Thursday night court evangelical roundup

COurt evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

They are still coming for Jesus:

Graham is responding to this tweet by Mike Huckabee:

I was listening to CNN when Lemon said that Jesus “wasn’t perfect.” I think this was more of a simple theological misunderstanding by Lemon, or perhaps he really doesn’t believe Jesus was perfect. We live in a religious diverse country after all. Don Lemon is free to believe that Jesus was not perfect. (By the way, do Jewish conservatives on Fox News believe Jesus was perfect?) In other words, I did not see this as an attempt to attack Christianity. Lemon was trying to show that our founding fathers were not perfect. He was even calling out liberals. Watch for yourself:

Apparently Robert Jeffress is not happy about this either. But this should not surprise us. He has long believed that we live in a Christian nation, not a pluralistic democracy.

According to Jeffress, anyone who does not believe Jesus was perfect is peddling “fake news.”

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network agrees:

Again, the point here is not to argue whether or not Jesus was perfect. That is a theological discussion. 3 points:

  1. The court evangelicals do not care about the larger context of Lemon’s statement because the context does not suit their political agenda.
  2. It is fine to tweet that Lemon does not understand the beliefs of Christianity. I am criticizing how his views (or his mistake) were turned into culture war tweets.
  3. The court evangelicals do not believe in a pluralistic society. The idea that Jesus was imperfect may be a “lie” to all serious Christians, but this is not an exclusively Christian nation. Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people of all kinds of religions watch CNN. Non-Christians work at Fox News (I think). The belief that “Jesus was perfect” is an article of faith and it is perfectly fine in a democracy for people to disagree with this claim. As a Christian, I believe in the incarnation, but I am not offended that Don Lemon may not. These kinds of tweets just make Christians look foolish.

Gary Bauer is using his Facebook page to share an article on the American Revolution that appeared yesterday at The Federalist. Jane Hampton Cook’s essay is a historical and theological mess. It blurs African slavery, political slavery, and the biblical idea of liberty from sin. But at least she was able to take a shot at the 1619 Project! That’s all that really matters. Bauer writes:”>Rather than teaching our children a lie — that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery as the 1619 Project falsely claims — this is what our children should be learning in school.”

Hey Ralph, all you need to do is say “Happy Anniversary.” That’s it:

Eric Metaxas is trying to get his book If You Can Keep It in the hands of “every high school history teacher in the country. Before your school adopts Eric Metaxas’s book, please read this article and this series of posts.

Tonight David Barton will be making a case for why Washington D.C. should not be a state. I don’t have time to watch it, but I am guessing it has something to do with Christian nationalism.

Seven Mountain Dominion advocate Lance Wallnau is at it again. He also wants to destroy public education.

Is it really true that Democrats don’t care about law and order or the Constitution? Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks so:

The Study of History Prepares Us for Moments Like This

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My daughter is home from college. Tonight at the dinner table we were talking about citizenship in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of our conversation inspired today’s earlier post on that subject.

Both of my daughters are studying liberal arts at a liberal arts college. Caroline, who is now taking classes from her childhood bedroom, is majoring in political science and considering adding a major in environmental studies. Allyson, as a senior, is a double-major in history and psychology. Their coursework is challenging them in good ways. They are learning and growing intellectually. I pray that both of them will draw upon their work in these fields to help them navigate our current moment.

The humanities, a particular branch of the liberal arts devoted to the study of history, literature, rhetoric, theology and religious studies, philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and languages, to name a few of the subjects that fall under its intellectual umbrella, offer an approach to the world that bodes well for the creation of good citizens in a democratic society.

This is why founders such as Thomas Jefferson valued an educated citizenry. In an September 28, 1820 to William Charles Jarvis, Jefferson wrote:

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome direction, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform them their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of the abuses of constitutional power.

The humanities, and especially my own discipline of history, teach students how to think critically about their world. How do we evaluate the information we receive about the coronavirus? What kinds of sources can we trust? In a time when news and information about this virus is changing and developing at a rapid rate, context becomes very important. News that came across our feeds two days ago may no longer be relevant today.  Historians are trained to “source” documents.  When was the document written? Who is the author? What is the purpose of this document? Does this context give us better insight into the meaning of the text?

