Sean Spicer: Take a “Stand for Christ” and Vote for Me on “Dancing with the Stars”

Sean Spicer, the former Trump press secretary, wants everyone to know that if you vote for him on the ABC show “Dancing with the Stars” you will be taking a stand for Christ.

It all started when Christian Right politician Mike Huckabee tweeted this:

Spicer responded:

Let the record show that evangelical victimization complex has now extended to televised dance competitions.   At this point, I will just let Princeton historian Kevin Kruse respond:

 

Alexander Hamilton Chats With John Adams

Actually, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who played Hamilton on Broadway, had a chat with William Daniels, the man who played John Adams in the 1969 musical 1776 (and the 1972 film). I assume that if you are reading this blog you know something about Miranda.  But you may also recognize Daniels for his role as Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere and Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World.

Here is a taste of a Playbill-hosted conversation between the two founding fathers:

Before we get too deeply into ticketing, I want to talk a bit about 1776. Today we think of it as being in the pantheon of great musicals, but in the 1960s, the show was so unconventional that Sherman Edwards had a hard time getting it produced. “Some of the biggest [names] in the theatre,” he recalled, “looked at me and said, ‘What, a costume musical? A costume, historical musical?’” Mr. Daniels, do you remember your initial reaction to the idea?

WD: I read the script with a bunch of people at somebody’s apartment. Sherman Edwards was a former schoolteacher from New Jersey, and he had written not just the songs, but the script. It was a little stiff; I remember thinking, We’re in the middle of Vietnam, for Christ’s sake, and they’re waving the flag?I really had to be talked into doing it. At any rate, when the script came back to me, Peter Stone had taken ahold of it, and he’d gone back to the actual conversations in the Second Continental Congress. He had written them out on little cards and injected them into the script, and it made all the difference in the world. It added humor and conciseness and truth.

LMM: I love that anecdote, because it gets at something that I discovered in writing Hamilton: The truth is invariably more interesting than anything a writer could make up. That Peter Stone went back to the texts written by these guys, who were petty, brilliant, compromised—that’s more interesting than any marble saints or plaster heroes you can create. And the picture you all painted together of John Adams was so powerful; in the opening scene, he calls himself “obnoxious and disliked,” which is a real quote. We don’t have a John Adams in our show, but we can just refer to him, and everyone just pictures you, Mr. Daniels.

WD: Really?

LMM: Yeah. 1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theatre, in that you long to see them talk to each other. Which almost never happens in a musical. Most musicals, you’re waiting for the next song to start. That book is so smart, and so engaging.

Read the rest here.

The Bachelorette and American History

Brown Bacjelorette

OK, I confess, I put the word “Bachelorette” in the title of this post just to garner a lot of hits. 🙂

But as an American historian I can’t pass up the opportunity to call your attention to Hannah Brown’s confusion.  Here is Emily Jashinsky at The Federalist:

“I don’t know much about Boston except that they threw a bunch of tea in some body of water.” So said Hannah Brown, ABC’s “Bachelorette” in residence, on Monday night’s episode.

“There was a chant, what was it?” she continued, searching her memory for scraps of Revolutionary-era history. “No taxation… No (sic) represation… No representation. No. No… without taxation. No taxation without representation!”

“Is that right?” a producer asked.

“I don’t know, I feel like it’s close,” Hannah replied, before proceeding to give one of her suitors a tour of Boston guided by purposefully bad facts like “Paul Revere invented the bike.”

Read the rest here.

But let’s also remember that this is The Federalist.  As a result, Ms. Jashinsky can’t help but lament our lack of historical knowledge.  I think someone needs to listen to Sam Wineburg in Episode 52 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

2020: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Beto 2

Journalist Ross Barkan reflects on the “eternal presidential sweepstakes” with the help of Neil Postman.  Here a taste of his piece at The Baffler:

The Beto/Trump hand gesture skirmish—Trump jerks and floats his arms and hands around in even odder ways—was another inanity of this 2020 campaign, one that is sure to be followed by many more. This is because a campaign of this length demands programming. As cable channels peaked in the early 2000s, TV producers realized they had a lot of dead-time to fill and only so much money to spend filling it. Hence, the birth of reality TV: SurvivorAmerican Idol, and, to the detriment of our future selves, The Apprentice. They were all aspirational, promising us stardom, great wealth, or the kind of self-discovery that can keep any average schmuck alive on a desert island.

