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.

Yes, I am Doubling Down on the Fear Thesis

Believe Me 3dMy friend John Wilson, the evangelical bibliophile who once manned the editor’s desk of Books & Culture, has never quite embraced my argument about fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I will let him explain why he finds it so distasteful by citing a passage from his review of my book in The Hedgehog Review:

As a mea culpa of sorts, Fea has written three chapters—“The Evangelical Politics of Fear,” “The Playbook,” and “A Short History of Evangelical Fear”—that together make up more than half of his book (not counting the footnotes) and that precede his extended treatment of the court evangelicals. “Evangelical Fear”: That’s the answer! Oh, dear. It’s not just dismaying to me, it’s shocking (to borrow a word from Fea himself) to see such an excellent historian relying on the tired trope of “evangelical fear” to reduce the story of a many-sided movement and its infinitely various membership over several centuries to a simple morality play. “It is possible,” Fea says, “to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear.” Possible, yes, just as it’s possible to write triumphalist histories of evangelicalism (of which we’ve had all too many). But are those our only choices?

Read the rest here.

And here is my response to the review.

Earlier this evening I did a post on the Religion News Service’s interview with Franklin Graham.  Journalist Yonat Shimron asked Graham all the right questions.  I am quoted in the piece:

Sounding the alarm about a nation in peril is a tried-and-true evangelical strategy, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve argued this has been a typical part of evangelical political engagement for centuries — fear mongering,” said Fea. “You can’t make an argument to support what the president did on his phone call with the Ukrainian president. So what do you do? You play the traditional game of instilling fear in the electorate so they will see us falling off the cliff as a nation and this apocalyptic language will convince them they have to vote for Trump again in 2020.”

When I tweeted the article, John Wilson posted a sarcastic tweet in response:

I responded to much of Wilson’s argument in this tweet in my aforementioned (and linked) post to his review in The Hedgehog Review, but let me write a few more words here.

Am I afraid of the legacy that Donald Trump and the court evangelicals will leave for the nation and the church?  Yes.  I am very afraid.  But I also realize that I cannot dwell in this fear and, through the spiritual disciplines of my faith, respond to such fears with hope.  In other words, I need to trust God more.  As the writer Marilynne Robinson once said, “fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

But I should also add that any fear I might have about Trump, the court evangelical agenda, and their legacy is based on truth and facts.  This is different from the fear I see among many of Trump’s evangelical supporters.

Most evangelical fear is built upon endless lies. These include the false idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed, the straw man that all Democrats are socialists, Marxists, and atheists trying to undermine American liberty, the idea that impeachment will lead to a civil war, the belief that immigrants will kill us if they get too close, or the conviction that abortion will end if we just overturn Roe v. Wade.   The overwhelming majority of conservative evangelical Christians who I know and talk to on a regular basis believe one or more of these false claims.  They get their talking points from Fox News and then read the Bible to make it fit with these talking points.  They believe that there is a deep state–an illuminati working to undermine God’s anointed president.  They are so afraid of Hillary Clinton that they think she should be locked-up.  They believe that demonic forces are unraveling America.  And if anyone offers an alternative view to these beliefs they will be castigated as a purveyor of “fake news.”  Again, I have spoken at length to evangelical family members, readers of this blog, and members of my church who believe one or more of these things.  I get their nasty e-mails, social media messages, and multi-part voice messages.

John Wilson–you need to get out more. The fearful people I am writing about here do not read back issues of Books & Culture or attend the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.  They do not talk theology in the coffee shops of Wheaton, Illinois.  There is an entire world of evangelical Christians out there who you have not yet met. They are very afraid.  They seek comfort in strongmen of both the political and religious variety.  Donald Trump and the court evangelicals are exploiting their fears for political gain.

What Happens When an Evangelical Pundit, Armed Only with 58K Twitter Followers and a Reference to the Bebbington Quadrilateral, Takes on a Historian

On Thursday night a very interesting, revealing, and somewhat disturbing Twitter exchange took place between religion writer Jonathan Merritt and historian Thomas Kidd.  Here is what happened:

It began when someone retweeted Kidd’s Gospel Coalition post on eighteenth-century African-American poet Phillis Wheatley.

Here is a taste of Kidd’s post:

Wheatley’s most popular poem was her 1770 elegy to George Whitefield, who died in Massachusetts that year.

Hail, happy Saint, on thy immortal throne!
To thee complaints of grievance are unknown;
We hear no more the music of thy tongue,
Thy wonted auditories cease to throng.
Thy lessons in unequal’d accents flow’d!
While emulation in each bosom glow’d;
Thou didst, in strains of eloquence refin’d,
Inflame the soul, and captivate the mind.
Unhappy we, the setting Sun deplore!
Which once was splendid, but it shines no more;
He leaves this earth for Heav’n’s unmeasur’d height,
And worlds unknown, receive him from our sight;
There WHITEFIELD wings, with rapid course his way,
And sails to Zion, through vast seas of day.

Then she implored her fellow African Americans to accept Whitefield’s savior.

Take HIM ye Africans, he longs for you;
Impartial SAVIOUR, is his title due;
If you will chuse to walk in grace’s road,
You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to GOD.


A variant edition of the poem ended that line with, “He’ll make you free, and kings, and priests to God.” This undoubtedly reflected Wheatley’s desire for her fellow slaves.

Read the entire post here.

Merritt entered the conversation when he took issue with Kidd using the word “evangelical” to describe Wheatley.  (Kidd uses the term in the title of the post).

