Trump wants to save the suburbs

Everyone knows what this means. But if you want more information I encourage you read these posts. Here and here.

So how should we think about Trump’s call to save the suburbs in the light of American history?

Today I came across a few newspaper articles:

Thu, Aug 15, 1957 – Page 9 · The Salem News (Salem, Ohio) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Apr 1, 1959 – 1 · The Messenger (Madisonville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Sep 2, 1970 – Page 3 · Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Will Trump-Supporting Evangelicals Learn Anything from the Graham-Nixon Relationship?

Graham and Nixon

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,  I wrote:

[Billy] Graham’s relationship with Richard Nixon brought him closer to the world of presidential politics than he had ever been before.  The two stayed in close contact during the years following Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the election of 1960 and the evangelist continued to speak positively about the politician in public venues.  In a 1964 interview in McCall’s magazine, Graham expressed his bafflement that he often heard people say  “I just don’t like Nixon.”  According to Graham, the former vice president was “one of the warmest and most likeable men I have ever known.”  Nixon claimed that Graham encouraged him  him to run for president again in 1968, and Graham, in turn, suggested that Nixon’s second change at the nation’s highest political office was part of God’s providential plan.  During Nixon’s years in the White House (1969-1974) , Graham made regular visits to the president, served as an unofficial surrogage (without formally endorsing him), advised Nixon on policy decision, and publicly thanked God for his presidency.  [Historian Steven] Miller goes as far to suggest that there were times when “Graham’s [religious] services or appearances seemed to double as Nixon rallies.”  Nixon used Graham to win evangelical votes, especially in the South. where Nixon needed the votes of white southern Christians–his so-called “Southern strategy”–and Graham believed that Nixon was a moral statesman, God’s man to lead a Christian nation.

But Graham would quickly learn that Richard Nixon was one man in Graham’s presence and quite another when operating in the cutthroat world of presidential politics.  During the Watergate scandal, Graham stood by the president.  During the 1972 election campaign, he chided Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota senator George McGovern, for saying that the Nixon administration was up to something sinister.  In one letter to President Nixon, Graham quoted Psalm 35:11-12, where the psalmist writes: “They accuse me of things I have never heard about.  I do them good, but they return me harm.”  [Historian Grant] Wacker says that Graham “continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rate.”  In December 1973 , the evangelist told Nixon that he had “complete confidence” in his “personal integrity.”  When transcripts of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which included Nixon’s strongly anti-Semitic language) proved that the president was ultimately responsible for the Watergate break-in, Graham seemed more concerned about Nixon’s profanity on the tapes than the fact that the president was using his power to cover up his crimes.  When Graham read excerpts of the tapes in The New York Times, he claimed to feel “physically sick.”  Years later, Graham admitted that his relationship with the disgraced former president had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics” and, as Wacker notes, “he urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake.”

There are a lot of similarities between Graham’s relationship with Nixon and the court evangelicals‘ relationship with Donald Trump.  Have the court evangelicals learned anything from Billy Graham?  Over at The Washington Post, Anja Maria-Bassimir and Elesha Coffman offer a revealing look into the way evangelical magazines responded to Graham’s relationship with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  Here is a taste:

While Graham enjoyed private chats in the Nixon White House and urged his fellow citizens to rally around the flag at Honor America Day, another prominent evangelical, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), warned that a bad graft between religion and politics was turning gangrenous. “We would always rather hide our wounds than heal them,” he said at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Chicago in May 1973. “It is always more comfortable to believe in the symbols of righteousness than to acknowledge the reality of evil. This is especially true in our national political life. And we have become adroit at manipulating religious impulses in our land to sanctify this political life.”

People in power, such as Hatfield, had to work even harder to resist such craven impulses. He noted: “When we are given a position of leadership, it becomes almost second nature to avoid admitting that we may be wrong. Confession becomes equated with weakness. The urge toward self-vindication becomes enormous, almost overpowering. A politician faces this temptation in a very special way, for somehow it has become a political maxim never to admit that one is wrong. Now, that may be wise politics. But it’s terrible Christianity.” These sentiments earned Hatfield a place on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and a concerned letter from Graham, according to the book “Lonely Walk.”