Historians are also able to put this pandemic in a larger context. Type the words “1918 Influenza” into your web browser and notice dozens of historians trying to help us make sense of the present by understanding the past. Historians understand the human condition. They can, at times, alert us to potential present-day behavior by reminding us of what happened in an earlier era.

The study of history also cultivates the virtues necessary for a thriving democracy. In his book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, historian Sam Wineburg argues convincingly that it is the strangeness of the past that has the best potential to change our lives in positive ways. Those who are willing to acknowledge that the past is a foreign country–a place where they do things differently than we do in the present–set off on a journey that has the potential to transform society. An encounter with the past in all of its fullness, void as much as possible of present-minded agendas, can cultivate virtue in our lives. Such an encounter teaches us empathy, humility, and selflessness. We learn to remove ourselves from our present context in order to encounter the culture and beliefs of a “foreign country.” Sometimes the people who inhabit that country may appear strange when compared with our present sensibilities.  Yet the discipline of history requires that we understand them on their own terms, not ours.

History demands we set aside our moral condemnation about a person, ideal or event from the past in order to understand it. It thus, ironically, becomes the necessary building block of informed cultural criticism and political commentary. It sharpens our moral focus and places our ethical engagement with society in a larger context. One cannot underestimate how the virtues learned through historical inquiry also apply to our civic life. The same skills of empathy and understanding that a student or reader of history learns from studying the seemingly bizarre practices of the Aztec Empire might also prove to be useful at work when we don’t know what to make of the beliefs or behavior of the person in the cubicle next to us.

The study of the past has the potential to cure us of our narcissism. The narcissist views the world with himself at the center. While this a fairly normal way to see the world for an infant or a toddler, it is actually a very immature way of viewing the world as an adult. History, to quote Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, “dethrones” us “from our original position at the center of the universe.” It requires us to see ourselves as part of a much larger human story. When we view the world this way, we come face-to-face with our own smallness, our own insignificance.”

As we begin to see our lives as part of a human community made up of both the living and the dead, we may start to see our neighbors (and our enemies) in a different light. We may want to listen to their ideas, empathize with them, and try to understand why they see the world the way they do. We may  want to have a conversation (or two) with them. We may learn that even amid our religious or political differences we still have a lot in common.  We also may gain a better understanding into why their ideas must be refuted.

History majors and historical thinkers: we have prepared you for such a time as this!

Center-Right Conservatives and the Future of American Democracy

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Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark

Nancy LeTourneau of Washington Monthly was one of the first journalists to start using my term “court evangelicals” to describe the evangelical leaders who back Donald Trump.  In yesterday’s column, she brings our attention to center-right conservatives, many of whom are associated with a new publication called “The Bulwark,” and their role in saving American Democracy in the so-called age of Trump.

Here is a taste:

At some point, these center-right conservatives must articulate a policy agenda that is distinct from the ethnonationalism that currently fuels the Republican Party. To do so they will have to acknowledge the problem and come to grips with their own role in creating and exploiting it in the first place, which could be the most difficult step. Once articulated, they would have to find a way to garner support for that agenda that doesn’t simply exploit white grievance.

That’s a tall order and, at this point, I think the odds are stacked against them. But I, for one, would welcome the possibility of settling differences by debate and argument in an atmosphere where the truth actually matters, because that is pretty much the definition of democracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Lamar Alexander’s Statement is Full of Historical Problems

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If Lamar Alexander wants to oppose witnesses in the Donald Trump impeachment trial he has that right.  But spare us the “history” lesson.

Alexander statement says:

I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.

So it sounds like Alan Dershowitz’s “absurd” and “baffling” argument convinced the senior Senator from Tennessee.  In embracing the Dershowitz argument, Alexander has chosen to reject the consensus of legal scholars and American historians.

Alexander continues:

“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’ There is no need to consider further the frivolous second article of impeachment that would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers.

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.