Kidd requests an explanation:

These are all legitimate questions. The meaning of the word “evangelical” has been debated by historians for a long time.  And this debate is raging again in the age of Trump.

But then Merritt tells one of the most prolific American religious historians of this generation to “think on this some more.”  I guess this is the kind of bravado that comes when Outreach Magazine names you one of the “30 young influencers reshaping Christian leadership.”   Just for the record, here are just some of Kidd’s books:

  • The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale University Press, 2009)
  • George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2016)
  • God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (Basic Books, 2010)
  • American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism (Princeton University Press).

I think its fair to say Tommy Kidd has done some “thinking on this” topic.

At this point in the exchange Merritt has wandered into the deep end of the pool only to prove that he is not a very good swimmer. He follows his “think about this” line with a bold, strange, and inaccurate claim to his 58K Twitter followers:

After reading this tweet a day later, I decided it was time to insert myself into the conversation:

By the way, I just spent a week in my colonial America class at Messiah College reading Yale historian’s Harry Stout’s Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism with my students.  One of the central premises of the book is that the “evangelical” movement in the eighteenth-century was characterized by those who, to use Merritt’s phrase, endorsed “Whitfield’s (sic) new birth.”

And here is a description of Peter Choi’s recent book on Whitefield titled George Whitefield: Evangelists for God and Empire (foreword by Mark Noll):  “GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714–1770) is remembered as a spirited revivalist, a catalyst for the Great Awakening, and a founder of the evangelical movement in America.”

And here is Frank Lambert in Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals (Princeton University Press, 1994): “By printing and preaching throughout the colonies Whitefield standardized evangelicalism.  He created a common language of the new birth that evangelicals everywhere employed to distinguish themselves from those who had not undergone a spiritual conversion.”  (p.131).

Perhaps Merritt doesn’t “know” these scholars.

But back in real time, Kidd responds to Merritt’s “exactly zero scholars” line with references to some of the best American religious historians working today.  He could have cited his own books, but instead he cites Catherine Brekus and Bruce Hindmarsh.

And then former Books & Culture editor John Wilson enters the fray:

Back to Kidd:

Wilson adds this:

Merritt turns the conversation back to definitional issues:

Wilson, a veteran of these conversations about the definition of evangelicalism, is tired:

And then he awakens and tweets:

Merritt responds to his 58K Twitter followers. Remember, Merritt fashions himself as a public intellectual who “trains hundreds of young writers” and is a “sought after speaker at colleges, conferences, and churches.”  (Also, don’t forget he writes for The Atlantic). He decides to pontificate with a vast and universal claim:

Wilson brings the conversation back to the original issue.

Merritt has some choice words for Wilson:

I can’t let such disrespect slide without pushing back:

Kidd has had enough:

But Merritt is in attack mode:

Kidd is a bigger man than I am. I can’t let Merritt get away with this:

Later, Kidd places it all in a larger cultural context by quoting a review of Thomas Nichols’s book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters:

By the way, here is the Kirkus review of The Death of Expertise:

As a veteran governmental adviser and think-tank participant, Nichols (National Security Affairs/U.S. Naval War Coll.; No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security, 2013, etc.) has experienced firsthand the decline of respect accorded specialists in many disciplines, as the internet has leveled the playing field to the point where all opinions are more or less considered equal, and a Google search substitutes for decades of research. “These are dangerous times,” he writes. “Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything,” However, the author sounds less like an alarmist than like a genial guide through the wilderness of ignorance. There are no startling revelations. Media in general and social media in particular tend to function as echo chambers, reinforcing biases. Some of those whose conclusions are the shakiest tend to shout the loudest, basing their arguments on spurious evidence. Credentials are suspect in an age when university degrees are everywhere, grade inflation runs rampant, and colleges woo prospective students as customers and clients. Little wonder, then, that “if in a previous era too much deference was paid to experts, today there is little deference paid to anyone at all.” Students challenge teachers, patients challenge doctors, and so-called experts argue with other so-called experts (often in territory beyond the expertise of either). “People who claim they are ‘experts’ are sometimes only about as self-aware as people who think they’re good kissers,” he writes. Not that Nichols lets the experts off the hook—some hide behind the impenetrability of academic jargon; others have even faked the data or cooked the books. The answer to this pervasive problem lies in greater media literary and in citizens having a better idea as to what they can trust from whom.

And now I want to give Jonathan Merritt “something to think about.”  Kevin Kruse tweeted this in the context of his ongoing debate with Dinesh D’Souza about race and the Democratic Party.  The content of their debate is different from the Kidd-Merritt debate (and Merritt is not a Trump supporter), but the message is the same:

Help Bring John Wilson to *Englewood Review of Books*

Portrait of John Wilson

John Wilson

I am really glad to hear that Englewood Review of Books is growing and making a concerted effort to bring John Wilson aboard full-time.  Here is a letter from editor Christopher Smith and several other scholars, including historian Mark Noll:

As you might be aware, John has been employed with us at The Englewood Review of Books as Contributing Editor for the last six months. We have been delighted to have John on staff, and his work is already bearing fruit: He has identified excellent books to feature that would not otherwise have been on our radar; he found new reviewers to write for us (including Philip Jenkins); and he has thoughtfully written columns for our recent issues. John’s role with us is minimal at the present, but we would like to employ him in a greater capacity (ideally full-time) beginning as soon as possible in the coming year.

As friends and co-workers of The Englewood Review, we are delighted to announce that we are entering an exciting season of building capacity, extending our readership, and moving toward fiscal sustainability. The strategy we are developing will unfold over the next five years, and will include a new and more mobile-friendly website, publicity efforts to broaden our readership in churches and in academic settings, and partnerships with institutions that share our mission of cultivating the timely habits of reading and conversation.

