What Happened to the Never-Trump Republicans?

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A few still exist, but most of them have lined-up with their Trump-controlled party.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people who did not support Trump in 2016, but today defend him and his policies with vigor.  Lawrence Glickman, a historian at Cornell University, provides some historical context to help us understand why these never-Trump Republicans like Ben Shapiro, Glenn Beck, and Erick Erickson went “extinct.”

Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

The very same thing happened in 1964, when party loyalty and ideological similarity convinced moderate Republicans to embrace the controversial candidate upending their party. In the late spring that year, as it became increasingly likely that Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) had a clear path to the Republican nomination for the presidency, twin fears gripped the then-formidable moderate wing of the party: first, that Goldwater might bring catastrophic loss to the Republican Party, and second, that if he were to win, it would bring a dangerous man to the White House.

But rather than going to war against Goldwater, the moderates, led by former president Dwight Eisenhower, first vacillated in their criticism and then relented, ultimately offering active support for their putative enemy.

Their actions help explain how a shared enemy and ideological affinities often lead political figures to overcome doubts they once had about the fitness and extremism of the leader of their party.

Of the moderates, Eisenhower’s behavior is especially telling. He should have been leading the charge against Goldwater. After all, the Arizona lawmaker and author of “The Conscience of a Conservative” had denounced the social welfare policies of his administration as a “dime-store New Deal.” And according to the journalist Theodore H. White, author of “The Making of the President” series, “Eisenhower was appalled at the prospect of Goldwater’s nomination.”

Yet the former president refused to publicly or explicitly denounce Goldwater. Instead, he whipsawed from private criticism of Goldwater to loyalty to his party, seeming to endorse even some of Goldwater’s more extreme ideas.

Read the entire piece here.

Mets Magic Was Born 50 Years Ago

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Mets outfielder Tommie Agee made this spectacular catch in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series

Baseball season is here.  Today Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award-winner, scattered five hits and struck-out twelve Washington Nationals in the 2-0 opening day victory.  Needless to say, I am happy he just signed a long-term contract extension. Robinson Cano homered in his first at-bat as a Met.

It is also worth noting that this season is the fiftieth anniversary of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.  Jay Schreiber has it covered at The New York Times.  Check out his multi-part special report, “The Year the Mets Jumped Over the Moon.”

Here is a taste of the first installment:

Just how had this happened? Yes, the Mets had excellent pitching, solid defense at key positions and some very good young players, but their lineup was hardly overwhelming. And yet, that didn’t matter in the regular season, when the Mets won a whopping 100 games and, in the process, beat out a Chicago Cubs team that played three future Hall of Famers every day.

Nor did it matter in the National League Championship Series, when the Mets swept an Atlanta Braves club led by Henry Aaron, one of the best players in the sport’s history. Or in the World Series, when the Mets went up against a mighty Orioles team anchored by the two Robinsons, Frank and Brooks. The Orioles, winners of 109 games in the regular season, seemed unbeatable until the Mets quickly proved otherwise.

Making this all the more remarkable is that the 1969 Mets did not represent the beginning of a dynasty. In the seasons that followed, the Mets won considerably fewer games and while they did make it back to the World Series in 1973, they did so almost by accident, having finished the regular season with a thoroughly mediocre 82-79 record.

But none of that diminishes what occurred in 1969. Here was a group of players who stumbled all over the place in 1962, with fans who embraced them almost in defiance. A team that slowly improved in the years that followed, but only slowly. And yet a team that proceeded to figure it all out for one intensely memorable season.

I was a preschooler when the Mets won in 1969, but I feel like I re-lived the season through WWOR-TV (Channel 9 in NYC) highlights during Met rain delays in the 1970s.

Reinhold Niebuhr on the Court Evangelicals

Graham and Nixon

Niebuhr died in 1971, but he certainly understood the court evangelical phenomenon.  In 1969, the 77-year-old theologian and cultural critic was appalled at the way religious leaders flocked to the court of Richard Nixon.  Billy Graham led the way.

Here is Niebuhr’s Christianity and Crisis piece “The King’s Chapel and the King’s Court“:

The founding fathers ordained in the first article of the Bill of Rights that “Congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion or the suppression thereof.” This constitutional disestablishment of all churches embodied the wisdom of Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson — the one from his experience with the Massachusetts theocracy and the other from his experience with the less dangerous Anglican establishment in Virginia — which knew that a combination of religious sanctity and political power represents a heady mixture for status quo conservatism.

What Jefferson defined, rather extravagantly, as “the absolute wall of separation between church and state” has been a creative but also dangerous characteristic of our national culture. It solved two problems: (1) it prevented the conservative bent of established religion from defending any status quo uncritically, and (2) it made our high degree of religious pluralism compatible with our national unity. By implication it encouraged the prophetic radical aspect of religious life, which insisted on criticizing any defective and unjust social order. It brought to bear a higher judgment, as did the prophet Amos, who spoke of the “judges” and “rulers of Israel” who “trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end (Amos 8:4).

