More Historians Weigh-In on the Trump Acquittal

Trump USA Today

Politico has gathered historians Michael Kimmage, Claire Potter, Mary Frances Berry, David Blight, Allan Lichtman, Brooks Simpson, and Jeremi Suri.

Here is Blight:

The impeachment and acquittal of Trump in 2020 left the country’s political culture in spiraling decline. For the portion of the country’s politically engaged population that was not securely within the Fox News universe, the Trump acquittal demonstrated the sheer cravenness of the Republican Party. Republicans continued to be seen in the 2020s as the party of white people, of a white nationalist, of a xenophobic vision of America that flew in the face of reality: an increasingly multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious nation. The Democratic Party also frayed into divisions between left and right. Democrats managed to defeat Trump in 2020, decisively in the popular vote but only narrowly in the Electoral College—vulnerable to charges even then that it was an archaic institution.

After his defeat in 2020, Trump cut a lucrative deal with Fox News and appeared on the channel three nights per week in prime time, stoking a racist, nationalist vision of the country, while the country divided and fragmented into increasingly identity-based groups.

The United States also continued to decline as a world power, losing influence in international organizations and in global economics. American institutions and corporations went into decline, and the country lost its place in the world as a model republic. Trumpism had become the watchword for American decline.

By the end of the 2020s, more voters than ever identified as independent. Attempts to establish third parties surged. In 2027, a movement for a new constitutional convention succeeded. The resulting constitutional amendments to eliminate the Electoral College and to reorganize the U.S. Senate into a more democratic institution just barely failed to pass in three quarters of state legislatures for approval.

Read the entire piece here.

How Will Historians Remember the Decade (2010-2019)?

Trump iN Dallas

Politico asked historians how the history books will cover the past decade.  Contributors include David Kennedy, Tom Nichols, David Greenberg, Keisha Blain, Peniel Joseph, Heather Cox Richardson, George Nash, Kevin Kruse, Andrew Bacevich, Claire Potter, David Hollinger, Nicole Hemmer, Jack Rakove, and Jeremi Suri.

Here is Heather Cox Richardson:

Polarization and the rise of politically active women

The perfect symbol of the 2010s came in February 2015, when an image of a dress went viral on social media as Americans fought over whether its pattern was #blackandblue or #whiteandgold. America was divided in this decade, with splits over economics, politics, religion and culture exacerbated by social media. A set of increasingly extreme Republicans stayed in power by convincing voters that Democrats under biracial president Barack Obama, whose signature piece of legislation was the Affordable Care Act making health care accessible, were intent on destroying America by giving tax dollars to lazy people of color and feminists who wanted to murder babies. And in 2016, Republicans leaders weaponized social media with the help of Russians to elect to the White House Donald J. Trump, who promised to end this “American carnage.” On the other side, in 2013, the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement helped galvanize those who believed the system was stacked against them. And in January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March became the largest single-day protest in American history. By the end of that year, the #MeToo Movement took off as women shared their ubiquitous experiences with sexual harassment and demanded an end to male dominance. In 2018, when Republicans forced through the Senate the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who had been creditably accused of sexual assault, they helped convinced voters to elect a historic number of women and racial minorities to Congress in in the 2018 midterm elections, almost entirely on the Democratic side. The story of the 2010s is of increasing American polarization, but also the rise of politically active women to defend American democracy against the growing power of a Republican oligarchy.

Read the other entries here.

Did Men Invent “Likability?”

Hillary nominated

Check out historian Claire Potter‘s piece at The New York Times: “Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.”  She reflects on the origins of the idea of “likability”  advertising culture and, eventually presidential politics.

As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining — Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last — and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who — you guessed it — is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”

Likability: It is nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless, yet inescapable — and female politicians seem to be particularly burdened with it even when they win and especially when they run for president.

In a recent interview on CNN with Michael Smerconish, Potter challenged the audience to find one female candidate in the 2016 race who has been called “likability.”

Here is another small taste of her piece:

Americans were also taught that being likable was a quality that could be cultivated as a means to get ahead. In 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” warned that those who tried too hard to be liked would fail: Theodore Roosevelt’s naturally friendly greetings to everyone he passed, regardless of status, Carnegie noted, had made it impossible not to like him, but Henrietta G., now the “best liked” counselor at her office, had been isolated until she learned to stop bragging. (Though looking back, we have to wonder: Would Henry G. have needed to hide his accomplishments?)