Given that these plans will take some time to develop, and given that we don’t want to wait until they come fully to fruition to expand the scope of John’s work with us, we are initiating a fundraising effort to cover the interim cost of John Wilson’s employment. We plan to raise $250,000, which would cover the cost of about three years of John’s employment with us. We have set up a restricted fund devoted solely to compensating John for his work with us. These funds will not be used for any other initiatives of The Englewood Review of Books.
 
We know that you share our deep gratitude for the important work that John did over his two decades as editor of Books & Culture, and for his significant contributions to cultivating the breadth and depth of the Christian mind in recent years. And so, we invite you to celebrate John with us by contributing to this fund that will support his work over the next few years. This fund is hosted by Englewood Community Development Corporation, the parent organization of The Englewood Review of Books, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and any donations will be documented as tax deductible. (Specifically, any donations dated on or before December 31, 2018 can be claimed as deductions on your 2018 taxes.)  Contributions are welcome from individuals and institutions who desire to honor John’s work and help advance the mission of The Englewood Review of Books.

Please join us in celebrating John Wilson in this way.

*Believe Me* Lands on More “Best Of 2018” Lists

Believe Me 3dOver at First Things John Wilson, bibliophile extraordinaire and former founding editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, lists his “Favorite Books of 2018.” Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump did not make the list.  Or did it?

Here is a taste:

If you’ve followed this list in the past, you know that I huff and puff a bit about its ritual nature. I enter a trance-like state (suburban surrealism!), and book covers begin to swim about in my head, incongruously paired, as beautiful as the canonical chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. (Consider for instance the first three titles in the list below.) In this reverie—sometimes with snapshots of pages flickering—I jot down titles on the back of an envelope without attempting any sort of “balance” with regard to subject matter or any other criteria. Today’s list would differ at least a bit from a list composed two weeks ago or two weeks hence.

Many books I’ve enjoyed this year are missing, not to mention those that might very well have been included but which I haven’t yet had a chance to read: Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, for instance, and Christopher Miller’s study of literary impostors. Many important books are missing; John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is the most salient example. While I dissent from John’s argument in some respects, I am grateful for his clear, uncompromising witness against the “court evangelicals” toadying to Trump, a witness not restricted to the book itself but amplified in settings all around the U.S. during a months-long book tour.

Read John’s entire list here.

We also made the list of neuropsychologist Jason Kanz!

John Wilson is Still Not Convinced by the Fear Thesis

Fear Nussbaum

Some of you may recall John Wilson’s review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in the Hedgehog Review.  I wrote about it here.  Wilson does not seem to think that “fear” explains the evangelical support for Donald Trump.  He makes a similar critique of fear in his recent review of Martha Nussbaum’s latest, The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks At Our Political Crisis.  Here is a taste of his review of Nussbaum in The Weekly Standard:

Are we living in an “Age of Fear”? Are Americans today more fearful than they were in the 1960s, say? The 1950s? The 1940s? The 1930s? How would we know? (By the way, how long is an “age” nowadays? Ten years? Five years? Two years? Ages aren’t what they used to be.)

One thing we do know for certain: A lot of people are talking about fear. In July in these pages, I reviewed Matthew Kaemingk’s important book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Around the same time, Eerdmans published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, in which the excellent historian John Fea offered a “short history of evangelical fear” as an explanation for the mess we find ourselves in. In July, Vox critic Alissa Wilkinson (who is on my always-must-read list) posted a piece on the fictional Gileads of Margaret Atwood and Marilynne Robinson. “You’d have to be extraordinarily blind,” Wilkinson wrote, “to not know that fear is a dominant, if not the dominant, feeling in 2018.” (Oh, no. On top of all my other problems, I’m extraordinarily blind!) And then there’s Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House.

Many instances of what we might call the discourse of fear depend on a rhetorical sleight of hand: To describe those you are arguing against as being driven by fear is thought to be effective, even as you are appealing to fear of the outcome should these fearful types get what they want. In his recent remarks on the Trump administration, a critique in many respects persuasive, former president Barack Obama denounced “the politics of fear,” as he had while he himself occupied the White House. Never mind that President Trump’s critics have themselves routinely waxed apocalyptic. Lisa Sharon Harper, a widely respected African-American evangelical speaker, writer, and organizer, tells us that “majority conservative rulings have already whittled back civil rights protections, leaving this generation’s children as vulnerable to a new Jim Crow as my great-grandparents, who fled for their lives from the terror of the Jim Crow South,” a warning clearly intended to inspire fear and dread.

Does such argumentation by fear prove that fear really is pervasive, bone-deep, or does it rather suggest the perceived advantage of employing a particular rhetorical strategy?

Read the entire piece here.

John Wilson’s Brooding Spirit

Wilson

In 1998, John Wilson, the founding and only editor of Books and Culture, wrote a column titled “America the Ugly.”  In that piece, Wilson described how he learned to acknowledge the “complexity and tragedy of American history.”  He thanked Mark Noll for refusing to “settle for rousing tales of the Founding Fathers.”

In a recent piece at First Things, Wilson comes at the issue of American identity from a different perspective:

Now that I think about it, I may need to contradict myself. After all, if large numbers of Americans actually believe that the state of the nation is so dire, despite all the evidence to the contrary, then it follows that we are living in a dystopia of sorts, a country in which a critical mass of the citizenry has lost all sense of proportion. That’s an unwelcome thought. But maybe the ranting voices we hear are not so representative as we’re led to believe. And maybe a lot of the people who are warning that we’re on the eve of destruction don’t really believe what they’re saying. That would be much better, more like business as usual. In any case, the Cubs are playing the Cardinals in a few minutes. It may not be the National Pastime any more, but baseball remains a sovereign remedy for a brooding spirit.