Today, the hours, days, weeks, and months of the perma-campaign must be filled, too. Beto’s hands, Amy Klobuchar’s salad comb, Bernie’s head bandage, Elizabeth Warren’s beer chug, Cory Booker’s girlfriend, Kamala Harris’s musical tastes while she smoked pot in college. No triviality is too trivial for an underpaid journalist somewhere to bundle into an article, video, or meme in the hopes of attracting attention and driving fleeting dollars to a collapsing media ecosystem. The perma-campaign is the apotheosis of reality TV because the stakes are so high—we are choosing a world leader with the power to drop civilization-annihilating bombs, and therefore every plot twist in the extended marathon can be justified in the solemn, self-satisfied way a political reporter will defend just about every absurd practice of the profession. 

Beto, Bernie, Biden, Kamala, and more—these are characters the American people must get to know through their TV screens and social media. This year and next, they are all Democrats, and they are auditioning for us. They will speak to us, rally for us, and construct events in states ten months before a vote. Why? Well, the show needs content. And if you aren’t producing content, you are irrelevant. Imagine a presidential candidate deciding to take April, May, and June off, arguing that an entire six months of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses is probably enough to win votes. The horror! What will be tweeted, Instagram storied, Facebook lived, and packaged into lively, anecdote-addled reporting for a New York Times political memo?

Thirty-four years ago, the media theorist Neil Postman published a book that is distressingly relevant today. Amusing Ourselves to Death was a prescient indictment of TV culture that drove to the heart of the matter in ways few academic texts ever do. Postman’s problem wasn’t so much with TV itself—people have a right to entertain themselves—but with how the rules of this dominant technology infected all serious discourse. He fought, most strenuously and fruitlessly, against the merger of politics and entertainment.

We’ve only metastasized since Postman’s time, with the internet and smartphones slashing attention spans, polarizing voters, and allowing most people to customize the world around them. What’s remained constant, at least in certain quarters, is the principal of entertainment: most political content operates from this premise first, that it must captivate before it informs. The image-based culture triumphs. Beto told you in a crisp three minutes and twenty-nine seconds why he wanted to be the leader of the free world.

Read the entire piece here.

Panelitis

Panel

Here is writer Joseph Epstein on cable news show panels:

I received an email inviting me on a Chicago radio show to comment on an op-ed I’d written for the Journal. I replied thanks but no thanks. I don’t think punditically, or care for what passes for punditical thought, and the last thing I wish to do is become a radio or TV pundit. I share the view of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who in his 1941 autobiography, “The World of Yesterday,” wrote: “It has never been my purpose to convert others to my opinions. It sufficed for me to be permitted to express them, and to express them openly”—in my case, as in Zweig’s, to make them known in print.

Filling out a personal medical history recently, I was asked for my hobbies. I put down “collecting grievances.” If the form had asked for my vices, I should have put down cable news: Fox, CNN, less often MSNBC. Oh, and on Sunday mornings, “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation,” which, chez Epstein, are referred to as “Meet the Pest” and “Mace the Nation.” All these shows have what they call “panels,” or groupings of three or four putative experts who opine on news of the day. I call my interest in watching them, against my better judgment, “panelitis.” Paul Valery described opinions as “products of intellectual flatulence”—they “relieve the man giving vent to them, but pollute the intellectual air of others.”

Something is specious about the idea of a panelist—the notion that someone has informed opinions on, say, the temperament and true motives of Kim Jong Un, the state of American race relations, the deeper consequences of Brexit, the schedule for the pace of climate change, the best way to reform health care, and lots more. If anyone has confident knowledge of all these things, please don’t ever introduce him to me. His mind must be so clogged as to render him a staggering bore. As for me, someone asked me the other day what I knew about the new trade bill. “The new trade bill!” I replied, a boldface exclamation mark in my voice. “That’s for the Gentiles! I’m reading Schopenhauer.”

Panelists are chosen in part for their political biases and in part for reasons of political correctness. Pro- and anti-Trump panelists must be balanced. If you’re at Fox, you’ll require two pro-Trumpers and one liberal or at least Trump-skeptic; if CNN, three or four liberals, and perhaps one lonely pro-Trumper. Best not to have an all-male panel. Good if it can be arranged to have an African-American panelist; better still, an African-American woman.

The same 20 or so people seem to appear on the various television panels. Some are listed as network regulars. Many have affiliations with websites or think tanks, a few with major newspapers. Several are described, with impressive vagueness, as Democratic or Republican “strategists.” Occasionally a retired officeholder will show up. None, in the face of one of Wolf’s or Bret’s or Jake’s or Laura’s questions, ever replies, as I keep hoping one of them will, “How the hell would I know?”

Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal

Princeton’s Julian Zelizer Remembers *Family Ties*

family-ties-cast-photo-nbc

On the evening of Roseanne’s Barr’s racist remarks, Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer remembered a television show that “exemplified the best of American politics.”  Here is his take on Alex P. Keaton and his “Family Ties”:

…The star of a television show — one that has been said to capture the economic anxiety of the President’s base — just let off a tirade that captured the worst kind of social and cultural hatred that has taken root since the 2016 presidential election. If the tweets of the star are combined with the substance of the show, the rebooted “Roseanne” really does capture a troubling part of what President Trump’s politics has centered on: Talk of economics with one breath, and then use another to unleash on different social groups.