So what is the difference between an “impeachable” offense and an “inappropriate” offense?  Again, Alexander has been swayed by Dershowitz’s argument.  Alexander believes that the president is guilty, but he does not believe that Trump committed an impeachable offense.  (Dershowitz doesn’t think Trump is guilty of anything). This is also clear from the next part of Alexander’s statement:

“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.  

“The Senate has spent nine long days considering this ‘mountain’ of evidence, the arguments of the House managers and the president’s lawyers, their answers to senators’ questions and the House record. Even if the House charges were true, they do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense.

Alexander goes on:

“The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.

“Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”

On the issue of “partisan” impeachments and the founders, here is historian Joanne Freeman:

Moreover, as historian Kevin Kruse has been reminding us, there were no political parties when the founders wrote the Constitution:

Alexander also suggests that the “founding documents” teach that “the people” should decide whether to move a president.  Here he is connecting “impeachment” with the vote and will of “the people.” But the Constitution makes no such connection.

First, as James Madison made clear in Federalist 39, “The President of the United States is impeachable at any time during his continuance in office.” In other words, the president can be impeached during an election year.

Second, the framers were skeptical about trusting the people to make decisions about important matters such as impeachment.  The framers did not trust the “ballot”on impeachment.  Read the Constitution as it was written in 1787.  Senators were not directly elected by the people.  They were appointed by state legislatures. This is precisely why the framers believed that the Senate was best suited to serve as judges in an impeachment trial. The “people” in the House of Representatives brought charges in the president (impeachment), but the Senate, those so called “gods on Mount Olympus,” would decide whether or not the people were right (removal). As Madison wrote in Federalist 10, the passions of the people needed to be filtered through “a medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”  In fact, the framers of the Constitution had such a mistrust of the people that they did not allow them to vote directly for the president.  It is worth noting that they did not even record the popular vote in presidential elections until 1824.

In the end, Lamar Alexander can oppose impeachment trial witnesses for all kinds of reasons, but please don’t appeal to the founders.

Alexander’s sketchy use of the founding-era is particularly troubling considering that he has always been a strong advocate for more history and civics in public schools.

Some Context for Adam Schiff’s Hamilton Quote

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Adam Schiff opened the first day of arguments in the Trump impeachment trial with a quote from an enclosure in an August 18, 1792 letter from Alexander Hamilton to George Washington.  His choice of texts is getting a lot of attention today.

Hamilton’s enclosure was part of his reply to a July 29, 1792 letter from Washington.
While the president was home at Mount Vernon he heard from fellow Virginians (probably George Mason and Thomas Jefferson) who were critical of the way the Federalist administration was conducting policy and interpreting the Constitution.  Washington asked Hamilton to respond to twenty-one popular criticisms of the Federalist-controlled government.

Washington’s criticism No. 14 read: “That the ultimate object of all this is to prepare the way for a change, from the present republican form of Government, to that of a monarchy; of which the British Constitution is to be the model.”

This was a pretty common Anti-Federalist critique.  It was also common among the members of the Jeffersonian opposition to the Federalist administration after ratification in 1789.  These men believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the national government and relied too heavily upon British political customs.  They feared that Washington, Adams (VP), Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury), and the members of the Federalist-controlled Congress would replace the President of the United States with some form of monarchy.

These Jeffersonian fears are understandable.  Washington often acted like a king.  And everyone knew that Hamilton was an Anglophile.  During the Constitution Convention Hamilton argued that the newly created executive should have a life term.  This, he believed, was the only way of maintaining order and preventing the people from having too much power.  James Madison, who summarized Hamilton’s six-hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote:

As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on Republican principles.  Was not this giving up the merits on this subject.  The Hereditary interest of the King was so interwoven with that of the Nation, and his personal emoluments so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad–and at the same time was both sufficiently independence at home, one of the weak sides of Republicans was their being liable to foreign influence & corruption.  Men of little character, acquiring great power become easily the tools of intemedling Neibours, Sweden was a striking instance.  The French & English had each their parties during the late Revolution which was effected by the predominant influence of the former.  What is the inference from all these observations?  That we ought to go as far in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit.  Let one branch of the Legislature hold their places for life or at least during good behaviour.  Let the executive also be for life.