Read the entire piece here.

John Wilson’s Review in *The Hedgehog Review*: A Response

Believe Me 3dI am very appreciative of John Wilson and his lifelong work in promoting evangelical thinking, especially as the editor of the now-defunct Books and Culture.  I have written for Wilson and he has published my writing.  He has always encouraged me in my work. I consider him a friend.

A week or so ago, I called your attention to Wilson’s review of my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump at The Hedgehog Review.  At the time I wrote the post, much of Wilson’s review was behind the paywall.  Wilson had warned me that he had some issues with my book, but I was unable to read the critical parts of the review due to the paywall.

Today the paywall was lifted.  Here is the most critical section of Wilson’s review:

As a mea culpa of sorts, Fea has written three chapters—“The Evangelical Politics of Fear,” “The Playbook,” and “A Short History of Evangelical Fear”—that together make up more than half of his book (not counting the footnotes) and that precede his extended treatment of the court evangelicals. “Evangelical Fear”: That’s the answer! Oh, dear. It’s not just dismaying to me, it’s shocking (to borrow a word from Fea himself) to see such an excellent historian relying on the tired trope of “evangelical fear” to reduce the story of a many-sided movement and its infinitely various membership over several centuries to a simple morality play. “It is possible,” Fea says, “to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear.” Possible, yes, just as it’s possible to write triumphalist histories of evangelicalism (of which we’ve had all too many). But are those our only choices?

Of the people I know well—including fellow evangelicals, Christians from other streams of the faith, and those who aren’t Christian—a minority voted for Trump. Their reasons for doing so (based on what they’ve said) vary predictably. For some, abortion was the key issue, or the Supreme Court, or both. For the handful of small-business owners I know, it was their conviction that Trump would ease what they regarded as unfair burdens on them. For a handful of Christian intellectuals, it had to do with their loathing of “liberalism.” The same could be said of people I don’t know well personally but admire through their writing, with whom I’ve had at least some contact. Certainly, as Fea notes, none of them could imagine voting for Hillary Clinton.

What most of them have in common—and what distinguishes them from my wife and me and many of our friends, but also countless other people with whom we otherwise have little in common—is the perception that Trump’s flaws, his “character,” and other qualities do not distinguish him from the general run of flawed candidates and elected presidents of the postwar era. (“Sure, he’s flawed,” they’ll say, “but look at X.”) This baffles me, though I am very far from idealizing presidents past, and nothing in Fea’s disquisition on “evangelical fear” has eased my bafflement even a little. But I remind myself (not for the first or indeed the thousandth time) that such disjunctions in perception are all too familiar. There are people very dear to my wife and me who believe that our (Christian) understanding of the world and our place in it and our hopes for it are fundamentally mistaken. Yet we continue to love them, and they continue to love us.

This section deserves a response:

Wilson seems to suggest that “fear” is not a legitimate interpretive category for a historian.  He can’t believe such an “excellent historian” would use such a “tired trope.”

I don’t understand what Wilson means by “tired trope.”  I know of very few scholarly works that examine the relationship between fear and evangelicalism.  (The best work available right now is Jason Bivins’s excellent book Religion of Fear; The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism).   Fear seems like a fresh and exciting angle to examine American evangelicalism.

Moreover, historians regularly appeal to emotions such as fear.  My footnotes are filled with these well-respected historical works. In fact, the “history of emotions” is one of the hottest fields in historical scholarship right now.  My work draws on some of this scholarship.  One great place to start is Carl Lawrence Paulus, Fear of Insurrection and the Coming of the Civil War.  I also like Peter N. Stearns’s essay “Fear and History.”

Wilson writes: “It is possible,” Fea says, “to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear.” Possible, yes, just as it’s possible to write triumphalist histories of evangelicalism (of which we’ve had all too many). But are those our only choices?  No.  These are not our only choices.  I tried to imagine what a more nuanced history might look like in my recent piece at The Atlantic.  But let’s remember that this book is about Donald Trump, a president who has managed to tap into some of the darkest moments in the history of American evangelicalism.  I did not write a general history of evangelicalism.  I wrote a book about the deep roots of why evangelicals voted for Trump.

Wilson’s critique of my argument seems to be rooted in his own personal experience.  His evidence for why I am wrong (and why he is so “shocked” that I am wrong) seems to be based on the views “of the people I know well.”  He says that some of the small number of people he knows who voted for Trump did so because of “abortion” or the “Supreme Court.”  He implies that such motivations are unrelated to fear. The other people he knows who voted for Trump did so out of economic or political (“I don’t like liberalism”) motives.

He then says that many voted for Trump because they could not stomach voting for Hillary Clinton. That is true.  But Wilson fails to realize that many evangelicals could not stomach voting for Hillary because they were scared to death about what Hillary would do to the nation.  The hatred for Hillary Clinton among evangelicals is very real and, for some, it goes well beyond just political disagreement.

Frankly, it seems like Wilson is really out of touch with the majority of church-going evangelicals who supported Donald Trump.  Most of these people do not live in the upper-middle class suburbs of Wheaton, Illinois or attend churches filled with evangelical intellectuals or educated members of the white middle-class.  Most of them have never heard of Books & Culture.  Most of them do not read Christianity Today or First Things or The Englewood Review of Books.