As with most prophets, Amos was particularly critical of the comfortable classes. He warned: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp “(Amos 6:4—5). It is significant that Amaziah, a court priest of Amos’s time also saw the contrast between critical and conforming types of religion. However, he preferred the conventional conforming faith for the king’s court and, as the king’s chaplain, he feared and abhorred Amos’s critical radicalism.

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to Jeroboam, King of Israel saying: “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to hear all his words. For thus Amos saith: Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.’” Also Amaziah said unto Amos ‘ 0 thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there. But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel and it is the king’s court” (Amos 7:10—13).

We do not know the architectural proportions of Bethel. But we do know that it is, metaphorically, the description of the East Room of the White House, which President Nixon has turned into a kind of sanctuary. By a curious combination of innocence and guile, he has circumvented the Bill of Rights’ first article. Thus, he has established a conforming religion by semiofficially inviting representatives of all the disestablished religions, of whose moral criticism we were naturally so proud. Some bizarre aspects have developed from this new form of conformity in these weekly services. Most of this tamed religion seems even more extravagantly appreciative of official policy than any historic establishment feared by our Founding Fathers. A Jewish rabbi, forgetting Amos, declared: I hope it is not presumptuous for me. in the presence of the president of the United States, to pray that future historians, looking back on our generation may say that in a period of great trial and tribulations, the finger of God pointed to Richard Milhous Nixon, giving him the vision and wisdom to save the world and civilization, and opening the way for our country to realize the good that the century offered mankind.

It is wonderful what a simple White House invitation will do to dull the critical faculties, thereby confirming the fears of the Founding Fathers. The warnings of Amos are forgotten, and the chief current foreign policy problem of our day is bypassed. The apprehension of millions is evaded so that our ABM policy may escalate, rather than conciliate, the nuclear balance of terror.

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When we consider the difference between the Old World’s establishment of religion and our quiet unofficial establishment in the East Room, our great evangelist Billy Graham comes to mind. A domesticated and tailored leftover from the wild and woolly frontier evangelistic campaigns, Mr. Graham is a key figure in relating the established character of this ecumenical religion to the sectarian radicalism of our evangelical religion. The president and Mr. Graham have been intimate friends for two decades and have many convictions in common, not least of all the importance of religion.

Mr. Nixon told the press that he had established these services in order to further the cause of “religion,” with particular regard to the youth of the nation. He did not specify that there would have to be a particular quality in that religion if it were to help them. For they are disenchanted with a culture that neglects human problems while priding itself on its two achievements of technical efficiency and affluence. The younger generation is too realistic and idealistic to be taken in by barbarism, even on the technological level.

Naturally, Mr. Graham was the first preacher in this modern version of the king’s chapel and the king’s court. He quoted with approval the president’s inaugural sentiment that “all our problems are spiritual and must, therefore, have a spiritual solution.” But here rises the essential question about our newly tamed establishment. Is religion per se really a source of solution for any deeply spiritual problem? Indeed, our cold war with the Russians, with whom we wrestle on the edge of the abyss of a nuclear catastrophe, must be solved spiritually, but by what specific political methods? Will our antiballistic defense system escalate or conciliate the cold war and the nuclear dilemma?

The Nixon-Graham doctrine of the relation of religion to public morality and policy, as revealed in the White House services, has two defects: (1) It regards all religion as virtuous in guaranteeing public justice. It seems indifferent to the radical distinction between conventional religion — which throws the aura of sanctity on contemporary public policy, whether morally inferior or outrageously unjust — and radical religious protest — which subjects all historical reality (including economic, social and radical injustice) to the “word of the Lord,’ i.e., absolute standards of justice. It was this type of complacent conformity that the Founding Fathers feared and sought to eliminate in the First Amendment.

(2) The Nixon-Graham doctrine assumes that a religious change of heart, such as occurs in an individual conversion, would cure men of all sin. Billy Graham has a favorite text: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” Graham applies this Pauline hope about conversion to the race problem and assures us that “If you live in Christ you become color blind.” The defect in this confidence in individual conversion is that it obscures the dual and social character of human selves and the individual and social character of their virtues and vices.

If we consult Amos as our classical type of radical nonconformist religion, we find that he like his contemporary Isaiah, was critical of all religion that was not creative in seeking a just social policy. Their words provide a sharp contrast with the East Room’s current quasi-conformity. Thus Amos declared: I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream (Amos 5:21, 23—4).

