenged and changed, just as living in India or Ghana or Peru will upend any American’s assumptions about money and wealth.

Margaret Bendroth, The Spiritual Act of Remembering, 26-27

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “New Zealand Shooting Live Updates: ‘There Will Be Changes” to Gun Laws, Prime Minister Says”

The Washington Post: “New Zealand attack exposes how little U.S. allies share facts on domestic terror threats”

The Wall Street Journal: “New Zealand Shooter Likely Acted Alone, Police Say”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “‘We’ll always love you, big man’: Hundreds say good-bye to 16-year-old hoops star JT Kuhn”

BBC: “Christchurch shootings: attacker was ‘lone gunman'”

CNN: “New Zealand rushes to identify Christchurch attack victims”

FOX: “Beto O’Rourke boasts of having ‘Republican’ mom–despite her frequent votes for Democrats”

Commonplace Book #56

What if my classroom is a cathedral?  If I consciously think about my classroom in this way, I will construct the space, the syllabus, the assignments, and the daily rhythm in such a way that through all the smoke and dirt and barking dogs and fluctuating florescent lights, students encounter Christ in my course and grow in their understanding of what his life and death means for them.  The Nicene Creed confesses that Christ “for us and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man.”  For us.  A cathedral-classroom points away from us toward Christ, but a Christ who became flesh for us.  Christ comes to us in the dirt and flickering light of our own lives, but he also comes to lift us up.

Many students (and teachers) confine worship, the sacred space of the classroom, to an opening prayer or the recitation of a Bible verse or perhaps collective singing.  Such moments can be precious and can turn students’ faces toward God in ways that unconsciously shape what they are learning that day. But the point of progressing through cathedral worship is to be conscious of what we are doing and becoming every moment of the day: to enter at the feet of Christ; to walk with Jesus as he ministers to both rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, the powerful and the outcast; to listen as God speaks to us and to utter our own responses; to be reminded of our sin and God’s salvation; to be sent back into the world as witnesses to God’s creating and redeeming power.  Turning classrooms into cathedrals unites the space of worship with the space of educational formation.

David I. Smith and Susan Felch, Teaching and Christian Imagination, 182.

 

Beto O’Rourke Apologizes for High-School Mixtape

REO Speedwagon? A taste from Andy Borowitz’s piece at The New Yorker:

“In my youth, I put a song on a mixtape that I deeply regret adding,” O’Rourke told a stunned crowd at an Iowa City diner. “REO Speedwagon does not represent who I am.”

The Democratic strategist Tracy Klugian cautioned that O’Rourke’s apology might not have put the mixtape scandal to rest.

“If that’s the only tape out there, then Beto moves on from this,” he said. “But if a mixtape comes out with Air Supply on it, he’s done.”

Read the tragic story here.

🙂

Is Jimmy Carter an Antidote to Trump?

David Siders thinks so.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Politico:

“Carter almost takes us out of the entire realm of what our politics has become,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Carter and Howard Dean. “He’s the anti-Trump … I mean, we have almost the polar opposite as president, somebody who is so an affront to everything that’s good and kind and decent.”

Maslin said, “I have felt for some time that a candidate who is not just good on the issues but can marshal a moral clarity about what our politics ought to be, in contrast to what it has become, that person … that could be the currency of 2020.”

In fact, Carter has become a constant point of reference early in the campaign for Democrats polling outside of the top tier. John Delaney, the little-known former Maryland congressman who by August 2018 had already campaigned in all 99 counties in Iowa, has likened his focus on the first-in-the-nation caucus state to Carter’s.

And after her pilgrimage to see Carter this year, Klobuchar wrote on social media, “Wonderful lunch with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter today at their home in Plains. Tomato soup and pimento cheese sandwiches! Got some good advice and helpful to hear about their grassroots presidential campaign (when no one thought they could win but they did)!”

Read the entire piece here.

I still think Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech” is one of the best presidential speeches I have heard in my lifetime.

  • Notice that Carter used the phrase “I feel your pain” before Bill Clinton popularized it.
  • The speech has a streak of populism in it.
  • It is deeply honest and humble. Can you imagine a president today reading criticism of his presidency before a national audience?
  • Carter identifies the loss of national purpose and a “crisis of confidence” as a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”  It is a forward-looking message of hope and progress.  Carter speaks with conviction, often raising his fist to strengthen his points.
  • Carter says that self-indulgence, consumption, and materialism undermines citizenship. According to historian Kevin Mattson, this comes directly from historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch and his best-selling The Culture of Narcissism.
  • Carter points to the many ways the country has gone astray–Vietnam and Watergate and economic dependence on Middle East oil.
  • Carter offers “honest answers” not “easy answers.”  Of course no one wants to work hard and make sacrifices, they want individualism and freedom instead.  A little over a year after this speech Ronald Reagan defeated Carter with just such a message of individualism and freedom.
  • Carter warns us about the path of self-interest and fragmentation.  This is what America got with Reagan.  See Daniel T. Rodgers’s The Age of Fracture.
  • Carter sees the national discussion of energy as way of bringing a divided nation together.  This seems more relevant than ever today.  Green New Deal aside, a green solution to energy would create jobs and strengthen the economy.
  • When Carter talks about foreign oil and America’s dependence upon it, he is invoking founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton who worked tirelessly to make the nation economically independent.
  • Interesting that in the 1970s Democrats still saw coal as a vital energy source.  He also champions pipelines and refineries.
  • Carter calls for a strengthening of public transportation and local acts of conservation.  This kind of self-sacrifice, Carter says, “is an act of patriotism.”  This reminds me of the non-importation agreements during the American Revolution.    To stop drinking tea or buying British goods was seen as a similar act of patriotism. See T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution.  Carter says “there is no way to avoid sacrifice.”
  • As I have noted above, this speech hurt Carter politically.  But it is deeply honest and, in my opinion, true.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “A Hate-Fueled Massacre in New Zealand Mosques, Designed for Its Times”