As revelations about the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup accumulated in 1973 and 1974, many evangelicals vacillated between Hatfield’s warnings and Graham’s reassurances. At first, only Hatfield’s allies in the small but vocal evangelical left sounded the alarm. Hatfield’s speech echoed the rhetoric of his friend Jim Wallis, who regularly hit these ominous notes in his radical magazine, the Post-American (later renamed Sojourners). Then, the far-from-radical magazine Eternity chimed in, as columnist Joseph Bayly wrote: “Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

Finally, the more staid Christianity Today — the magazine founded by Billy Graham — came around. It had printed Hatfield’s speech in June 1973, but also Graham’s “mistakes and blunders” comments several months later. Appearing reluctant, in June 1974, an editorial argued for Nixon’s impeachment. Authors acknowledged that “evangelicals can point to some in their ranks whose private or public conduct is disgraceful, perhaps even worse than that displayed by the Watergate participants.” Ten years later, Graham told the magazine: “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God.” He said he had learned his lesson. And near the end of his life, he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Tim Naftali Talks About Reagan’s Racist Comments

Nixon and Reagan

If you are unfamiliar with what Ronald Reagan said to Richard Nixon in 1971 you can get up to speed here.

Tim Naftali, a history professor at New York University, published the text and audio of the tape in which Reagan uses the term “monkeys” to describe people from “African countries.”  Over at The New Yorker, Naftali talks with Isaac Chotiner.  Here is a taste of the interview:

One thing that struck me about this audio was that on some of the Nixon tapes, Nixon is the one being racist or bigoted, and his underlings are fawningly trying to catch up to him, or echo him. Here Reagan is the one leading the charge. Was this a new dynamic?

What I found interesting about this, besides the revealing imagery used by Ronald Reagan, was that Nixon acted as if Reagan unlocked a trope that he, Nixon, wanted to use and felt he could use by quoting Reagan. Nixon went into this conversation angry at the African delegates at the U.N. We know that because he previously called Alexander Haig, his deputy national-security adviser, and said—I am paraphrasing—“Am I supposed to meet with any African leaders here? I recall I said yes to a list you sent over, and I want to know who they are, because they voted against me. I don’t want to see them. I don’t care if I promised to see them.”

And when Reagan calls Nixon, Reagan has a whole idea about what the U.S. should do to penalize the U.N. for voting to kick out Taiwan. Nixon doesn’t think it is a workable approach at all, and tells his Secretary of State, William Rogers, we can’t do this. But what Nixon finds interesting, exciting, and worth repeating, is how Reagan dramatically describes the African delegation that Nixon is so angry at. Earlier that month, Nixon had been explaining to Daniel Patrick Moynihan—an academic who had worked in the White House—about how he had been thinking about how, in his mind, “blacks” just had a hell of a time governing. And that [Reagan’s comments] really said something to him, and that squared with things he was reading about this noxious idea of a connection between I.Q. and race.

Reagan taps into all of this with his racist comments, and sets Nixon off. What I thought was important, at this juncture in our history, was for people to see how racists enable racists, how these turns of phrase and tropes are daggers. And people who think them but don’t say them, when they hear them, it emboldens them. Nixon doesn’t say these words as Nixon; he repeats them. If he found them disgusting, if he found them offensive, if he thought it was a sign of Reagan’s inferiority rather than the African delegates’, then he would not have repeated this phrase as he does on the tape. So I thought this was revealing not just as a data point about Ronald Reagan but also about Nixon’s psychology. He did not consider himself a racist, even though he had racist ideas.

Read the entire interview here.