Amos’ last phrase was a favorite text of the late Martin Luther King. He used it in his “I Have a Dream” speech to thousands at the March on Washington. It is unfortunate that he was murdered before he could be invited to that famous ecumenical congregation in the White House. But on second thought, the question arises: would he have been invited? Perhaps the FBI, which spied on him, had the same opinion of him as Amaziah had of Amos. Established religion, with or without legal sanction, is always chary of criticism, especially if it is relevant to public policy. Thus J. Edgar Hoover and Amaziah are seen as quaintly different versions of the same vocation — high priests in the cult of complacency and self-sufficiency.

Perhaps those who accept invitations to preach in the White House should reflect on this, for they stand in danger of joining the same company.

I learned about Niebuhr’s piece from Richard Fox’s excellent biography of Niebuhr.  Kevin Kruse also has a nice piece on Nixon’s church service here.

Jill Lepore on the Ironies of the Free Speech Movement

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Check out her piece at The New Yorker.  Both the left and the right have been on the side of “free speech.”

Here is a taste:

In the half century between the elections of Governor Reagan and President Trump, the left and the right would appear to have switched sides, the left fighting against free speech and the right fighting for it. This formulation isn’t entirely wrong. An unwillingness to engage with conservative thought, an aversion to debate, and a weakened commitment to free speech are among the failures of the left. Campus protesters have tried to silence not only alt-right gadflies but also serious if controversial scholars and policymakers. Last month, James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, was shouted down by students at Howard University. When he spoke about the importance of conversation, one protester called out, “White supremacy is not a debate!” Still, the idea that the left and the right have switched sides isn’t entirely correct, either. Comey was heckled, but, when he finished, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. The same day, Trump called for the firing of N.F.L. players who protest racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. And Yiannopoulos’s guide in matters of freedom of expression isn’t the First Amendment; it’s the hunger of the troll, eager to feast on the remains of liberalism.

Read the entire piece here.

When Evangelicals Were Not Political Enough

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Richard Mouw attended Houghton College (NY)

Over at Religion News Service, Richard Mouw remembers a time when Protestant liberals criticized American evangelicals because they were not political enough.  Oh how times have changed.

Here is a taste of Mouw’s piece:

For an evangelical of my generation — born during World War II — there is some irony in the frequent complaints these days about how evangelicals have become too “politicized.” When I started thinking seriously about political matters in the early 1960s, a major complaint about evangelicalism — especially from more liberal theological types — was that we were not political enough. American soldiers were fighting a controversial and undeclared war in Southeast Asia, and the civil rights movement was struggling for justice. Yet evangelicals were espousing patriotism and calling for “law and order.”

The evangelicalism that nurtured me in my early years wasn’t, strictly speaking—“apolitical.” Rather, the pattern was a political “quietism.” Support the basic patterns of the political status quo. Be good citizens. Be proud of what your country has traditionally stood for. And vote for candidates — usually the Republican ones — who espouse these other values.

At the evangelical college that I attended, a professor put a Kennedy sign on his front lawn during the 1960 general election. The school administration quickly ordered him to take the sign down if he wanted to keep his job. (He accepted a position elsewhere for the next academic year.)

As a graduate student in the 1960s, I became active in civil rights and anti-war causes.  My extended family was convinced that this meant that I was no longer an evangelical, and for about five years I tried hard to prove them right. Eventually, though, I realized that, given my basic convictions about matters of faith, I had nowhere else to go.

Read the entire piece here.

More Reviews of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War”

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See our original list of reviews here.

A conservative State Department veteran says the documentary is “no profile in courage.

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried reflects on the documentary.

Salar Mohandesi says the documentary “seeks a premature closure.”

Maurice Isserman wants more on the peace movement.

Interview with a historian who advised Burns and Novick.

Thoughts from a professor of teacher education.

Sociologist Martin Wenglinsky weighs-in.

Raymond Schroth offers a Catholic perspective.

Reviews of Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War”

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I am not an expert on the Vietnam War.  I have not taught this subject in nearly sixteen years.  As a result, I am no position to offer a critique or review of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.  I have now watched the first two episodes and about half of the third episode.  I am enjoying it immensely and learning a lot of new information.

I have also been reading reviews to get a sense of what historians of the era and other commentators have to say. Here are a few that caught my eye:

L.D. Burnett likes it.

Andrew Bacevich says that the series “doesn’t answer the questions about the Vietnam War that many are seeking.”

James Fallows at The Atlantic

Jeremy Kuzmarov says the documentary is “misleading

George Will thinks it is a masterpiece

Jerry Lembcke also thinks it is “flawed

Tim Lacy thinks Burns and Novick do a nice job covering the Diem regime

Historians Discuss American History in the Age of Trump

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Tom Ashbrook interviews historians Judith Giesberg and Julian Zelizer on his WBUR-Boston show “On Point”

Listen here.