Of course Hamilton’s ideas were not adopted. The framers decided that the executive would serve a four-year term. But some thought Hamilton had not fully abandoned his earlier commitment to an executive for life.

Below is an excerpt from Hamilton’s response to George Washington  Hamilton argues that Jeffersonian worries about the Federalists turning the presidency into a monarchy are absurd. The real threat of tyranny is not the current administration and its policies, but the possibility that a leader might emerge who would tap into the passions of the people.  I have highlighted the passage used by Adam Schiff this afternoon.

The idea of introducing a monarchy or aristocracy into this Country, by employing the influence and force of a Government continually changing hands, towards it, is one of those visionary things, that none but madmen could meditate and that no wise men will believe.

If it could be done at all, which is utterly incredible, it would require a long series of time, certainly beyond the life of any individual to effect it. Who then would enter into such plot? For what purpose of interest or ambition?

To hope that the people may be cajoled into giving their sanctions to such institutions is still more chimerical. A people so enlightened and so diversified as the people of this Country can surely never be brought to it, but from convulsions and disorders, in consequence of the acts of popular demagogues.

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind…”

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Hamilton is saying that the real threat to republicanism is a populist demagogue.  You can see why Schiff thought this passage was appropriate for an impeachment trial.

Voters in a Democracy Must Understand Something About History

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Japanese-Americans arriving at WW II internment camp

Over at The Washington Examiner, Patrick Richards, the chief communications and strategy officer at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, links historical training with civics.  Here is a taste:

A generation of students has learned of Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers because of a Broadway musical with a Lin-Manuel Miranda score. Millions of middle schoolers have learned about U.S. civics because of video games developed through the vision and commitment of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Tens of millions of cable TV viewers learn pieces of history not taught in the classroom because of Pawn Stars and the personal passions of its star, Rick Harrison. Each of these and many more like them show that history doesn’t have to be relegated to dusty history books telling the boring stories of generations of white, male landowners. History can, and should, be exciting, engaging, and relevant to the learner and to the times in which they live.

An informed voter driven to cast a ballot because of immigration and border detention facilities will also know about how Native Americans were treated in the 19th century and how Japanese Americans were treated during World War II.

An informed voter driven to cast a ballot because of impeachment proceedings will not only know about the Clinton impeachment but also of President Andrew Johnson’s.

Ultimately, an informed voter will move beyond asking, “What?” and will begin asking the more important questions about our history: “Why? How? To what end?”

For years now, we have been selling the 2020 presidential race as one of the most momentous, most important elections in the history of our representative democracy. If we believe that, then it is imperative that all voters, particularly the Gen Zers and millennials deemed so important to our future, begin to think and act like historians — asking questions, seeking out facts not originally taught, and understanding how we’ve confronted such issues in the past and how we can learn from those experiences, good and bad, in the future.

Read the entire piece here.

 

What to Expect at the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally. (Or the People are Always Right).

God's megachurch

Trump will be at a Hispanic Pentecostal megachurch in Miami tomorrow afternoon for an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally.  There has not been a whole lot of details released about who will be present at the event or what Trump will say, but I think we can expect a lot of contractual language.  In other words, Trump will remind evangelicals about his Supreme Court nominations, his pro-life views on abortion, his defense of religious liberty, and his support for Israel and then he will ask evangelicals to vote for him in 2020.  I am expecting that there will be some digs at the Democratic candidates and Christianity Today magazine.

I will be on NBC News Now (live stream) with Alison Morris around 3:15pm tomorrow (January 3rd) to talk about the event.  Trump is scheduled to speak in Miami at 5:00pm.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress will be in Miami for the event.  He talked about his appearance earlier today on the Todd Starnes Radio Show.  Jeffress makes no bones about the fact that the “Evangelicals for Trump” event is a response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.