Polarization and Partisanship in Contemporary America (#AHA19)

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Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL is back with another post from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association going on this weekend in Chicago.  You can read all his posts here.  –JF

Could there be a better moment for a revival of the 1976 film “Network” on the Broadway stage, starring the man (Bryan Cranston) who played such television white everymen as Hal on Malcom in the Middle and Walter White on Breaking Bad, than during the so-called “age of Trump,” what Ed Stetzer has dubbed “The Age of Outrage?”  As the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin rightly noted, “no predictor of the future – not even Orwell – has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote ‘Network.’”  So, it’s interesting and perhaps no coincidence, that in their new book Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974, Princeton historians Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer pick up the story of the fracturing of an America that’s “mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore” only two years before Howard Beale (Peter Finch) delivered that famous movie line.

Today Kruse chaired, and Zelizer sat on, a panel that explored the topic of “Divided Loyalties in the United States: Polarization and Partisanship in Contemporary America” at AHA19.  Nicole Hemmer kicked things off with a simple premise: polarization might have a negative connotation for most people, but it hasn’t been bad for everyone.  Over the last several decades, for conservatives and the Republican party, polarization has worked.  Hemmer gave two reasons for this strategy’s success on the right – an increased reliance on the politics of “playing to the base” (something Reagan, Bush 41, and even, at first, Gingrich did not overtly do) and a powerfully ideological media platform (i.e. talk radio starting with Limbaugh and then the Bealeistic rage-machine that became FOX News).

Timothy Stewart-Winter pushed back against the narrative that the United States is more divided today than it ever was, and did so through the prism of LGBTQ rights.  He deconstructed two common Obama tropes: first, that the 43rd president accomplished nothing after November of 2010 and, second, that he failed to remake the America of blue states and red states into a United States in the image of his 2004 DNC speech. According to Stewart-Winter, “what Lyndon Baines Johnson was for Civil Rights, Barack Obama was for gay rights.”  The man who hadn’t even heard of the Stonewall Riots when he ran for the Senate included a reference to it in his second inaugural address, after declaring his support for marriage equality at the same point in his political career that both President Clinton and Bush 43 had tacked to the right on that same issue.  Said Stewart-Winter, “Obama modeled for many Americans, especially men, what it means to change your mind.”  As polling continues to indicate and Stewart-Winter effectively argued, the nation changed their minds with President Obama, and the Trump Administration’s recent attempts to limit the rights of transgender people seem unlikely to reverse that cultural shift.

According to Leah Wright Rigueur, “political polarization is racial polarization.”  She placed the origins of America’s current political climate a little earlier than Kruse and Zelizer did, in the Goldwater campaign of 1964 and the subsequent conservative ascendancy within the GOP.  She powerfully made the connection from Goldwater to Reagan when she stated, “If Goldwater rang the death knell for black Republicans, Ronald Reagan dug the grave and buried the bodies.”  Wright Rigueur also made an effective argument for the idea that despite the entrenchment of partisanship in recent years, many black voters (especially pre and post Obama) are often voters without a party.  Most can’t conceive of voting Republican but feel that the Democratic party ignores them or takes them for granted.  The black vote (or absence of it), just might have been the decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election.

Zelizer concluded by agreeing with Hemmer’s thesis that the political right has benefited immensely from polarization since the 1970s, but added that the left has been just as susceptible to using divide and conquer strategies and ideologically-driven media platforms.  The difference has been, according to him, that liberals just haven’t been very good at using either of those tactics successfully.  Like Stewart-Winter, Zelizer also countered the idea that there’s been an overall shift to the right among Americans.  The progress made in feminism and gay rights belie that narrative.  As Zelizer noted, however, “we have left many questions unanswered since the 1970s.”  The answers to those questions animated culture warriors like Jerry Falwell Sr. and Phyllis Schlafly in their day and that mantle has been taken up by Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham today.  When seen as a desperate, rear-guard action to save White Christian America, perhaps it makes sense why in the age of Trump, some people are still “mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore.”

Thanks, Matt!