I don’t know who John Wilson hangs out with.  I don’t know the socio-economic makeup of his church or his neighborhood.  So I could be wrong.  But Wilson’s review of my book reads like he does not even know these people exist.

At one point in Wilson’s review, he says that he knows most Trump voters are not motivated by fear because he is familiar with their writing. He writes: “The same could be said of people I don’t know well personally but admire through their writing, with whom I’ve had at least some contact.”

FAMILIAR WITH THEIR WRITING?  Seriously?

It might surprise Wilson that most evangelical Trump voters do not write for publication.

Finally, I am not sure how Wilson can ignore the historical evidence I presented in the book about the long history of evangelical fear.  I am most proud of Chapter 3: “A Short History of Evangelical Fear.”  As I noted above, it is based on some of the best historical scholarship available.

As long as we are talking about the people we “know well,” I would like to take John Wilson to a few places that might change his mind about evangelical fear:

  • We could go to my white-working class, non-college-educated, central Pennsylvania neighborhood–a neighborhood filled with Trump voters and evangelicals.   The sense of fear in this neighborhood is palpable.
  • I’d like to introduce Wilson to four white evangelical baby boomers who meet every week for coffee at a New Jersey diner.  Their conversations are dominated by their fear of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  They see Trump as a savior–a strongman who will protect them from the direction these Democrats wanted to take the country.  I know some of these guys.  They are afraid.  They will even admit they are afraid.  They will also tell you that they are less afraid now that Donald Trump is POTUS.
  • I’d like to introduce Wilson to an evangelical women’s Bible study in the northeast where the majority of members are Trump supporters who are afraid of the demographic and cultural changes they see taking place all around them.  One of the members of this study truly believed Obama was the next Adolph Hitler.

I am sure many of you could take John Wilson to similar places or introduce them to evangelicals motivated by fear.

If I had not deleted them, I could have sent Wilson dozens and dozens of fear-mongering e-mails fills with conspiracy theories about liberals, Obama, Clinton, and other threats to Christian America.  Friends and family members sent them to me.  These people were either Trump supporters or wanted  me to give them an educated opinion about whether the content in the e-mails was accurate.

I am sure some of you have received similar e-mails.

The fear is real.  It has been throughout American history, and it is today.

John Wilson Reviews *Believe Me* in the *Hedgehog Review*

Believe Me 3dI cannot read the entire review because it is behind the Hedgehog Review paywall, but if Wilson wrote it, I am sure it is a fair review.  John has told me that he disagrees with some of my take on Trump, so I am eager to see what he wrote.

Here is a taste:

We hear a great deal of huffing and puffing about the gap between academic history and the general reader. But we don’t hear enough about the first-rate historians who work in various ways in their various spheres to bridge that gap: figures as wide-ranging as Danielle Allen, Eleanor Parker, Tom Holland, and Kevin Kruse, to name a few.

Any adequate account of such bridge builders must include John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College who is best known for his book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? “I have long defined myself as a ‘public historian,’ but not in the traditional way that the academy defines public historian,” Fea explained in a recent lecture. “I do not work in a museum or historical society. I teach American history to undergraduates. But having said that, I have worked hard at trying to bring history to bear on public life—to bridge the gap between academic history and public history and to introduce historical interpretation to the public in a way that is accessible and easy to digest. I have tried to do this through my books, my daily blog, my podcast, and, of course, in the classroom. This is my so-called platform.”

The latest product of this desire “to bring history to bear on public life” is Fea’s sardonically titled book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Here, Fea reports on the “court evangelicals” (a memorable phrase he put in circulation) who have given their uncritical support to Trump in exchange for access to the throne and the opportunity, so they suppose, to advance their Christian agenda. To what precise extent their endorsement contributed to the notorious 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump, we can’t be sure, but certainly they represent at least three significant factions within the vast, unruly evangelical constituency: in Fea’s reckoning, “the new old Christian Right,” which harks back to the heyday of the Moral Majority; followers of the “prosperity gospel”; and the “Independent Network Charismatics,” a movement made up of loosely affiliated groups that operate outside traditional denominational and parachurch settings, with an emphasis on charismatic gifts, “spiritual warfare,” and the need for Christians to occupy critically influential positions in American society.

By providing a lucid narrative of the rise of the court evangelicals, their fawning pronouncements, and their self-contradictions (e.g., character mattered mightily during the Clinton presidency; now it can be brushed aside), Fea has performed a great service. For brazen effrontery, it’s hard to top Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. As Fea relates, when presidential candidate Trump was visiting the Liberty campus on Martin Luther King Day 2016, “Falwell Jr. pointed out” that Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Trump “all were persecuted for their ‘radical’ and ‘politically incorrect’ ideas.”

So how did it happen that so many evangelicals, of all people, should vote for a candidate who is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States? For many longtime critics of all things evangelical, the overwhelming support for Trump wasn’t a surprise at all: It merely confirmed their judgment of a fatally flawed movement: hypocritical, intolerant, and deeply infected by white supremacy. (In this view, Trump is the evangelical id, unleashed.) Fea himself takes a slightly different angle, noting that he was initially shocked as well as deeply dismayed by the “large number of my fellow evangelicals” who voted for Trump. Yet, he goes on to say, as time passed, “my distress did not wane, but my surprise did. As a historian studying religion and politics, I should have seen this coming.”

*Englewood Review of Books* Hires John Wilson

Wilson JohnHere is the press release:

We are excited to announce that we have hired John Wilson, the former editor of BOOKS & CULTURE, as Contributing Editor for THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS.