As presidential candidates put advertising experts in charge of national campaigns, perhaps it was inevitable that likability would jump explicitly to politics. In 1952, some of the first televised election ads sought to highlight Dwight Eisenhower’s likability. The advertising executive Rosser Reeves put Eisenhower in controlled settings where his optimism, self-confidence, humor and nonpartisanship could be emphasized over his political inexperience and what Reeves viewed as his “inept” speaking style. The animator Roy Disney was commissioned to make a cartoon spot with a catchy jingle: “Ike for President,” the song repeated, cutting to Uncle Sam leading a parade down the streets. “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” the chorus sang as Eisenhower’s smiling cartoon face passed.

Read the entire piece here.

OAH Dispatch: Historians on “Hamilton”

Rutgers UP

The editors of Historians on Hamilton sign books! (From Rutgers University Press Twitter feed)

We are happy to have Julianne Johnson writing for us this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento.  Julianne is a Ph.D student at Claremont Graduate University and Assistant Professor of History at College of the Canyons in San Clarita, California.  Enjoy!  –JF

Friday morning’s 8am session Historians on Hamilton at the OAH conference was uncharacteristically full.  Scholars Patricia Herrera of the University of Richmond, Claire Bond Potter of The New School and Renee Romano of Oberlin College led a panel discussion surrounding their contributions to a new book from Rutgers University Press titled Historians on Hamilton; How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s PastRomano and Potter are both editors of, and contributors to, the book.  The panel discussion approached the phenomenon of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton The Musical by interrogating how the show has been received, how the show is revolutionary, and what historians can learn from the show about how to communicate the past to popular audiences.

All three panelists challenged the audience to consider how Hamilton The Musical does history.  Renee Romano, Professor of History, Comparative American Studies, and Africana Studies at Oberlin, considered Hamilton in the context of historical memory and what she describes as a “new civic myth.”  Romano questioned whether Hamilton The Musical is expanding the circle of “we” for Americans by offering young people of color a sense of belonging and challenging white audiences to accept minorities in the roles of our founding generation.

Patricia Herrera, Professor of Theater at the University of Richmond, told a heartwarming story of her experience listening to Hamilton The Musical with her children while taking a road trip throughout our nation’s national parks.  Her young daughter’s desire to be Angelica Schuyler for Halloween pushed Herrera to interrogate how Hamilton The Musical conflates the historical figure of Angelica the slave owner with the beautiful African American actress playing her on stage.   For Herrera, the national parks and the musical perform a similar function.  The parks represent beautiful democratic vistas and leisure for white Americans on the backs of a tragic narrative for Native Americans.

Finally, Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History at the New School, discussed her interest in Hamilton The Musical and Miranda from a social media perspective.  Her chapter in the book, “Safe in the Nation We’ve Made,” looks at how the musical reaches a large audience on social media, allowing for a more authentic connection and turning fans into cultural investors.

Palpable throughout the panel discussion was the historians’ respect for Miranda’s work and a hope that other historians will use the musical as an entry into teaching and talking about history. At the end of the session, the line in the exhibit hall to purchase the book had the Rutgers staff sweating.  I secured my copy and am happily reading it now.

What is a Public Intellectual?

I wish I was at the Annual Meeting of the United States Intellectual History (USIH) Society going on right now in Washington D.C.  Thanks to some great tweeters–especially Jonathan Wilson–I have been able to get a decent sense of what is being discussed.

Last night I followed along as Wilson and others tweeted a plenary session on public intellectuals. The session revolved around Russell Jacoby’s landmark The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe.  Jacoby spoke about the writing of his book and its relevance for defining a “public intellectual” today, nearly twenty-years after it appeared in 1987.  Leo Ribuffo, Jonathan Holloway, and Claire Potter presented papers on the role of public intellectuals in society since Jacoby published The Last Intellectuals.

You can get up to speed at #usih2015.

From what I was able to glean, all three of the respondents wanted to expand the idea of “public intellectual” beyond Jacoby’s definition. Even Jacoby admitted that his book would not look the same today, largely due to the Internet.

Here are some tweets:














There is a lot I could riff on here, but I like the fact that Leo Ribuffo is willing to expand the definition of “public intellectuals to include evangelical Christians.  A few thoughts:

First, Ribuffo is suggesting that “evangelical intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

Second, evangelicals make up a significant portion of the population of the United States.  Most of them do not read the “small magazines” in which Jacoby’s “public intellectuals” publish (or published), but they make up an audience that far exceeds the size of the audience of most so called “public intellectuals” today.  And, as Mark Noll and others have shown, evangelicals probably need intellectuals more than anyone else.