Themes discussed and things learned:

  • Julian Zelizer is writing a book about Newt Gingrich
  • Zelizer says that we should be careful not to place Trump solely in “long term continuums.”  There is a lot about him that is unique, new, and unprecedented.
  • Giesberg trashes Newt Gingrich’s attempt to compare the culture wars with the American Civil War.
  • Giesberg reminds us that Confederate monuments were erected during Jim Crow.
  • Zelizer:  If you think that we are living in “two different countries” today, try learning something about the 1960s.
  • Giesburg assigns Eric Foner’s biography of Abraham Lincoln in her Civil War class at Villanova.
  • Giesburg argues that Lincoln learned a lot during his presidency.  So can Trump.  (But she is not optimistic).
  •  Zelizer:  In the 1990s, Gingrich pushed a kind of conservative populism similar to Trump’s base.
  • Zelizer connects Trump’s populism to Father Coughlin and George Wallace.  Trump is the first president to ride this wave of conservative populism to the White House.
  • Zelizer: Race-based nativism never went away.  Trump is not “restoring” anything.
  • Evangelicals Christian do call NPR stations and make thoughtful comments
  • Giesburg compares the Trump victory to the period of “redemption” at the end of Reconstruction.

The Summer of Love and the Christian Right

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As historian Neil J. Young points out in this piece at VOX, the “Summer of Love” had a lot to do with the rise of conservative evangelical politics.

Here is a taste of his piece: “The Summer of Love ended 50 years ago. It reshaped American conservatism“:

Sex, drugs, and — Jesus? It’s not what the Summer of Love generally calls to mind. But of all the things that came out of San Francisco in 1967, perhaps none was more unexpected, or more consequential, than the Jesus Freaks or, as they were more commonly known, the Jesus People.

While they would give up their drugs and promiscuous sex, the Jesus People retained much of their countercultural ways, bringing their music, dress, and laid-back style into the churches they joined. Their influence would remake the Sunday worship experience for millions of Americans. As the historian Larry Eskridge has argued, today’s evangelical mega-churches with their rock bands blasting praise music and jeans-wearing pastors “are a direct result of the Jesus People movement.”

But aside from the praise anthems and the casual preaching styles that have come to characterize contemporary evangelicalism, the Jesus People also reshaped American politics. They helped to inspire the birth of the religious right. Many conservative evangelicals had long avoided politics, believing it would corrupt their spiritual lives, but the Jesus People contended that Christians couldn’t keep their spiritual and political lives separate. “I think everybody should be a full-time Christian,” the Jesus People rock singer Larry Norman once said.

Religious right leaders would use a similar line of argument to mobilize millions of evangelicals. Even more, conservative evangelicals drew directly from the Jesus People’s self-conception as marginal figures standing apart from a corrupt system. If you’ve ever wondered how the religious right came to dominate American politics while simultaneously presenting themselves as aggrieved outsiders, you can trace some of the answer to the Summer of Love.

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump’s American History Textbooks

Trump militaryWhat did Donald Trump learn about American history during his childhood in New York?  Matt Ford, a writer at The Atlantic, decided to go back and take a look at the American history textbooks assigned in Trump’s history classes.

Here is a taste of his piece “What Trump’s Generation Learned About the Civil War.”

Until the late 1960s, history curricula in Trump’s home state of New York largely adhered to a narrow vision of American history, especially when discussing slavery, the Civil War, and its aftermath. This was true in the predominately white public schools throughout the country. The African American experience and its broader significance received little to no attention. When textbooks did cover black Americans, their portrayals were often based on racist tropes or otherwise negative stereotypes. Trump’s understanding of the Civil War may be out of step with current scholarship, but it’s one that was taught to millions of Americans for decades.

“The dominant story was that secession was a mistake, but so was Reconstruction,” Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University professor who studies the history of American education, told me. “And Reconstruction was a mistake because [the North] put ‘childlike’ and ‘bestial’ blacks in charge of the South, and the only thing that saved white womanhood was the Ku Klux Klan. When African Americans read this in their textbooks, they obviously bristled….”

Many of these textbooks still taught something akin to “The Dunning School,” an approach to the Civil War and Reconstruction that was critical of Northern efforts to bring racial equality to the immediate postwar South.

Racist material permeated other sections of the American curriculum, well beyond the field of history. Geography textbooks depicted Africa as “the dark continent” and either ignored it or portrayed it as a place of cannibalism and barbarity. “[Black] critics condemned biology textbooks, which often reflected eugenic theories of racial hierarchy,” Zimmerman wrote in a 2004 article on U.S. textbook changes after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. “Still other blacks attacked music textbooks for including songs by [prolific 19th-century songwriter] Stephen Foster, complete with Foster’s original lexicon—‘darkey,’ ‘nigger,’ and so on.”