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

David Swartz on Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” Speech

MalaiseOver at The Conversation, David Swartz, a historian of the evangelical Left, has a nice piece on Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise” speech.  Here is a taste:

It was a penetrating cultural critique that reflected Carter’s spiritual values. Like the writers of the New Testament, he called out sin. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he confessed to personal and national pride.

In the mode of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, he noted the limits of human power and righteousness. In this moment of national chastening, he committed himself and the nation to rebirth and renewal.

As a scholar of American religious history, this so-called “malaise speech” (though Carter never actually used the word “malaise”) was, in my opinion, the most theologically profound speech by an American president since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

Read the entire piece here.

I have long been a fan of Carter’s speech.  Back in 2009, I called it “one of the best presidential speeches in American history.”

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

Do you want to know what evangelicalism was like before the Christian Right came along and politicized it?  Check out Greg Thornbury‘s piece at The Washington Post: “What evangelicals looked like before they entered the political fray.” Thornbury has just completed a biography of Larry Norman, one of the founders of “Christian rock” music.  His book is titled Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock.

Here is a taste of Thornbury’s piece in The Post:

In spring 1978, a young man named Mike Pence did two seemingly incongruous things, almost simultaneously. During one moment, he fist-pumped at a rock festival outside of Lexington, Ky., and in the next he knelt to pray and “receive Jesus Christ into his heart.” One of the artists headlining that concert had unwittingly created a new musical genre called Christian rock. His name was Larry Norman, and little did he know way back in 1969 when he recorded an album called “Upon This Rock” and wrote anthems such as “Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music?” he was pioneering what would become a cultural phenomenon and a billion dollar industry. Nor could he, as a person of faith making albums for secular record companies, have envisioned a time in which the majority of Christians thought of themselves locked in a “culture war” with the rest of society. Pence would go on to embody much of that culture war as governor of Indiana, and now as vice president of the United States. But less is known about Norman, the rocker whom Pence went to see.

Read the rest here.

I must admit that Norman came along a bit before my time.  I joined the evangelical ranks in the early 1980s.  Norman was still popular, but I never really connected with his music.  When evangelicals of a certain age think about Norman, his hit “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” comes immediately to mind.  But as a young evangelical I was always more intrigued (and often time scared to death) by his “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”  It served as the soundtrack to the cheesy (and frightening) 1972 evangelical rapture movie “A Thief in the Night.”  (The song picks up around the four minute mark):

 

Some Historical Perspective on the Watergate-Comey Comparison

Richard_Nixon's_resignation_speech

Nixon’s resignation speech (Wikipedia)

Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer and Brandeis University historian Martin Keller wonder if current comparisons between Watergate and the firing of James Comey are just another way for liberals, progressives, and Democrats to score political points.

Here is a taste of their conversation at The Atlantic:

Morton Keller: Julian, yours is a strongly argued, but highly partisan, criticism of Trump’s action in dismissing James Comey from the directorship of the FBI. My view of the episode is more complicated—as I think the episode itself is.

Watergate was a steadily expanding scandal: the break-in, the coverup, the dirty tricks campaign against the opposition using the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS.

This was hardly a one-party event. The Senate established a Select Committee in a 77-0  vote. Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment—of necessity a two-party threat.

And what is the current status of the supposed Russia-Trump connection, the current counterpart to Watergate? To paraphrase Chicago’s former Mayor Daley: lots of allegations, but damn few alligators.

Let us accept that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to see Trump elected (though given Hillary’s reset efforts, and the isolationist, small-American profile of her party, that preference needs more explaining). But how much solid, Watergate-like evidence is there that Russian hacking, etc., made much difference in the election? Or are we supposed to swallow whole the risible idea that the disgruntled working-class (and middle-class) Trump voters of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin were receptive to Putin’s blandishments? Even in the current out-of-control politics of our time, that is a stretch.

