Women: Don’t worry about it, Trump will get your husbands back to work and preserve your domestic suburban lifestyle

When I talk about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I often discuss the meaning of the phrase “Make America Great Again.” If Trump can tell me when America was “great,” I can enter the conversation as a historian and perhaps say something intelligent about what life was like for all Americans during that era. Only then can we decide whether such an era was “great” or whether we want to return to such “greatness.”

Last night in Michigan we got a good sense of how Trump views women in the “great” America he wants to bring back. Watch:

Trump wants to save the suburbs

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

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

Today I came across a few newspaper articles:

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

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

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

Trump in 2016: I will fix the cities. Trump in 2020: I am going to protect the suburbs FROM the cities.

Today NPR reporter Ayesha Rascoe made a great point on Brian Stelter’s CNN show “Reliable Sources”:


Let me illustrate Rascoe’s point. Here is Trump in 2016 at the GOP convention:

Here is Trump in 2020:

Here is some historical context on these videos and Rascoe’s comment.

Desperation in Trumpland

Trump at St. Johns

Trump seems desperate after the wildly successful DNC convention. Granted, Biden and his team did not have to do any magic tricks to define themselves over and against Trump. The bar was pretty low. The Biden campaign claims to have raised $70 million during the convention.

Trump’s convention begins this week. This morning on Twitter we got a pretty good sense of what we can expect:

If there is a problem here, why isn’t Trump working with New Jersey to fix it so as many people as possible are able to vote in November? Instead, he continues to claim that mail-in ballots will lead to a “disaster.” Next week you can expect more attacks on mail-in voting. Here, again, is Barack Obama:

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

On COVID-19:

Trump is responding to this tweet from June 15, 2020:

Today he is accusing the FDA of participation in a “deep state” plot to slow clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in order to hurt his re-election. Expect to hear more of this next week.

On the suburbs:

Two responses to this:

First, let’s remember what is really going on in this tweet. American history tells us that this is a racist dog-whistle. But it is also a bad political strategy since many white low income people, who Trump is trying to keep out of the suburbs, voted for him in 2016.

Second, Trump is working with a 1950s definition of “the suburbs.” Check out this interview with historian Thomas Sugrue.

Wisconsin is a major swing state in November. So we get this:

Trump won 28.6% of the vote in Milwaukee in 2016 (Hillary Clinton got 65.5%). Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 22,748 votes. Right now Biden is leading Trump in Wisconsin by about seven points.

And don’t forget God:

Here is what really happened. By the way, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes that removing “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance will leave to the collapse of Western Civilization, here are a few things to think about:

First, Christian socialist Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. He was an ordained Baptist minister who worked for the promotions department of a popular family magazine called The Youth’s Companion. Writers for the magazine included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Booker T. Washington, Jack London, Willa Cather, and Winston Churchill.  The magazine asked Bellamy to prepare a patriotic program for schools in the United States as part of the 400th anniversary (1892) of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Here is Jeffrey Owen Jones at Smithsonian Magazine:

A key element of the commemorative program was to be a new salute to the flag for schoolchildren to recite in unison. But as the deadline for writing the salute approached, it remained undone. “You write it,” Bellamy recalled his boss saying. “You have a knack at words.” In Bellamy’s later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)

The Youth’s Companion published Bellamy’s pledge on September 8, 1892.

Second, the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954. The bill was part of a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Historian Kevin Kruse explains all of this in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.

Third, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, with the phrase “under God,” on all four nights of the 2020 DNC convention. Here is Cedric Richmond Jr. before the tens of millions of viewers watching the prime time convention on Thursday night (Day 4):

Fourth, let’s remember that the fate of Christianity does not rest on whether or not we have the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Christians, don’t let Trump play you like this.

The state of the suburbs


The suburbs are in the news again. Remember this Tweet:

If you want to get a good sense of what is happening in the suburbs right now and how it influences American politics, check out Zack Stanton’s interview with historian Thomas Sugrue at Politico.

Here is a taste:

The “suburban lifestyle dream” is really different depending on who you are. There’s not one single “suburban lifestyle dream.” For immigrants from Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador, it’s getting access to the plentiful service-sector jobs available in suburban places. For educated, well-to-do whites, it’s having a charming house in an older, walkable neighborhood with first-rate public schools. For middle-class whites alienated by the growing diversity of society, it’s having a place closer to open fields and farms, with brand-new housing stock and racially homogenous public schools. We have to talk about the diversity of “suburban lifestyle dreams,” and see that there’s not just one. And that’s where I think Trump has really misread the reality of today’s suburbs.