These textbooks shouldn’t be interpreted as reflecting their readers’ views, Zimmerman cautioned me. Instead, they offer a window into what students would have learned in a previous era. “This tells us more about the culture of race as expressed in the curriculum than it does about what any given individual imbibed or not,” he explained.

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Lilla Continues His Assault on Identity Politics in American Higher Education

LillaToday I ordered his new book, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity PoliticsI am looking forward to read it.

Here is a taste of Lilla’s recent piece on the subject at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Conservatives are right: Our colleges, from bottom to top, are mainly run by liberals, and teaching has a liberal tilt. But they are wrong to infer that students are therefore being turned into an effective left-wing political force. The liberal pedagogy of our time, focused as it is on identity, is actually a depoliticizing force. It has made our children more tolerant of others than certainly my generation was, which is a very good thing. But by undermining the universal democratic we on which solidarity can be built, duty instilled, and action inspired, it is unmaking rather than making citizens. In the end this approach just strengthens all the atomizing forces that dominate our age.

It’s strange: liberal academics idealize the ‘60s generation, as their weary students know. But I’ve never heard any of my colleagues ask an obvious question: What was the connection between that generation’s activism and what they learned about our country in school and in college? After all, if professors would like to see their own students follow in the footsteps of the left’s Greatest Generation, you would think they would try to reproduce the pedagogy of that period. But they don’t. Quite the contrary. The irony is that the supposedly bland, conventional colleges of the 1950s and early 1960s incubated what was perhaps the most radical generation of American citizens since the country’s founding. Young people who were eager to engage in “the less exotic but more lasting struggles for justice” for everyone in the great out there beyond the campus gates.

The universities of our time instead cultivate students so obsessed with their personal identities and campus pseudo-politics that they have much less interest in, less engagement with, and frankly less knowledge of matters that don’t touch on identity in the great out there. Neither Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who studied Greek) nor Martin Luther King Jr. (who studied Christian theology) nor Angela Davis (who studied Western philosophy) received an identity-based education. And it is difficult to imagine them becoming who they became had they been cursed with one. The fervor of their rebellion demonstrated the degree to which their education had widened their horizons and developed in them a feeling of democratic solidarity rare in America today.

Whatever you wish to say about the political wanderings of the ‘60s generation, they were, in their own way, patriots. They cared about what happened to their fellow citizens and cared when they felt America’s democratic principles had been violated. Even when the fringes of the student movement adopted a wooden, Marxist rhetoric, it always sounded more like “Yankee Doodle” than Wagner.

The fact that they received a relatively nonpartisan education in an environment that encouraged debates over ideas and that developed emotional toughness and intellectual conviction surely had a great deal to do with it. You can still find such people teaching in our universities and some are my friends. Most remain to the left of me but we enjoy disagreeing and respect arguments based on evidence. I still think they are unrealistic; they think I don’t see that dreaming is sometimes the most realistic thing one can do. (The older I get the more I think they have a point.) But we shake our heads in unison when we discuss what passes for political activity on campus.

It would not be such a terrible thing to raise another generation of citizens like them. The old model, with a few tweaks, is worth following: passion and commitment, but also knowledge and argument. Curiosity about the world outside your own head and about people unlike yourself. Care for this country and its citizens, all of them, and a willingness to sacrifice for them. And the ambition to imagine a common future for all of us.

Any professor who teaches these things is engaged in the most important political work — that of building effective, and not just right-thinking, democratic citizens. Only when we have such citizens can we hope that they will become liberal ones. And only when we have liberal ones can we hope to put the country on a better path.

Read the entire piece here.  After several conversations I have had over the past six months or so, I am more convinced than ever that identity politics and historical pedagogy do not mix very well.

Jill Lepore on Presidential Debating

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Check out Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s long-form piece in The New Yorker.  Here are the money paragraphs:

The real trouble is deeper and wider. Political argument has been having a terrible century. Instead of arguing, everyone from next-door neighbors to members of Congress has got used to doing the I.R.L. equivalent of posting to the comments section: serially fulminating. The U.S. Supreme Court is one Justice short of a full bench, limiting its ability to deliberate, because Senate Republicans refused to hold the hearings required in order to fill that seat. They’d rather do battle on Twitter. Democratic members of Congress, unable to get the House of Representatives to debate gun-control measures, held a sit-in, live-streamed on Periscope. At campaign events, and even at the nominating Conventions, protesters have tried to silence other people’s speech in the name of the First Amendment. On college campuses, administrators, faculty, and students who express unwelcome political views have been fired and expelled. Even high-school debate has come under sustained attack from students who, refusing to argue the assigned political topic, contest the rules. One in three Americans declines to discuss politics except in private; fewer than one in four ever talk with someone with whom they disagree politically; fewer than one in five have ever attended a problem-solving meeting, even online, with people holding views different from their own. What kind of democracy is that?