For over two decades, John was the editor of Books & Culture magazine, a publication of Christianity Today. After the demise of B&C in late 2016, John worked as editor for the short-lived online publication Education and Culture. In a superb essay from COMMENT magazine on the legacy of B&C, John Schmalzbauer writes:

Whatever happens next, the networks [John Wilson forged at B&C] will continue to hum with the give-and-take of faithful discourse, overlapping with the cloud of witnesses found in the mastheads of the Reformed Journal and other deceased publications. If the evangelical mind is a multi-generational argument, the seminar has only just begun. This conversation is Books & Culture‘s true legacy for evangelical intellectual life.

John Wilson was editor of Books & Culture from its first issue (Sept/Oct 1995) to its last (Nov/Dec 2016). He received a B.A. from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1970 and an M.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1975. His reviews and essays appear in the New York Times, the Boston GlobeFirst ThingsNational ReviewCommonwealThe Christian Century, and other publications. He and his wife, Wendy, are members of Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton; they have four children.

The Englewood Review of Books (ERB) was founded in early 2008 at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, as a tribute to the intertwined practices of reading and conversation that had shaped that congregation for over a decade prior to the launch of the ERB. Although it began as an online-only publication, an extension of the church’s bookstore, a separate subscription-only quarterly print magazine (with reviews and other articles that are not available online) was launched in November 2010 Subscription Info ]. C. Christopher Smith, a member of the church, was the founding editor and continues as the editor-in-chief. The mission of the ERB is to promote reading broadly and talking about what we are reading, as vital and transformative practices of the Christian tradition. In 2016, Smith published the book Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish (IVP Books), which emerged from his reflections on the aims and mission of the ERB. The ERB’s community of readers and writers, although vastly Christian, represents a wide swath of the Christian tradition, and the ERB continues to be driven by the hope that civil conversations about books and other sorts of reading will guide us out of the present age of fragmentation and toward a deeper and more substantial Christian unity.

As Contributing Editor, John will write a column for The Englewood Review‘s quarterly magazine, which will begin in the ERB’s Ordinary Time (Fall) 2018 issue. Drawing upon his deep well of experience with B&C, John will also help curate the selection of books that the ERB covers. The Contributing Editor role will begin as a part-time position and John will work remotely from his home in Wheaton, but both parties are optimistic that John’s work with the ERB will be able to expand over time.

Congratulations, John!

“A little bit of pique and a little bit of anger, but not too much”

Noll and Wilson

John Wilson (former editor of Books & Culture) and Mark Noll were apparently talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump earlier today in South Bend at a conference honoring Noll and his work.  Or at least that is what Twitter tells me:

A blurb from Jana Riess is forthcoming. Here is Mark Noll’s “official” blurb:

Noll Fea quote

Trump Evangelicals and “Legitimate Concerns”

Over at my Facebook page some very good historians and scholars who I respect have been critical of Mark Noll‘s blurb for my forthcoming (June) book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is the blurb:

Noll Fea quote

I tried to capture some of this last night in a series of tweets:

John Wilson, the editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, responded to these veiled tweets:

I even had one friend tell me on Facebook that I should get Eerdmans to edit Noll’s blurb to remove the word “legitimate.”

Frankly, I think Noll’s blurb nails it.  (After all, he read the book.  None of the critics have seen it).  Evangelicals do have “legitimate” concerns. They have also responded to those concerns, as Noll writes, in very unhealthy ways.

I thought about all of this again this morning as I read Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column.  She writes:

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

That is my question after the St. Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. We all know it is part of a continuing cultural catastrophe. A terrible aspect of the catastrophe is that so many central thoughts about it, and questions, have been flattened by time into clichés. People stop hearing when you mention them. “We talked about that during Columbine, didn’t we? That couldn’t be it.”

So we immediately revert to discussions of gun law, and only gun law. There is much to be improved in that area—I offer a suggestion at the end—but it is not the only part of the story. The story is also who we are now and what shape we’re in.

A way to look at the question is: What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

So much change, so much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn’t really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought.

At this moment we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become. This past week we turned to violence within marriages. We recently looked at the international sex trade, a phrase that sounds so 18th-century but refers to a real and profitable business.

All this change, compressed into 40 years, has produced some good things, even miraculous ones. But it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005. Deinstitutionalization swept health care and the psychiatric profession starting in the 1960s, and has continued since. The sick now go to the emergency room or stay among us untreated. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I do think Noonan addresses “legitimate concerns.”  The issue, as I see it, is less about the diagnosis of the problem and more about how to respond to it.  As I argue in Believe Me, Trump is not the answer.   Read the book and decide whether I am right–both about the “legitimate concerns” and about Trump as the answer.  And don’t forget to pre-order here.  🙂

Believe Me JPEG

The End of *Education and Culture*

Wilson JohnI recently learned that thebestschools.org pulled the plug on John Wilson’s latest project Education & Culture: A Critical Review.  (See our May 2107 post celebrating the launch of this new venture by the former Books & Culture editor).

I am obviously disappointed by this, but I am even more upset that the evangelical community could not step up to fund Books & Culture before it was forced to shut down operations last year.  What does this say about the state of the “evangelical mind?”  (If you were at the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference in Indianapolis last month you heard me say this publicly during the Q&A session following my presentation).

Here is Wilson’s final post: “Endings and Education & Culture“:

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”–Frank Herbert

Beginning. Middle. Ending. In a good book, all three rush by and you turn that final page satisfied, disappointed, or wanting more.