Read the entire interview here.

Trump’s recent tweet on the suburbs in historical context


Here is Trump yesterday:

A few thoughts:

  1. What does Trump mean by “bothered?”
  2. There is a long history of this kind of rhetoric. I wrote about it in this post.
  3. My colleagues at Messiah University offered some good historical context in this op-ed.
  4. Does this tweet also apply to the millions of white working class and poor who voted for Trump in 2016?
  5. Read Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
  6. On the suburbs I still like Kenneth Jackson, The Crabgrass Frontier: The Surbanization of the United States.
  7.  I also recommend Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Yesterday Trump gave a speech about the suburbs. It sounded very familiar.


Our history students at Messiah University are doing some great work as part of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.

An exhibit on the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation‘s redlining of Harrisburg in 1935-1936, with primary reports of the commission, a list of resources, and an interactive story map was recently published at the Digital Harrisburg website.

The documents were originally found by my colleague Bernardo Michael. Students (now graduates) Rachel Williams and Sarah Wilson digitized the maps two years ago. And our friends at Harrisburg University helped us launch the Story Map.

The interactive map shows the original language used by surveyors to zone Harrisburg and its surrounding boroughs and townships and includes links to original photographs. The exhibit also provides a good foundation for understanding the history of racial segregation in the city.

I thought about this redlining project today when I heard Donald Trump speaking at the White House:

This part of Trump’s speech wreaks of segregation, red-lining, and racist dog-whistling:

  • The suburbs, where mostly white people live, are “beautiful” and they will be destroyed if Biden gets into office.
  • If Biden is elected your property values will decline because of rezoning. More people of color or poor people will arrive.
  • The only city Trump mentions is Minneapolis. When most of his followers hear “Minneapolis” these days they think about race riots. This is a dog-whistle.
  • “Crime rates will rapidly rise.” Who are these criminals? Who does Trump have in mind?
  • What does Trump mean when he says the suburbs will be “obliterated by Washington Democrats, by people on the far left that want to see the suburbs destroyed?” People have “worked all their lives to get into a community,” Trump says, “and now they are going to watch it go to hell.”

He’s not even hiding it any more.

Here is some more history:

Scholarship on American Christianity and Suburbia


Earlier this week I was chatting with some Canadian religious historians about the field and one of them asked me if I knew of any good books about how churches moved from cities to suburbs following World War II.

As we brainstormed, we came up with:

James Hudnut-Beumler, Looking for God in the Suburbs: The Religion of the American Dream and its Critics, 1945-1965

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism

What other books or articles would you add to this list?

Why Suburbs?

Over at The Atlantic, Eric Jaffee reports on a recent article on the history of suburbs written by Graeme Davison and published in the recent issue of The Journal of Urban History.  Davison argues that the rise of suburbs can be connected to four major ideologies:  evangelicalism, sanitarianism, romanticism, and class segregation.  Here is Jaffe’s summary of how Davison unpacks these ideologies:

  • Evangelicalism. The purity of home was a central construct in the Evangelical revival. So while cities were viewed as places of corruption, while retreating into the countryside was seen as a moral refuge.
  • Sanitarianism. In keeping with Evangelical tastes, cleanliness was seen as godliness. Cities, meanwhile, were rotten places with garbage, manure, and in many cases soot everywhere—breeding grounds of disease and misconduct. The suburbs were seen as a hygienic alternative: “literally clean-aired,” Davison writes.
  • Romanticism. This aesthetic movement promoted feeling over reason, nature over artifice, solitude over sociality, nostalgia over ambition. As a result, detached residences and private gardens were considered far more beautiful and desirable than the cramped shared quarters of the city.
  • Class Segregation. As cities and towns became manufacturing centers filled with industrial workers, suburban areas were seen as exclusive retreats for the moneyed classes. “When the well-to-do fled to the suburbs, they sought to place a protective cordon between themselves and a class on whose labor they relied but increasingly sought to avoid,” writes Davison.

Even Celebration is Suffering

Back in the 1990s Disney corporation created the town of Celebration, Florida as a perfect little utopia–something straight out of a Disney movie.  Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins moved to Celebration in 1997 with a contract to write a book about the town.  Now, fifteen years later, Celebration is experiencing some growing pains.  As Frantz and Collin’s write in today’s New York Times, perhaps this utopian experiment is “a small town after all.”