And this:

How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly. More formal debate follows established rules and standards of evidence. For centuries, learning how to argue was the centerpiece of a liberal-arts education. (Malcolm X studied that kind of debate while he was in prison. “Once my feet got wet,” he said, “I was gone on debating.”) Etymologically and historically, the artes liberales are the arts acquired by people who are free, or liber. Debating, like voting, is a way for people to disagree without hitting one another or going to war: it’s the key to every institution that makes civic life possible, from courts to legislatures. Without debate, there can be no self-government. The United States is the product of debate. In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed “to argue without asperity, and to endeavor to convince the judgment without hurting the feelings of each other.” The next year, James Madison debated James Monroe for a congressional seat in Virginia. By the eighteen-thirties, debating classes were being offered as a form of civic education.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Joseph T. Reiff

Joseph T. Reiff is Professor of Religion and Chair of Religion Department at Emory & Henry College. This interview is based on his new book, Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society (Oxford University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Born of Conviction?

JR: I grew up in Mississippi Methodism and knew a couple of the signers of the “Born of Conviction” statement when I was a child in the early 1960s. Though I did not know about the statement then, I was certainly aware of tensions in the white church related to the race issue and the civil rights movement, and in October 1963 I witnessed an interracial group of visitors get arrested at the front steps of my church simply for attempting to worship there. In the mid-1970s at Millsaps College I became friends with two fellow students who had family members involved in the Born of Conviction controversy. I first saw the statement in 1983 when I was a United Methodist pastor in Mississippi, and I photocopied it. When I began teaching, I used the statement as a case study of the clash between a dominant culture and the Christian faith, or more accurately, between cultural Christianity and an attempt to be faithful to the Christian gospel even when such a stance challenges the cultural status quo. When historians Wayne Flynt, Andrew Manis, and Joel Alvis presented papers at a symposium on Southern religion on my campus in 2002, I was inspired to pursue the project, and I began interviewing surviving signers of “Born of Conviction” in 2003.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Born of Conviction?

JR: Though its language seems mild now, the publication of the “Born of Conviction” statement by 28 white Mississippi Methodist ministers in January 1963 caused a significant crack in the false façade of white unanimity in support of segregation in Mississippi. Most of the many brief published mentions of the statement have summarized it as “the signers spoke out and were forced out of Mississippi,” but that is too simple for a number of reasons: the signers received a good deal of affirmation for their stand, though much of it was private; the 20 signers who left Mississippi did so for a wide range of reasons, often involving free choice; and eight of the signers remained in the state for the rest of their careers.  

JF: Why do we need to read Born of Conviction?

JR: It is a powerful story of some white Methodist clergymen who spoke against the tide when massive resistance in Mississippi was at its peak. The white church there usually not only failed to support the black freedom struggle, it also often actively resisted it; here is an alternative narrative: ministers who spoke to a statewide audience in support of change. The negative response to their effort was predictable, but the book offers a complex view of white attitudes on race relations in 1963 Mississippi by examining the responses to the statement: from individuals and congregations in public and private ranging from negative to ambivalent to positive. It is a thick description of white Methodism in Mississippi in the civil rights era and also looks at church efforts to help create the “new Mississippi” after 1964.

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

JR: My training and experience is in practical and pastoral theology as well as qualitative
religious research. When I started a religion Ph.D. program after five years as a local church pastor, I wanted to center my work on pastoral and ecclesiological issues. My dissertation was a study of an unusual United Methodist congregation in Atlanta’s historic Grant Park neighborhood; the church came back from near death in the mid-1980s due to an influx of “cultural left” Baby Boomers and their children, and I was there to study it as an observer-participant. Because the church was founded just after the Civil War, I wove historical research into my consideration of social ethics, ecclesiology, and Christian formation in that congregational subculture. The fundamentally interdisciplinary character of history makes it an excellent platform on which to explore a variety of ethical, pastoral, and ecclesiological issues in Born of Conviction.  

JF: What is your next project?

JR: I am planning to write a biography of Roy C. Clark, a Mississippi Methodist pastor who left the state in 1963 and was eventually elected a United Methodist bishop. Clark grew up in Mississippi as the son of a Methodist Episcopal Church, South pastor and graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1944. He was a great preacher and classic Southern theological moderate/liberal; Davis Houck and David Dixon included a sermon of his in the second volume of their Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement. I look forward to interviewing people who knew Clark in Mississippi, Memphis, Nashville, and South Carolina, and to diving into his voluminous papers in order to tell his story and explore his theology, preaching, and leadership in the embattled context of the mid-20th century South.

JF: Thanks, Joseph! 