Third, intellectuals who are evangelicals have sought to speak from an evangelical perspective to the intellectual culture at large.  If they write for public audiences at all, they are trying to find a voice in the world of Jacoby’s intellectuals.  This is well and good.  Evangelicals should speak to contemporary issues this way and seek to write in places where evangelical voices are rarely heard such as the op-ed pages of major newspapers and some of the so-called “small magazines.”

But, as I have argued here and, to some extent in my Why Study History, evangelical intellectuals and scholars may be missing opportunities to speak to churchgoers on their own terms. This is a largely untapped audience for public intellectuals, but evangelicals will not just listen to anyone.  They are suspicious of secular voices and always will be. They will, however, be more open to listen to someone with evangelical credentials or someone who is one of them. We need more people to be “public intellectuals” in this world.

Do You Want to Make Money From Writing Books?

There are a lot of ways to make money from writing books, but for many of us who publish monographs with university presses, royalties are not one of them.  So far my name is on the cover of four books–two with university presses and two with small trade presses.  All four of those books have done well based on the relative expectations that the presses set for them.  They have all been assigned and taught in college and high school classrooms.  Through this blog and other things that I do I have been able to sell a few of them to non-academic audiences.  As might be expected, the two trade books have sold much better than the two university press books.  But in the end, I am not anywhere near the point where I can quit my day job as a college professor and start living off my royalties.  In fact, receiving a royalty statement and check in the mail–especially from the university press books–can be a very depressing experience.

With all this in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Potter‘s realistic post entitled “How We Make Money From Books.”  She encourages academics to forget about going for big advances from university presses.  At the most, you might be able to negotiate for a few thousand dollars more.  Of course many first-time authors may not get any advance.  This was the case for me with The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Since then my advances have been small and very unimpressive.  

Claire argues, and I tend to agree with her, that instead of going with a press based on the advance, an author who wants to publish an academic book should pick a press based on the editor, the recommendations of friends, and the advertising budget or plan.  (I would add projected price point to Claire’s list).  Remember, if your academic press book sells 1000 copies it will probably be considered a huge success.

In the end, if you still want your books to work for you financially, think about the big picture.  Claire reminds academics that a book might get you tenure or promotion, resulting, of course, in a salary bump.  You may also make some extra money speaking about the book.  (Potter recommends placing speaking fees in a Vanguard Roth account–of course this does not apply to some of us who have to use the extra money to pay for braces, fix the lawnmower, pay for club volleyball, or buy school clothes).

Here is a random taste of Claire’s post:

Although university presses are always ambitious for the crossover book, it is a rare achievement, and yours probably isn’t one. Crossovers tend to target certain fields: think war, biography and presidents.  There are a few authors in every academic field who do well in the commercial publishing world (some of them very well), and there are occasional breakout hits: for example, Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (1970) would never be published today by a commercial press, but in the early years of women’s liberation it was a mass market hit. In the contemporary landscape, it is more likely that if you publish with a commercial press now, you began by doing a good job for a university press that worked hard to get your book out there.
Academic bestsellers are a strange genre. They are a whole different species from commercial bestsellers, and they generally do not cross over to a popular audience. An important characteristic of such books can be that they are useful to scholars across fields, and across disciplines; and that they are very well written. Somebody told me years ago that Columbia University Press sold out its first hardback run of Joan W. Scott’s Gender and the Politics of History (1988), and had declared it a bestseller: that first edition probably ran to fewer than 5,000 copies. What is more important about such a book, as you will see below, is the role it played in the author’s career, that it is still in print, and that people still teach the essays from it.
Oh yes, I almost forgot.  Congratulations on the book contract, Claire!

Being A Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public

Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

On Saturday afternoon I attended a session at AHA 2015 entitled “Being a Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public.”  There were some high-powered historians on this panel, including Peniel Joseph, Claire Potter, Julian Zelizer, Eric Foner, and Michael Kazin.  The place was packed–standing room only.

I live tweeted the session @johnfea1 and Storified the session here.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session–even found it inspiring.

In the end, the members of the panel seemed to have differing views on what the role and responsibilities of a “public intellectual.”  Peniel Joseph and Claire Potter were clearly historian-activists.  Zelizer called himself more of a “commentator” than an “activist.” (Joseph insisted that we can do both–comment and act). Foner approached his role as a public intellectual from a more traditional historical perspective. He believed that good scholarship could lead to social change.  Kazin seemed to be somewhere between Joseph/Potter and Foner.

Check out the tweets for more.