I’m quite ready to see what emerges with respect to Trump, his associates, and Putin. But to airily equate the still far-from-demonstrated fact of significant Russian influence in the election (compared, say, to Hillary’s massive missteps) with the incontrovertible facts of Watergate is something I’m not prepared to do.

There is another defect in any meaningful Watergate-Comey comparison. The departures of special prosecutor Archibald Cox and Attorney General Elliot Richardson were sought by Nixon and his aides alone. The Democrats have been baying for Comey’s scalp since the days of the election. To erupt in high dudgeon when Trump—quite legally, if questionable politically—fired him, is to bring political hypocrisy to a high level indeed. Do you think for a moment that if Hillary Clinton was president, Comey’s tenure could be counted in more than milliseconds? Would she have bounced him because he had been a political detriment? Of course.

Did Trump do it because of the Russian inquiry? Perhaps—though there was good reason for him to have had doubts about Comey from the beginning of his presidency. Did he do it with typically Trumpian ham-handedness? You bet. Can more come out about Trump and Putin, Russia and the election, than we know now? Possibly. Has it yet? Not to my knowledge. As historians, we should not rush to judgment until there is good and sufficient evidentiary reason to do so.

At present, I don’t think the action is a demonstration of authoritarianism—any more than former President Barack Obama’s playing fast and loose with the handling of illegal immigrants or the specifics of Obamacare was. That’s just the sort of things that presidents do.

Read the back and forth here.

Call for Papers: Jimmy Carter and the ‘Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered

year-of-evangelicalThis looks like a great conference that will be of interest to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

CFP:  Jimmy Carter and the ‘Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered

April 6-8, 2017

New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Saint Anselm College

Manchester, New Hampshire

In 1976 Newsweek magazine borrowed a phrase from pollster George Gallup and proclaimed that year the “Year of the Evangelicals.”  Both presidential candidates – Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter – claimed to be “born again” Christians, a claim made by one third of all Americans; and significant proportions of Protestants and Catholics told Gallup’s pollsters that the Bible should be taken literally, a marker of conservative evangelical Christianity.  This phenomenon caught journalists by surprise, and they struggled to understand this new segment of the electorate, beginning at the top with the candidacy of Jimmy Carter. The election of 1976 brought evangelicals back into the political arena. While many of these people supported Carter’s candidacy and made the difference in his election, the ways in which they influenced public life quickly extended beyond Carter and the Democratic Party.  It also marked evangelicals’ movement from the margins of intellectual and cultural life into the mainstream. Indeed, they soon became a political and cultural force.

Some forty years later, with financial support from the Henry Luce Foundation, Saint Anselm College and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire, will host a conference in honor of that Newsweek cover story and presidential election. The conference, “Jimmy Carter and ‘The Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered” aims to assess both the scholarly and popular significance of the return to public life of American evangelicals.  While the Newsweek cover story provides the initial starting point, this conference aims to explore the phenomenon of evangelicals and politics more broadly. 

Conference organizers seek individual paper proposals or proposals for an entire panel that analyze evangelicalism in light of its contributions to public life both in and since 1976.  In many ways, scholarship on late twentieth-century evangelicalism and the rise of the Religious Right has matured.  But there are still questions to be answered and new interpretations to be offered.  The following research questions point to potential areas for proposals, but this list is not exhaustive and proposals that address other questions or re-imagine conventional interpretations will be welcomed. 

First, with the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970s and 1980s, the progressive evangelicalism in the Newsweek article was relegated to minority status in the political world.  Why is that and what happened to its political influence in the late 20th century? 

Second, in the Newsweek story, Foy Valentine, leader of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, called the label “evangelical” a “Yankee” word.  What made southern Protestant Christianity different from the rest of the nation (and why was it not necessarily “evangelical”)?

Third, African Americans are not often included in the category “evangelical” – especially in the political sense that characterized Newsweek’s story. What about African-American evangelicals?  Where do they fit in evangelicalism’s conventional historical narrative?

Fourth, what has been evangelicals’ influence on popular culture and intellectual life since their return to public life in the 1970s?