The Author’s Corner with Mary Rizzo

Mary Rizzo is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Director of Public and Digital Humanities Initiatives for the Program in American Studies and the History Department at Rutgers University–Newark This interview is based on her new book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle (University of Nevada Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Class Acts?

MR: I grew up in the 1990s, which was a time when a lot of really interesting subcultures, like skaters, riotgrrrl, and grunge, among others, flowered. It was also a moment when it seemed like no sooner then a subculture was formed than it was commodified by some giant corporation (we might call this Hot Topic-ification). What this meant was that the politics of authenticity was a constant topic of discussion among me and my friends, even if we didn’t know to call it that. When I got to grad school in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, I wanted to examine the prehistory of that 1990s moment, to understand how that process that I was observing had changed over time. I was also always interested in class identity, which is really under discussed in the US. By examining how young men tried to subvert their class background through style and how that became part of mass culture, I brought those two interests together.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Class Acts?

MR: When young middle-class men in the 1950s and 1960s adopted working-class styles it was both an effort to be cool that traded on their class and race privilege and an attempt to critique how middle-class masculinity was defined in the Cold War era. By the late 1960s and the 1970s, though, the rise of lifestyle marketing commodified these class acts to define lifestyle as a chosen identity, disconnected from material circumstances.

JF: Why do we need to read Class Acts?

MR: After I sent my final manuscript off to the publisher, I was watching tv at the gym and a commercial came on for a household fragrance spray. The tag line was, “Smell like the lifestyle you deserve.” I only wish I had been able to get that in the book! The word lifestyle has become so ubiquitous in our culture that commercials like that one can use it and assume everyone understands what they’re saying. But when we dig a bit below the surface, it becomes clear that lifestyle has a slippery definition. I was amazed to find out that the word lifestyle was really pretty new, only becoming commonly used after the 1960s. So, I wanted to explore the ideological work that the concept does in different historical contexts.

As I show in Class Acts, lifestyle turns identities based in material realities into consumer goods that seem to be equally available to everyone. But they are not. Some people, like African Americans, become the source material out of which other people build their lifestyles. For the fashion industry, for example, black culture and black models have been used to represent an exotic “them,” rather than being part of “us.” Lifestyle is used in politics as well. I open and close the book with discussions of the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. As another presidential campaign heats up—in which candidates who are wealthy and recipients of vast amounts of corporate money again will fight to be seen as just regular folks with lifestyles like the rest of us—we need to have some critical engagement with that term.

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

MR: I still get a thrill out of being called a historian! There are two main reasons I fell in love with history. The first is my mother. She grew up poor and only became middle class after marrying my father. Her stories about the New York City of the 1950s and 1960s were so different from the world I grew up in. When she told us about urban renewal displacing her family, or how women weren’t allowed to work enough hours to earn benefits at the grocery store she worked at, it made me want to understand why those things happened and how she—and by extension me—got from there to the Jersey burbs. Equally as important were the history teachers I had in high school and college. They were always the most engaging and, frankly, the wackiest, teachers I had. They made learning challenging but also fun. I remember one day in 10th grade history class we were going around the room telling our teacher what we wanted to write about for our final paper. I said Napoleon and, without missing a beat, he responded, “What do you have a complex?” That kind of joke, which treated us like adults, also assumed that we knew something already. Plus, I loved the content. History seemed to be about telling fascinating stories. I hope I’m doing those teachers justice with my own work.

JF: What is your next project?

MR: My next project looks at cultural representations of the city of Baltimore from 1954-early 21st century. For a city of its size, Baltimore has been represented over and over again, from the films of John Waters to The Wire (among many others). I’m fascinated by the interplay between cultural representation and cultural policy. How do the imaginary cities created by artists affect the real cities that we live in? How does public policy shape (intentionally or not), the kinds of cultural representations that artists create? What’s been amazing about working on this project is uncovering forgotten cultural texts, like Chicory, a poetry magazine that published work mainly by blacks living in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods from 1966-1983, and putting them alongside the more famous examples I use. It’s also been a thrill getting to talk to the people who made this art! I’ve interviewed theater directors, writers, actors, and editors so far.

JF: Thanks, Mary!


Barry Goldwater: Prophet

This quote comes from conservative icon, late Arizona Senator, and 1964 presidential candidate (and GOP nominee) Barry Goldwater.  The quote has been floating around the internet lately, but I don’t think I have posted it yet:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them…

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.

From Goldwater speech in U.S. Senate, September 16, 1981

The Author’s Corner with Kevin Schultz

Kevin Schultz is Associate Professor of History, Catholic Studies, and Religious Studies and Associate Chair of the Department of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  This interview is based on his latest book Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the 1960s (W.W. Norton, 2015). 
 