Starnes mentions “a couple of professors from Oklahoma Baptist University who have been bashing President Trump and his supporters.” (I am guessing that this is a reference Matt Arbo and Alan Noble).  Starnes also references Wayne Grudem’s response to Christianity Today and calls is “terrific.”  He also brings up Beth Moore’s criticism of Trump.  Here is Jeffress’s response: “[Sarcastic laugh] These people are losing such credibility and its very obvious one motivating reason as to why they are against Trump is that they were wrong about Trump and their pride won’t allow them to admit that.”  Jeffress goes on: “It’s those ivory tower elites that just don’t get it….”

I am continually amazed at how this has now turned into a class-based war on “elites.” The assumption is that what “the people” want is always morally correct.  There is some truth to this idea.  This is why many of our founding fathers feared the growth of democracy.  After all, in a democracy 51% becomes the highest moral good.

Let’s remember that the opponents of slavery were “out of touch” with the majority of people of the South in the 1850s.  Martin Luther King was also “out of touch” with the majority of people living in the South in the 1950s and 1960s.  And Andrew Jackson was “in touch” with the people (white males Democratic voters who wanted to settle on Indian lands) when he sent the Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears.”

This morning I was reading Alexander Hamilton’s June 1787 speech at the Constitutional Convention as recorded by Robert Yates.  A taste:

The voice of the people has been said to  be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact.  The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.  Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.  They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.  Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily  to pursue the public good?   Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.  Their turbulent  and uncontrouling disposition requires checks.

Sometimes I wonder if Hamilton may have been right.

Can Democracy Survive Our Current Moment?

Donkey and Elephant

What is causing our political polarization? Can democracy survive our current political climate? Atlantic senior editor Yoni Appelbaum joins others, such as Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (those who attended Levitsky’s recent lecture at Messiah College will find a lot that sounds familiar in Appelbaum’s argument), in suggesting that the GOP is having a hard time dealing with demographic change.  I made the same argument for white evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Robert Jones argues something similar in The End of White Christian America.

Appelbaum, however, has not given up hope.  He turns to history:

The right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.

The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.

Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.

Read the entire piece here.

24 Hours With Kansas History Educators

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This weekend (Sunday and Monday) I made my first visit to Wichita, Kansas.  The Kansas Council of History Education (KCHE) invited me to deliver the keynote address at their annual meeting.  It was held this year on the campus of Newman University.

My address was titled “History for a Democracy.”  I began the talk with three introductory premises:

  1. The current state of American democracy has once again proven that the nation’s founding fathers were right when they connected the strength of the American Republic with an education citizenry
  2. All K-12 teachers are public historians
  3. Our democracy needs public historians

I then spent some time discussing the debate over whether history educators should be teaching “knowledge” or “skills.” This is a debate that culture warriors, radio talk show hosts, politicians, and elected officials lose sleep over, but teachers know that the pundits and bureaucrats often understand very little about what happens in their history classrooms.  Good history teachers integrate facts and skills seamlessly in the history classroom through what we call “historical thinking.”

I concluded the talk with Flannery Burke and Thomas Andrew’s famous 5 “Cs” of historical thinking: change over time, context, causation, contingency, complexity.  I explored the ways these “Cs” are present, and not present, in our public discourse. We talked about:

  • A CNN discussion between Jeffrey Lord and Van Jones on the history of race and Democratic Party.
  • The way the SAT examines reading comprehension
  • Providential history
  • Whether there is really a right and wrong “side” of history
  • The story of the “Umbrella Man” as a way to think about causation
  • The 1619 Project

Thanks to Emily Williams and Nate McAlister of the KCHE for the invitation.  It was also good to see Dave McIntire and Diana Moss, alums of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Princeton Seminar” on colonial America.  And thanks to George Washington’s Mount Vernon for sponsoring the lecture.

Here are some pics:

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It was great to see Nathan McAlister, 2010 National History Teacher of the Year

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Great to catch-up with Diana Moss, a Princeton seminar alum who teaches history in Galena, Kansas

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Emily Williams (KCHE President) and Don Gifford of the Kansas State Department of Education

Trump is Going to Jamestown Tomorrow

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Jamestown, Virginia will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first representative government in British America.  Donald Trump will be there.  Virginia’s black lawmakers will not.