Fifth, where are we now?  Has evangelicalism’s influence on American politics diminished in the twenty-first century? 

Sixth, what about the mainstream press’s treatment of evangelicals and politics?  What impact did the Newsweek cover story and the election of 1976 have on journalists?

Finally, what was the relationship between Catholics and evangelicals during this period?

Individual paper proposals should include a 250-word abstract, a brief (1-page) CV, and contact information (including email address).  Panel proposals should include a 500-word abstract, with brief (1-page) CVs for all participants and contact information for the panel organizer.

Direct proposals and any questions to Andrew Moore (amoore@anselm.edu).

Deadline for submissions is November 15, 2016.

Ronald Reagan on Smoking and Sexuality

trump-reagan-1

Historian Rick Perlstein recently turned up a gem from the November 3, 1978 issue of the Spokane Daily Chronicle (I assume it was syndicated) and linked to it on his Facebook page.  In this article Ronald Reagan, two years before he became President of the United States, opposed a California ban on smoking and a ban on teachers who advocate homosexuality.

Liberals will use this article, as they should, to show that Reagan was more willing to defend the rights of homosexuals than many of the Republicans who claim his legacy today.

But whatever one’s position on these issues, it is also worth noting that this article shows that Reagan seemed to have a handle on matters of public policy and was capable of making a rational argument in print (assuming he wrote it) consistent with his libertarian ideals.  Would our current Republican presumptive nominee be able to make such an argument in this reasoned way? Or better yet, would he even be interested in engaging with policy this way?

Does Bruce Springsteen Explain Donald Trump?

Born-in-the-USAAndrew DeYoung has written a very interesting piece at The Stake suggesting that the message of Bruce Springsteen’s songs resonates with the concerns of people who are supporting Donald Trump for President of the United States.  It is a nuanced piece that I need to spend a little more time thinking about, but it is definitely worth the read.  See some of my initial thought below.

DeYoung writes:

It’s February 29, 2016, the night before Super Tuesday, and Bruce Springsteen is singing about choices. The Boss is performing at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, his latest stop on a national tour celebrating the release of 1980’s The River. Each show on the tour includes a live performance of the double record in its entirety, and Bruce has just come to “The Price You Pay,” the album’s third-to-last cut.

You make up your mind, you choose the chance you take
You ride to where the highway ends and the desert breaks
Out onto an open road you ride until the day
You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay

“The Price You Pay” is an ode to unintended consequences. It’s a song about making tough decisions unsure of how they’ll turn out, about taking a turn down a dark road that might just as easily lead to ruin as to glory. It’s an appropriate song for the night before the Minnesota caucuses, when voters will choose which presidential candidate they’d like to represent their party in the fall—a choice with uncertain outcomes. That choice seems to be pretty far from the crowd’s mind right now, though. They’ve come here to be distracted from their problems, not reminded of them. And Springsteen is doing his best to oblige, the 66-year-old rocker singing and dancing and running around the stage with the energy of a much younger man.

But I’m thinking about Donald Trump all the same. The New York businessman has transformed the presidential race on the Republican side with his promises of border walls, mass deportations, a halt to Muslim immigration. He’s publicly supported torture and other war crimes. He’s bullied his opponents. He’s said racist and misogynist things like it’s his second nature.

If the Republicans choose this man as their presidential nominee, and if America chooses him as its president—what price would the country pay for that choice? America made great again? The rise of fascism? Something in between? It’s hard to say.

Such thoughts might seem out of place at a rock show—except that the crowd here at the X tonight is a Trump crowd. That’s an oversimplification, of course—there’s no way to reliably judge the political proclivities of 15,000 strangers. But it’s certainly true that Springsteen and Trump appeal to similar demographics. The Boss is the workin’ man’s rock star, and the crowd here tonight skews white, skews old, skews working class. That’s Trump’s core constituency, too: his supporters are generally white, not college-educated, and blue collar.