JF: What led you to write Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: The 1960s have become this almost-mythologized time in American history, when American culture moved to the left, American politics to the right, and new roles were envisioned for men, women, African Americans, and, well, nearly everyone.  But there is so little out that that helps us understand it all.  Why did so much happen so quickly, and so violently?  With that question in mind, a few years ago I stumbled across some letters of the left-wing novelist Norman Mailer.  One was a beautiful back-and-forth between Mailer and the right-wing firebrand William F. Buckley, Jr.  The letters showed obvious intimacy, but also rivaling visions for how America should move forward in order to allow maximum freedom for the individual.  A light bulb went on in my head.  Through the friendship of Buckley the conservative and Mailer the radical, I could tell an important story about the 1960s, about how the right and the left both attacked the liberal center with their varying demands for increased freedom, and how that battle led to what Mailer called the violent “birthing pangs of a new order.”  This book was my attempt to explain why the 1960s happened in the way that they did.
 
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: That the best way to understand the 1960s is by seeing it as a period when one set of assumptions that most American shared was replaced by another, and that this happened because both the left and the right were unhappy with the culture that developed in the aftermath of World War II, thinking it denied Americans too many freedoms.  With such colorful characters like Buckley and his demands for laissez faire economics and respect for Christian tradition, and Mailer with his demands for a less repressive culture, I get to tell the story of this profound change through dozens of raucous stories, which include boxing matches, public debates, antiwar rallies, and Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.
 
JF: Why do we need to read Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: Not only to better understand why the 1960s unfolded the way they did, but also to learn how two guys with nearly opposite political outlooks became friends and enduring debating partners, something sorely missing today.  The secret was that they both emphasized their love of America and understood the other as doing the same (just, to their mind, completely incorrectly).  Finally, it’s useful to recognize how today’s politics have developed from the ashes of the 1960s, with Buckley’s quest to honor “the great Western tradition” still a powerful demand of Republicans, and Mailer’s yearnings for increased individual freedoms a calling of the left.
 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
 
KS: Some time in my middle teens I realized that the context in which we’re raised and in which we live determines so much about how we look at the world.  I wanted to understand the ideas that dominated our thinking but which we barely knew were there, the water we swim in. The answer always led me to history.  The ideas that dominate our lives emerged out of older debates about which ideas should dominate our lives.  And this became the way I understood the world–in order to feel I understand something, I needed to know the context in which it became that way.  I think this kind of historical thinking is true for lots of people, I’m just lucky I get to make my living at it!
 
JF: What is your next project?
 
KS: Good question.  I have two books in mind, one that keeps me in the 1960s and one that moves me to the 1970s.  The 1960s book will likely be about another major figure, one who is a minor but important player in Buckley and Mailer but whose ideas captivated me the more I learned about them.  The 1970s book will be about the intellectual requirements of economic inequality, although I’m not sure how that book will develop.  Either way, they will be narratives, as I learned that I absolutely love to tell stories.
 
JF: Thanks, Kevin.  Look forward to reading it!

The 1865 Broadway Bible House

The 1865 Broadway Bible House

Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City.

In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Scroll down to see our entries on 72 Nassau Street and the Astor Place Bible House.  Today we turn to the Bible House at 1865 Broadway.

1966 was a big year for the American Bible Society.  In May, the Society commemorated its 150th year of labor on behalf of the Bible Cause.  It also moved into its fourth Bible House.

After the Society decided to do all of its printing through outside contractors at some point in the early twentieth century, it concluded that the Astor Place Bible House was just too large. So it decided to downside.   Between 1936 and 1966 the ABS occupied a building on Park Avenue and 57th street.

After 30 years on Park Avenue, the ABS moved once again. It left Park Avenue for an impressive new twelve-story structure at 1865 Broadway, just north of Columbus Circle.

In 1963, Everett Smith, the President of the Board of Managers, announced that the ABS headquarters was relocating to the corner of Broadway and West 61st Street in the newly revitalized Lincoln Center area of New York City.  The site had been purchased and plans for a new Bible House were in the works.  Smith explained the move in terms of the rapid growth the ABS had experienced in recent years.  At the time of the purchase of the land, the ABS had 299 employees, but only eighty of them were working at the Park Avenue building. The rest were scattered in four different locations around the city.  The new building would allow all ABS employees to work under one roof.  The 1865 Broadway located provided more room for the Society’s ever-expanding library that now included 22,000 copies of the Christian scriptures in over 1000 languages.  It was one of the largest Bible libraries in the Western Hemisphere and attracted scholars from all over the world.

The Board of Managers hoped that the new building would continue to serve as a tourist attraction much in the way that the Astor Place location and Park Avenue building (before it got too crowded) had appealed to visitors to New York City.  1865 Broadway would also have plenty of space for exhibits.

On the afternoon of April 3, 1966–Palm Sunday–the new Bible House was dedicated.

This summer, the ABS is moving out of this building and relocating to Philadelphia.