Today marks the end of Education & Culture. The beginning was unexpected, the middle rushed by, and now with the final page reached unexpectedly, the hope is that you turn it wanting more.

More will need to come from elsewhere, though, and where that familiar landscape may be . . . well, we as yet do not know. Many talented people contributed to Books & Culture, many of them journeyed here to Education & Culture, and surely some will be present at the future not yet. At least that is the hope. And as the master of sandworms notes above, endings cannot endure the life of an epic story, so hope abides.

Thank you. Find more of the narrative thread unspooling at Twitter through @JWilson1812 and @Ed_Cult.

Why Did *Books and Culture* Die?

Stacks

During Q & A following the first plenary session of the State of the Evangelical Mind conference last week, I asked the audience: “What does it say about the state of the ‘evangelical mind’ if evangelicals cannot come up with enough money to support Books & Culture?”

Books & Culture was a Christian review of books edited by John Wilson and published by Christianity Today.  As I noted in an earlier post, Mark Noll’s plenary address at the conference identified Books  & Culture as one of the several signs of a thriving evangelical mind.  Back in January, I wondered how evangelical intellectual life would continue to move forward after Books & Culture.  My blog post called attention to Missouri State sociologist John Schmalzbauer’s piece at Comment magazine titled “The Life and Death of Evangelicalism’s Little Magazine.”  Noll referenced both Schmalzbauer’s piece and my blog post in his address in Indianapolis.

John Wilson was honored during the conference for his work on Books & Culture. Indiana Wesleyan University, one of the conference sponsors, gave Wilson library bound copies of every issue of the periodical.  It was a very meaningful gift, but someone is going to have to lug those books home! 🙂

Rachel Maxson, a librarian and instructor in the honors college at John Brown University, put the demise of Books & Culture in context.  She began her talk by describing the conference as a “funeral”–a time to “grieve together” over the end of this important periodical.  Maxson pointed to 2007 as the beginning of the end for print periodicals such as Books & Culture.  In that year, Apple released the first iPhone, Amazon introduced the Kindle, the bottom of the housing market dropped out, and Harold Myra retired as the CEO of Christianity Today after thirty-two years at the organization.  Traditional print publication took a serious hit from the iPhone and the Kindle.  The tough economy made it difficult for periodicals such as Books & Culture to raise funds. And following Myra’s retirement, Christianity Today changed in a way that was not entirely clear from Maxson’s presentation.

After diagnosing what happened to Books & Culture, Maxson offered some general observations:

  1. It is too soon to say that “print is dead.”  Maxson pointed to a survey that found that 92% of college students would rather have a print textbook.
  2. Evangelicals interested in promoting Christian thinking need to be more creative in their funding models.
  3. Evangelical public scholars and public intellectuals must be rewarded for their work when they “go up” for tenure and promotion.
  4. Evangelicals need to do a better job of creating “clearing houses” so that Christians know how to find good stuff on the Internet.

These are all excellent points that resonate with the work we do here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  While we are a very small operation, we are slowly advancing our grassroots crowd-sourcing efforts to keep this little corner of Christian intellectual culture up and running.  (Now might be a good time to think about investing in what we do here).  In terms of tenure and promotion, I think Christian colleges have always been places where writing for the public has been rewarded.  I also hope that The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog has been a clearing house to help you navigate the Web in a more thoughtful and responsible manner.

Stay tuned for most posts on the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference.

Are You Reading *Education and Culture*?

TheBestSchools John Wilson

As some of you know, John Wilson, the founding and only editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, has started a new venture.  It is called “Education and Culture: A Critical Review” and it is sponsored by TheBestSchools.org.

Here is a recent press release:

PELLA, Iowa, June 28, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Too much fake in your news? Too much noise in your signal? Wouldn’t it be nice to have experienced voices to help you make more sense of what you hear and read?

Many found a trusted voice in John Wilson. Twenty-plus years helming Christianity Today’s Books & Culture. Assembled an all-star team of writers. Earned the publishing world’s respect, with articles in The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, First Things, and National Review.

Yet with the announcement that Books & Culture would halt its run at the close of 2016, it looked like the end of an era.

TheBestSchools.org couldn’t let such an influential voice go silent. Today, they proudly announce John Wilson is back! TheBestSchools.org presents the new, online magazine/website Education & Culture: A Critical Review, with John Wilson and his talented team of writers and reviewers.

Link to Education & Culture at TheBestSchools.org:
https://thebestschools.org/review/

Education & Culture — like its predecessor, Books & Culture — is a ‘critical review,’ a member of the family that includes the TLS, the New York Review of Books, The Literary Review, The New York Times Book Review, the Claremont Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many others in this genre, past and present.

Look to E&C to cover history, literature, music, science & math, religion, sports, art, anthropology, fashion, politics, philosophy — anything under today’s spotlight. Other published pieces will include movies & TV, interviews, freestanding essays, poetry, reportage, and more.

“A jumble, then, a hodgepodge? Only insofar as that is true of the world itself, the universe, the whole shebang,” says John Wilson, Editor. “This little miscellany is a microcosm of the reality we all share. Magazines such as E&C — ‘reviews’ — encourage an awareness of the many-sidedness of things, a mingled sense of irony and awe, a sharp taste both of the absurdity and of the inexhaustible richness of creation.”