Again, DeYoung’s piece is a lot more nuanced than the excerpt I have chosen above.  He knows that Springsteen’s politics and message (especially in his last several albums) are much more in line with Bernie Sanders than The Donald.  But he also recognizes that Springsteen’s songs about economic hardship, the brokenness of everyday life, the reality of sin, and the slow but steady decline of American industry and industrial towns are also things that Trump supporters are concerned about. And he also knows about the whole George Will/Ronald Reagan/”Born in the USA” controversy in 1984.

But I do wonder if DeYoung’s assessment of the crowd at the Excel Energy Center on February 29 is correct.  I have been to a lot of Springsteen shows in the last ten years. Indeed, the crowd is white and the crowd is old(er).  And yes, there are probably some people in the audience who did not go to college.

On the other hand, most of the people I meet at Bruce shows in places like Philadelphia, State College, Hershey, and Baltimore are solidly middle class folks (they can afford the $150.00 ticket) who were raised in the working class and remain nostalgic for certain aspects of that upbringing.   They are mostly educated.  I am guessing a lot of them were first-generation college students in the 1970s and 1980s who are now paying tuition for their own kids to go to college. (Bruce played a lot of college campuses in the 1970s).  Many come to the show with their families, rather than with their drinking buddies from school. And if they do come with their drinking buddies from school, they spend more time reminiscing about the “Glory Days” than the social ills that Springsteen’s music tries to address.  Most of them come to hear “Dancing in the Dark,” “Hungry Heart,” and “Born to Run” over “The Price You Pay,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “The Wall,” or “Death to My Hometown.”   Some of Springsteen’s social justice message might even offer a stinging critique to the lives they have chosen to live.

Springsteen is still attracting the same people, but they are no longer living in the 1970s world of working-class struggle that probably drew them to his music in the first place. I am sure that there were some Trump supporters in the audience in Minneapolis, but I would imagine that the crowd was also politically diverse.

Read DeYoung’s entire piece here.

The Eagles and Evangelical Christianity

 

With the death of Glen Frey last week I felt a sort of obligation to watch the CNN documentary movie about his band, the Eagles.  I know it’s cliche to say this, but its true: the Eagles have really provided a lot of the soundtrack of my life.  Of course readers of this blog will know that another artist has also contributed mightily to that soundtrack as well.

I was riveted by this documentary in way that I probably would not have been if Frey had not just passed away.  Sometimes I wonder if I missed my calling as a rock critic.  (When I said this to my wife and daughter last night they both rolled their eyes).

As I watched, I could not help but think about a couple of things related to the evangelicalism of my youth.

I did not become an evangelical Christian until midway through high school.  (That’s another story).  Of course I knew the Eagles music.  Back in the 1970s it was played constantly on both AM and FM radio stations.  But I had no idea that the song “Hotel California” was really about a San Francisco hotel owned by Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey.

This view of the song was preached endlessly by evangelical youth pastors.  It spread like wildfire in the evangelical community in the 1970s and 1980s–and this was before the Internet. (I am sure there is a scholarly treatment of this? Anyone? Randall Stephens?) In fact, it took me a very long time before I felt I could listen to the song without somehow compromising my faith or opening myself up to Satanic influences.  Even today, when I hear it on the radio, my first inclination is to change the station.

(On the CNN documentary Don Henley balked at this evangelical interpretation of the song, claiming that the song was really about “a journey from innocence to experience.”)

And then there is the classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling”:

I cannot listen to the lyric “Cause I’m already standing on the ground” without thinking of an alternative lyric made popular in evangelical circles: “Cause I’m already standing on SOLID ground.” (Or sometimes “on HIS ground”).  Check it out for yourself:

I guess when you have a wildly successful rock band like the Eagles, and a religious movement with a long, long history of accommodating to culture, stuff like this is bound to happen.

I also realize that this post probably says more about me than it does about evangelicalism or the Eagles, but so be it.

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!