Here is a taste of Gregory Schneider’s piece at The Washington Post:

Virginia’s black state lawmakers will boycott Tuesday’s commemoration of 400 years of representative democracy, saying the Jamestown event “will be tarnished unduly” by the participation of President Trump.

“It is impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the President represents,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement Monday. The group said Trump “continues to make degrading comments toward minority leaders, promulgate policies that harm marginalized communities, and use racist and xenophobic rhetoric.”

And in a direct challenge to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), the rest of the Democratic Party as well as Republicans, the caucus said: “Those who have chosen to attend and remain silent are complicit in the atrocities that he incites.”

Northam is slated to begin day-long festivities at a 7:30 a.m. ceremony on the site of the original English colony at Jamestown Island, but his office said he never intended to be present for the 11 a.m. session featuring Trump. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) will also be present with Northam for that event.

Read the rest here.

I imagine that Trump will have a lot to say about the Virginia General Assembly (which would eventually become the House of Burgesses) as a forerunner of American democratic government.  While this is true to an extent, the General Assembly was run by the wealthy tobacco planters of  colonial Virginia.  In other words, it was far from a “democratic” government.  The member of the Assembly were chosen because they had elite family connections and land.

Moreover, I am guessing that Trump will not be in Virginia next month to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slaves to arrive on British-American shores.

“We’re a republic, not a democracy”

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How many times have you heard someone say this?  As Ed Burmilia, a political science professor a Bradley University writes at The Baffler, it is a loaded political phrase.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It is a cheap rhetorical sleight-of-hand, then, to justify outcomes or processes on the basis that America is “not a democracy,” not that such a statement is ever made as a legitimate argument in good faith. In practice, its use is to one of three ends.

First, as a non-sequitur defense of institutions that distribute political power unequally like the Electoral College or the Senate. The country is not a pure democracy with them and would not be a pure democracy were both abolished tomorrow and replaced. The “logic” here is that the existence of undemocratic or simply unfair institutions is justified by the fact that the country is not . . . an entirely different and unrelated kind of democracy. If that sounds stupid, it is.

Second, it is an argument against any vaguely majoritarian institution or idea. This is done with the utmost selectivity, as I am old enough to remember when “The majority of people oppose it” was considered a mic-drop argument against same-sex marriage. Invoke the will of the people one minute; the next—say, when large majorities want basic gun control legislation—smugly chuckle and say, “Sorry, buddy, read the Constitution: this here’s not a democracy.” Appeals to the will of the masses are often a last-ditch argument of convenience.

Third, and most troubling, is resorting to this phrase in defense of discretionary actions taken by political actors—like the president or Supreme Court. Every time the current president declares some breathtakingly dumb decision he makes after his six neurons fire simultaneously during Fox & Friends, defenders are quick to trot out the phrase as if anyone honestly thinks that presidential decision-making might be subject to a national plebiscite. In this usage, the argument is little more than a red herring, using the absence of mob-rule democracy as a justification of whatever lamentable actions are taken by the people elected or appointed to act on our behalf in accordance with Madison’s republicanism. Whether elected directly by voters or appointed through other processes, people in power make bad decisions—to which the nature of our system of government is not relevant.

Read the entire piece here.

Where Does History Go From Here?

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Over at the Boston Review, historian and essayist Maximillian Alvarez argues that both pro-Trumpers and anti-Trumpers are still operating within Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” argument.  Here is a taste:

Fukuyama’s take on the “end of history,” to be fair, has been questioned for decades. And for a number of reasons: from its Eurocentrism to its unshakeable faith in the world-historical stability of a neoliberal apparatus securing and enforcing the global marriage of “free trade” and Western liberal democracy. The past decade alone would seem to pose as great a challenge as we have seen to the Fukuyaman conceit. From the 2008 global financial crash to the rise of authoritarian-minded, far- right, Trump-style “populism,” the neoliberal order has shown quite a lack of, well, stability. 