The Washington Post: New Zealand mosque shooter narrated attack that killed 49″

The Wall Street Journal: “New Zealand Shooter Was Active for More Than 30 Minutes, Timeline Shows”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Former McDevitt school to become office space; football field to be paved over for parking”

BBC: “Christchurch shootings: Attack suspect Brenton Tarrant appears in court”

CNN: “Suspect in New Zealand mosque shootings was prepared ‘to continue his attack,’ PM says”

FOX: “New Zealand massacre suspect made stops in North Korea, Pakistan during global travels, reports say”

Trump Does Not Think White Nationalism and Islamaphobia is a Problem

eight_col_pshooting

POTUS Donald Trump could have gone one of two ways today:

He could have used the murders in New Zealand to provide comfort to American Muslims and to remind them that they are United States citizens who have every right to worship freely and participate in the life of American society.  I am imagining that many American Muslims are anxious today after the attacks on the Christchurch mosques.  Trump, as their president, could have calmed their fears, but this would not have played well with his base.

Instead, Trump denied that white supremacy and Islamophobia is a problem.  Here is a piece at CNN.Com:

President Donald Trump said Friday he does not regard white nationalism as a rising global threat in the aftermath of mosque terror attacks in New Zealand that left at least 49 people dead.

“I don’t really,” Trump said in the Oval Office after being questioned about whether he views white nationalism as growing. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.”

Three people were arrested in connection with the shootings. They include a 28-year-old man who was charged with murder and was due to appear in court Saturday. The other two remain in custody. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said authorities were investigating their ties to shootings that occurred as Muslims convened for Friday prayers, the busiest time for many mosques around the world. The suspected shooter livestreamed video of the attack and posted a manifesto online. In the manifesto, he identifies himself as a white man, born in Australia, and lists the white nationalists who have inspired him.

“If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case,” Trump said on white nationalism. “I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved.”

Calling the attack “terrible thing,” Trump said he’d not yet seen the manifesto the mosque shooter wrote.

“I did not see it. I did not see it, but I think it’s a horrible event, it’s a horrible thing,” he said, adding he was first updated on the attack early Friday morning.

Trump referred to the attacks at a pair of New Zealand mosques as “terror attacks” during remarks, the first time the President had done so himself publicly.

Earlier Friday, Trump expressed over Twitter his condolences to the people of New Zealand.

“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!” Trump tweeted.

As I type this I am watching an imam on CNN calling Muslim moderates around the world to condemn the extremism and terrorism.  Despite the blanket statements about moderation being made by some American progressives, sometimes moderation is needed.  In other words, moderates are not always “meh.”

Trump’s Veto Message to His Base

I just received this e-mail from the President of the United States.  He continues to play to darkness over light.  He continues to play to fear over hope.  And who are these 93% of Americans who want  him to finish the wall?  Perhaps they are members of his staff or the GOP senators who supported him.  This letter sounds like the musings of an insecure tyrant.

Friend,

The liberal swamp will never learn. That’s why I just VETOED the Pro-Crime, Pro-Drugs, and Pro-Open Borders Democrat inspired resolution.

Liberals in the Senate chose politics, I chose YOU.

59 Senators voted to put illegal immigrants and political games over YOUR safety. DISGRACEFUL!

But, when I asked American Patriots (the people that matter) over 93% said YES VETO & FINISH THE WALL. When the people talk, I always listen.

As your Commander-in-Chief, I will NEVER put politics over the safety of American Citizens, so help me God.

Even with this Veto, the attacks will keep coming from the “Border Deniers” and their allies in the mainstream media. We have to do something HUGE to have the resources to fight back.

That’s why I need you to contribute to the most important fund of my presidency – the OFFICIAL WALL DEFENSE FUND.

The Wall is being finished. Trust me. But the radical liberals will keep pushing back construction while precious American lives are lost. NO MORE!

I need you to step up, Friend. This is your moment to go down in history and FINISH THE WALL. 

Please contribute at least $5 by 11:59 PM TONIGHT to our Official Wall Defense Fund and your gift will be TRIPLE-MATCHED.