Here are a few snippets:

Reality seemed to catch up with the utopian village, which Disney gave up control of a few years ago, when residents awoke on Monday morning to find that one of their neighbors, a 58-year-old retired schoolteacher, had been murdered. The yellow crime-scene tape surrounding his condo contrasted with the nearby town square, which was decorated for Christmas and awash in holiday music from speakers hidden in the foliage. Then, on Thursday, another resident fatally shot himself after a standoff with sheriff’s deputies. The apparently unrelated deaths showed the world what people in Celebration already knew: life behind the town’s white picket fences wasn’t perfect after all. 


The years have changed the footprint as well, and not for the better. Celebration’s initial design of a downtown core to emphasize walking over cars and friendliness over isolation started to disappear even before Disney ceded control. Ever-larger houses have spilled across hundreds of acres of reclaimed swamp, replacing the small-town feel with something closer to traditional suburban sprawl. The town now has about 10,000 residents.

There was another kind of blight, too. When we drove down our old street a few months ago to visit friends, two of the 16 houses stood empty, the paint peeling and the once-pristine lawns burned out in the scorching sun — a story repeated on almost every street in the town. The housing foreclosures that has swept across Florida hit Celebration hard. One real estate Web site recently listed 492 foreclosures in town, and housing prices have dropped sharply from the highs of the middle part of the last decade. The movie theater, once a focal point of downtown, shut its doors on Thanksgiving Day.

New York Magazine on David Brooks

In case you have not seen it, New York magazine is running a long feature on New York Times columnist David Brooks. The piece covers Brooks’s relationship with the Obama administration, the question of whether or not he is really conservative, and his changing views on suburbia. Here is a taste:

Brooks changed his mind recently. Not one of those small changes, like grande instead of venti. He abandoned an idea that until recently made David Brooks David Brooks.

“I’ve changed my view of suburbia,” he says. We’re sitting at the Best Buns Bread Company in the Village at Shirlington, a sort of prefab town square in Arlington, Virginia, designed to be quaint and homey. The streets are fresh red brick. The lampposts are faux antique. The trees are evenly spaced. A color-coded map explains the area’s layout, like a mall. The neighborhood’s culinary diversity—Aladdin’s Eatery abuts Bonsai Restaurant abuts Guapo’s—is matched only by its patrons’ ethnic lack thereof. We are sipping coffees and munching on identical Ginger Crinkle cookies, when it occurs to me: I am in a David Brooks book. We are Bobos. This is Paradise.

“In my last book, I was pretty pro-urban/suburban sprawl,” he explains. Pro is an understatement. On Paradise Drive, released in 2004, was a satirical, pop-sociological exploration of American suburbia, but also a celebration of it. Consumerism wasn’t just empty accumulation; it was how Americans express themselves. In the ever-expanding exurbs, he wrote, every man creates his own private bubble, “an aristocrat within his own Olympus.”

“Now I’m much more skeptical,” he says. For the last three years, Brooks has been researching and writing a book on neuroscience. At least that’s his shorthand for it. It’s basically about how unconscious processes—in short, emotions—shape our behavior, and what that means for public policy, all told through the stories of two composite, pseudo-novelistic characters. (A working title was How Success Happens, but he dismissed it as too Gladwellian.) Good policy, he argues, should understand that people make decisions emotionally, not rationally. It should also try to foster good habits with “communitarian” solutions like pre-K education, or zoning laws to prevent Wal-Marts from taking over neighborhoods. In other words, says Brooks, “the more contact with other people, the better.” Hence his newfound beef with suburbia.

Satisfied in Suburbia

We live in suburbia.

I am sure at some point in the past my neighborhood was criticized for its cookie-cutter homes–small ranches and split-levels. Others probably lamented the loss of the farm land that the development was built upon. (We still have the remnants of a celery farm, complete with a barn and a 19th-century farmhouse, in the lot behind us). But today this lower middle- class neighborhood, built in the late 1960s, is dwarfed by the McMansions and newer homes just a mile or two away. My kids have friends who live in houses that are three times the size as ours.

The picture to the left is a shot of the part of our backyard that borders our neighbors’ house. (It was the only picture I could find on my hard-drive).

We like our house and our neighborhood. I like coming home to it after a day in the world of ideas and learning. When I pull into my driveway or walk in my backyard I feel rooted in the earthy realities of the real world.

I am apparently not the only one who feels this way. As a suburb-dweller I enjoyed Swarthmore professor’s Timothy Burke’s recent reflection (with pictures) on his suburban lifestyle. Read the comments of his post for further discussion.