E&C writers familiar to readers of B&C include Amy E. Black, Joseph Bottum, Catherine Brekus, Heath Carter, John Fea, Robert Gundry, Paula Huston, Alan Jacobs, Philip Jenkins, Martyn Wendell Jones, John McWhorter, Amy Peterson, Michael Robbins, Sarah Ruden, Tom Shippey, Tim Stafford, Rachel Marie Stone, to name only a few. E&C’s advisory board, chaired by Mark Noll, includes Susan Wise Bauer, Lena Hill, Timothy Larsen, Shirley Mullen, David Skeel, Alissa Wilkinson, and Marly Youmans; they’ll be writing for the magazine as well.

“I met John Wilson about four years after he launched Books & Culture and found him to be one of the most interesting and engaging editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Rich Tatum, senior editor and media producer for TBS and E&C. “Many who read and loved B&C are just as excited about E&C precisely because John Wilson is at the helm.”

Intellectually curious? Then E&C is your cup of tea. Visit the E&C website and let them know your feedback.

Getting the Band Back Together To Discuss the State of the Evangelical Mind

eac22-scandalI am happy to announce that in September I will be participating in a conference in Indianapolis titled “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future.

Here is a description from the conference website:

Evangelicalism, however one defines it, finds itself at the intersection of a host of crossroads.  After decades of relative prosperity in North America, the churches, universities, and seminaries that evangelicals cultivate, populate, and depend upon for leadership are wrestling with legal, social, and ultimately theological questions on a wide variety of fronts. 

For many, the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to close Books and Culture after twenty-one years were tangible expressions of those challenges.  Caught between fear and hope, some observers proposed the evangelical mind is now on the threshold of another “scandal.”  In contrast, others propose the opportunities for faithful intellectual engagement and witness are greater now than in recent history.    

This symposium offers a context in which participants can reflect upon that past but also think critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind.  Those prospects will depend in many ways upon the influence of evangelical churches, universities, and seminaries.  What role then will each one of those institutions play?  What kinds of relationships will they need to share with one another?  What kinds of relationships will churches, universities, and seminaries need to forge with other institutions? 

By drawing upon the wisdom of the past, perhaps some of these questions might be best navigated by reflecting anew upon the common and respective purposes animating the church, the university, and the seminary.  Please consider joining us as we explore these questions at “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future,” on September 21-22, 2017.Confessing History Available for Pre-Order

I am even more excited to announce that I will be joining my old partners in crime, Jay Green (Covenant College) and Eric Miller (Geneva College), for a plenary panel titled “Mark Noll’s Scandal and the CCCU: A Tripartite Review.”  If you are a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home you will know that we co-edited Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.

(Our session was just added to the conference program. At the time I am writing this post it does not yet appear on the conference website.  The conference organizers at the Lumen Research Institute tell us that we will be presenting at 7:00pm on Thursday evening as the lead-up to Mark Noll’s plenary address).

The other conference speakers (in addition to Noll) are Jo Anne Lyon (Wesleyan Church), Timothy Larsen (Wheaton College), Lauren Winner (Duke Divinity School), and James K.A. Smith (Calvin College).  The conference will also honor former Books & Culture editor John Wilson.

I hope to see some of you in Indianapolis in September!

73bee-confessingatteds

with Green (left and sporting the nice argyle sweater vest) and Miller (center)

 

“Education and Culture” Is Here!

Wilson Ed and Culture

John Wilson‘s new venture, “Education & Culture: A Critical Review,” is now up and running at bestschools.org.

Bookmark it and visit often.

Many of you know John Wilson as the founder and only editor of the now defunct Books & Culture (1995-2016).

With John at the helm, I have no doubt that “Education and Culture” will deliver some of the best book reviewing and cultural criticism on the Internet.

Here is a taste of what you will find:

Joseph Bottum’s review of Pierre Brant’s The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire.

Wilson’s interview with Chip Colwell, curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and author of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture.

Catherine Brekus’s review of Ann Little’s The Many Captivities of Esther Wheewright. (Check out our interview with Ann in Episode 11 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

 

What Do I Mean When I Use the #AgeofTrump Hashtag?

age-of-trump

John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture, has some serious issues with my use of the hashtag #AgeofTrump and he let me know about it in no uncertain terms during a few twitter conversations this week.  You can read the entire exchange at my Storify site. It also includes tweets from some other very smart tweeters.

I should note that when I use the #AgeofTrump hashtag I am not suggesting that we are living in a new historical era–like the “Middle Ages” or the “Age of Jackson.”  That would be irresponsible for a historian.  Although future historians, with the benefit of distance, may just conclude that this is a unique era of some type.  I will leave that to them.

I am also not suggesting that the things we are seeing in the United States since the emergence of Trump–disunity, fear, racism, lack of evidence-based arguments, the lack of concern with character, and especially fake news–do not have precedents in American history.

But I do think that Trump is unique in a lot of ways and I will continue to point those out using the hashtag #AgeofTrump.  (If you can think of a better hashtag to describe the Trump phenomenon/campaign/presidency let me know).  There ARE some things happening right now that are unique.  And the last time I checked historians are in the business of chronicling both continuity with the past and change over time.

On one level, Wilson is correct.  Not every stupid or offensive thing that someone does is connected to Trump.  Neither is Trump to blame for every piece of fake news. Sometimes we have a smoking gun that directly connects the stupidity to  Trump Tower or a Trump surrogate and sometimes we do not.  But Trump’s campaign has sent a clear message to the American people that facts, evidence, and character, among other things, do not seem to matter to him.

Historians are in the business of chronicling the past.  I have done that in at least three of my five books and multiple published articles and book chapters and I will continue to do it.  (Stay tuned).  But, as I have said multiple times on this blog, historians also offer a way of thinking about the world that has always been useful and is especially useful in times likes these.

Read the tweets and let me know what you think.