The very same empire that is supposed to lord over this end of history, forever and ever amen, can no longer seem to keep its story straight. Even as Donald Trump lauds himself as the very best president ever—an end-of-history sentiment if ever there was one—his presidency is nonetheless anchored to the message that the United States must be made great again. Something has slipped; the end of history has gone too far, and we must try to go back, it seems—to Reaganism, to the cradle of the Greatest Generation, to the Confederacy, to Jacksonianism, and on and on. 

It is no coincidence that, in response to the historical recidivism of the Trump-led right, all that the amassed forces of the Resistance™ have been able to muster is a Fukuyaman defense that, in many ways, mirrors that of their opponents. From Hillary Clinton’s proclamation that “America never stopped being great” to the milquetoast Democratic obsession with being on the “right side of history,” the essence of the great political slap-fight of our day seems to amount to a debate between Democrats and Republicans over when, exactly—not if—history ended, which parts of our society are still stuck “in history,” and what they need to do to catch up. Either way, the presumption is that, regardless of what happens over the next two to six years, the great historical edifice of neoliberal rule will hold.

This is why the Democratic and Never-Trump Republican resistance has been largely incapable of challenging Trump’s wrecking-ball presidency on any grounds that would directly implicate the neoliberal apparatus of which they, too, are a part. Instead, the horror and hysteria unleashed by the ascendancy of Trump has been couched in pearl-clutching fear over what “norms” and “traditions” the MAGA movement has destroyed and expunged from our social world. If the neoliberal world order remains the embodied truth of the “end of history,” then, for all its concerned showmanship, the neoliberal establishment has yet to demonstrate any widespread belief that history, as such, is at stake.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Fate of Pluralism” in America

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The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has released a new study titled “American Democracy in Crisis: The Fate of Pluralism in a Divided Nation.”   Maxine Najle and Robert Jones are the authors.  Here are some of my quick takeaways:

  •  The number of white evangelicals who have a favorable view of Donald Trump was higher in 2018 than it was in 2016.  (It is, however, slightly down from 2017).
  • White evangelicals “remain the only major religious group in which a majority holds a favorable view of the president.”  For more on why I think this is the case, see my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  • White Americans with a college degree (78%) are “substantially likelier than whites without a college degree (56%) to say they interact with someone who does not share their race or ethnicity at least once a week.”
  • “Fully half (50%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they interact with people who do not share their religious affiliation within their family, compared to 32% of white mainline Protestants, 30% of Catholics, 26% of nonwhite Protestants, and 25% of white evangelical Protestants.”  If I am reading this correctly, it appears that Protestants of all varieties (mainline, nonwhite and white evangelical) do not spend much time with family members who do not share their faith.   Religious faith trumps blood?
  • Americans are “most likely to view their interactions with people who do not share their political affiliation in a negative light.” There are “no significant differences between partisans on this question.”  This, of course, reveals the incivility of our political discourse in the United States.
  • Republicans are three times more likely as independents and Democrats “to say they would be unhappy if their child married someone of a different religious background.”  White evangelicals stand out among religious groups on this question by a significant margin over nonwhite Protestants, Catholics, and mainline white Protestants.
  • “When faced with the prospect of their child marrying someone who identifies with the opposite political party, Democrats are likelier than Republicans to say they would be unhappy.”  Interesting.
  • Nearly 30% of white evangelicals would “be unhappy if their son or daughter married a Democrat.”
  • 66% of white evangelicals would “be at least somewhat unhappy if their son or daughter married  someone of the same gender.”  Frankly, I thought this number would be higher.
  • 60% of white evangelicals prefer “a nation primarily made up of people who follow Christian faith.”  Only 8% of white evangelicals prefer a “nation made up of people belonging  to a wide variety of religions.”

There is a lot more here.

Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism in the Age of Trump

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Richard Hofstadter still looms large in any discussion of anti-intellectualism in America

Here is a taste of Adam Water‘s and E.J. Dionne‘s recent piece at Dissent: “Is Anti-Intellectualism Ever Good for Democracy?

Intellectuals are not entitled to special privileges, and “intellectualism” should not be seen as a superior way of life. But the intellectual project, involving the search for truth and understanding with some independence from the pressures of both the state and the market, must be defended. And it is a project that citizens who do not have any formal status in the academy or think tanks can join.