Thank you,

Donald Trump

President of the United States

Commonplace Book #55

When we talk about education today, we still talk in terms of ladders.  However, the ladder metaphor now usually implies upward social mobility, getting ahead in life, reaching more power and a higher standard of living.  For Christian educators in the past, the image of Jacob’s ladder served as a central metaphor for spiritual rather than social or economic advancement, for learning to draw close to God by leading a life of obedience, justice, humility, and piety.  In the rule of St. Benedict we read: “We descend by haughtiness, pride and we ascend by humility.  The ladder is our life on earth and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven.  Our body and soul are the sides of the ladder, into which our diving vocation has inserted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.”  As we speak with students about the goals and challenges of learning, what kinds of ladders do we implicitly or explicitly invite them to climb?

David I. Smith and Susan Felch, Teaching and the Christian Imagination, 174.

The *Denver Post* Regrets Its Endorsement of Cory Gardner

Cory Gardner

So much for “fresh leadership, energy, and ideas.”  Here is the Post:

We endorsed Sen. Cory Gardner in 2014 because we believed he’d be a statesman. We knew he’d be a conservative voice in Congress, to be certain, but we thought his voice would bring “fresh leadership, energy and ideas.”

We see now that was a mistake – consider this our resolution of disapproval.

Gardner has been too busy walking a political tight rope to be a leader. He has become precisely what we said in our endorsement he would not be: “a political time-server interested only in professional security.”

Gardner was not among the 12 Republicans who joined Democrats in rejecting President Donald Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to allocate funds to a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

We fully expect to disagree with our lawmakers from time to time — in fact we’ve been critical of Gardner but stuck by him through tough but defensible votes including the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But these are extraordinary times. This is a bogus emergency that takes executive over-reach to an extreme not seen even under President Barack Obama. Trump’s declaration is an abuse of his power, a direct overturning of Congress’ deliberate decision to pass a federal budget without funding for a wall.

Read the rest here.

Can a Senior Scholar Apply for This Internship?

Outer Banks

Asking for a friend. 🙂

The Outer Banks History Center (OBHC) is excited to announce the second iteration of its annual summer internship. The David Stick Internship, sponsored by the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center, is a fully-funded summer position with the Outer Banks History Center (OBHC) in Manteo, N.C. This is a 10-week, full time position performing archival work for the OBHC. The intern will be paid a $4,000 stipend. Additionally, local housing can be arranged for the intern at a minimal cost.

Read the rest here?

From a Ph.D in Medieval Literature to a Public Critic

JosephineLivingstoneI really enjoyed this interview with Josephine Livingstone, a culture staff writer at The New Republic.  She describes the difference between academic writing and public writing.  Here is a taste of her interview with Rachel Scarborough King at Public Books:

RK: How do you compare the kind of writing you do now to your academic writing? What do you like and dislike most about the public-facing writing that you do?

JL: Being productive is a big hallmark of my attitude toward this work, which is a little different from how I saw the academic work that I did before. The difference between that and my academic writing is kind of temporal. When I wrote my dissertation, I felt like I was speaking to myself and to the past. I was trying to make diagnoses implicitly about the modern world, but mostly my materials were medieval, and what I was doing was trying to push back certain arenas of postcolonial theory to apply to culture before the era of mass colonialism. For me it was kind of about trying to define my existence as not being part of the contemporary world. And I liked living elsewhere, which is a form of fantasy, but I really enjoyed it, and it felt productive and like I was doing something that had an ethical drive behind it.

But the work I do now I think of as service to the community of people who make art; I feel that reviews are a very important part of the economy—okay, maybe they’re not very important, but they are in some way a part of cultural production in 2019. And so I feel this ethical duty now to take every work of art seriously even if it’s a minor novel that’s coming out and I just want to boost that person’s name. You have to take every work of art equally seriously and ignore how famous or prominent the person who made it is. And that is an ethical drive, but it’s really different from the ethical drive that I felt in the academy.

RK: So do you see yourself as taking skills you learned in grad school and translating them, or are they different skill sets?

JL: A lot of my writing is about gender and race, and I definitely draw every day on the critical theory and some of the primary texts that I read in grad school—there’s no line there, it’s like a fuzzy overlapping boundary. The thing that Jill Lepore calls academic jargon is much maligned in the media. The first editor I ever had would give me so much shit about it, but I think that when you’re in an academic community you devise certain kinds of shorthand for much bigger ideas that help you to imply much more than it looks like you’re saying. A good example is that I used to use the word “horizons” a lot, and my editor would always be like, “Stop using this word,” but to me the word “horizons” implied this critically aware way of describing social historical context and how that limits or inflects an individual’s thinking. That makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t make sense to most people, so it took a lot of unlearning.

I also like Livingstone’s thought about being a “public intellectual”:

I think it would be very grandiose for me to think of myself that way, so no. I also don’t think that public intellectual is something that—like, no one ever introduces themselves at a dinner party and someone asks them what they do and they say, “Oh, I’m a public intellectual.” It’s more of an idea and a way for people to group and better understand a sector of professionals at work now who don’t quite fit into old typologies of who does what, because the public intellectual is something that has always been around. Today I think it incorporates things like editors, people who founded publications, columnists but not op-ed writers; it includes some podcasters and some radio people. Yeah, I think it includes so many types of people that the term “public intellectual” has to somehow describe a sensibility more than a workday.

Read the entire piece here.