Intellectuals are integral to the battle against falsehood, but they need to work as part of a broad democratic enterprise involving citizens of every background who are concerned about what Trump and his cronies’ systematic denigration of facts means for the vitality of our democracy. There is no magical political strategy for building this coalition, and in the range of priorities for progressives, this would not rank as a central cause.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress is Bad for America

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Jeffress is more concerned with his theocratic agenda–an approach to American culture driven by fear, the raw pursuit of power, and a nostalgic longing for an age that is long gone or may never have existed in the first place–than he is the good of the nation.  He is a cancer spreading over our democracy.

Why else would he describe the Kavanaugh nomination as an example of “good” triumphing over “evil?”  In Jeffress’s world view, “evil” is the product of Satan and his minions.  The Dallas pastor has no interest in finding common ground.  He only wants to demonize his opponents and divide the country.  This is what culture warriors do.  They claim to be patriots, but they are not.

Can Evangelicals and Secular Liberals Find Common Ground?

HandsAccording to J.J. Gould, the editor of The New Republic, the future of our democracy depends on it.  Here is a taste of his editorial, “Belief in Democracy“:

…Which means that as committed secular liberals and serious evangelicals, of the kind Bryan Mealer writes about for us this month, come to identify with each other politically, that’s a political identification between kinds of people who live in ways that are in some respects powerfully alien to one another. Mutual super-revulsion with Trump and elements of his base can only obscure this reality so much.

Which in turn represents a great hope for the still-tenuous future of liberal democracy in the United States: If you can sustain a common political identity despite such profoundly different beliefs about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place in it, you can sustain the promise of American life.

Read the entire piece here.

The Constitution as a “cudgel with which to attack their enemies”

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In The Atlantic‘s ongoing series on the state of American democracy, Yale Law School professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld argue that partisanship has “turned Americans against one another–and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.”  They call for a “constitutional patriotism.”  Here is a taste:

America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.

There are lessons here for both the left and the right. The right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. If millions of people believe that, because of their skin color or religion, they are not treated equally, how can they be expected to see the Constitution’s resounding principles as anything but hollow?

For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying that America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying that those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. They were also political visionaries who helped give birth to what would become the most inclusive form of governance in world history.

Read the entire piece here.

What Would Madison Think?

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Over The Atlantic, Jeffrey Rosen offers a nice primer on how America is now living “James Madison’s worst nightmare.”  Here is a taste:

Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob. Inflammatory posts based on passion travel farther and faster than arguments based on reason. Rather than encouraging deliberation, mass media undermine it by creating bubbles and echo chambers in which citizens see only those opinions they already embrace.

We are living, in short, in a Madisonian nightmare. How did we get here, and how can we escape?

Rosen still has hope:

To combat the power of factions, the Founders believed the people had to be educated about the structures of government in particular. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both,” Madison wrote in 1822, supporting the Kentucky legislature’s “Plan of Education embracing every class of Citizens.” In urging Congress to create a national university in 1796, George Washington said: “A primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government.”

The civics half of the educational equation is crucial. Recent studies have suggested that higher education can polarize citizens rather than ensuring the rule of reason: Highly educated liberals become more liberal, and highly educated conservatives more conservative. At the same time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has found that citizens, whether liberal or conservative, who are educated about constitutional checks on direct democracy, such as an independent judiciary, are more likely to express trust in the courts and less likely to call for judicial impeachment or for overturning unpopular Supreme Court decisions.

These are dangerous times: The percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a liberal democracy is plummeting, everywhere from the United States to the Netherlands. Support for autocratic alternatives to democracy is especially high among young people. In 1788, Madison wrote that the best argument for adopting a Bill of Rights would be its influence on public opinion. As “the political truths” declared in the Bill of Rights “become incorporated with the national sentiment,” he concluded, they would “counteract the impulses of interest and passion.” Today, passion has gotten the better of us. The preservation of the republic urgently requires imparting constitutional principles to a new generation and reviving Madisonian reason in an impetuous world.

Read the entire piece here.