This on-screen portrayal of today’s politics stands in stark contrast to the Gary David Goldberg’s hit show “Family Ties,” which in the 1980s was the sitcom seen as the best expression of the Reagan Revolution that was transforming American politics. In the show, which debuted in September of 1982, Michael J. Fox played Alex P. Keaton, the son of Baby Boomer liberals whose world view had been shaped by the 1960s.

Fox’s character is a walking poster boy for President Reagan’s free market and hawkish anti-communist values, constantly fighting with his parents about their ideals. “When else could a boy with a briefcase become a national hero?” Goldberg recalled about the 1980s.

In one episode Alex got mad at his mother Elyse for questioning the need to produce so many hydrogen bombs: “From the beginning of time, there’s been weapons, and there’s always been a fringe element who’ve overreacted. I’m sure that even in the early days, there were bleeding-heart cavemen running around with signs that said ‘Make love, not clubs.'”

Or there was the scene in which, during a job interview after college, Alex told his interviewer that he had a “killer instinct for cash. A lust for travelers’ checks. Now sure, everyone who comes through this door loves money. But do they dream about it? Do they fantasize about it? Do they roll around naked in it? I do.”

Read the rest at CNN.com

The Influence of Christian Media

donaldtrumppatrobertsonhandshake_si

Jason Bivins, a Professor of Religious Studies at North Carolina State, reflects on the power of Christian media to shape American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste of his op-ed syndicated at The Conversation:

The power of these programs is more than simply the stories covered or guests interviewed – it is their social impact on religious beliefs.

Christian news is effective in conveying its views because it repeats claims that viewers already believe, and provides them with particular emotional experiences that are described as facts. This way of viewing the world has moved closer to the center of conservative politics since the 1980s, a period of time when the Christian right acquired more influence in American politics.

Consider how in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began to be depicted as God’s agent on Earth. In the 1990s, the growth of multinational corporations and trade deals was decried as part of a demonic “new world order.” And today, when Islamophobia is on the rise, Christian television channels depict and celebrate President Trump as the fighter-in-chief, who defends Christians despite his personal faults.

The growing regularity of such examples has significant implications for American politics.

By presenting itself as authoritative, trustworthy journalism, Christian news reassures viewers that they do not need to consult mainstream media in order to be informed. More dangerously, it authorizes a particular, often conspiratorial way of viewing the world. It denounces neutrality or accountability to multiple constituencies as burdensome or even hostile to Christian faith.

Sadly, tens of millions of its viewers are left without a sense of two of democracy’s most necessary foundations: the value of multiple viewpoints and shared political participation.

Read the entire piece here.

Ron Swanson on Wendell Berry

Offerman

If you watched the television show Parks and Recreation (1009-2015) you know Ron Swanson.  He is the director of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana.  Read about him here.

Swanson is played by actor Nick Offerman, who also happens to be a huge Wendell Berry fan.  Over at the blog of the Library of America, Offerman reflects on the recent release of Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II).  Here is a taste:

I had the distinct advantage of growing up in an Illinois family that most resembled some of the Feltners and the Rowanberrys and Coulters to be found throughout these tales, but my folk were certainly not entirely innocent of laying claim to a character like Watch With Me’s Thacker Hample either. As I became accustomed to the world of Port William and the comforting cast of country folk inhabiting the acres therein, I was struck by the reverence that Wendell Berry bestowed upon each and every person, no matter how “simple” they might be, from an urban point of view. His understanding of the contribution made by every plain, hardworking person to the general welfare of a community, and thereby the world, moved me deeply.

Here in these stories, you will find a great entertainment. Laced throughout, however, will also be a set of instructions: thoughts on how to treat one another no matter where you live, and how to treat the great gifts of creation amongst which we live and by which we are able to sustain ourselves. If, perhaps, human nature will always turn our heads away from these responsibilities and towards the glitter of a billboard or smartphone, then let these necessary works of fiction serve as our reminders that before we sit down in that rocking chair on the porch of an evening, we best be sure that the chores and the dishes have been satisfactorily done.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Has Given More Interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network Than to CNN, ABC or NBC

donaldtrumppatrobertsonhandshake_si

Trump shakes hands with Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network

Ruth Graham has a great piece at Politico Magazine on the love affair between Donald Trump and Christian broadcasting.  Here is a taste:

When “Huckabee” made its debut on TBN last fall, it immediately became the network’s highest-rated show, with more than a million viewers for a typical episode. Unlike every other show the network has produced, it is overtly political and squarely focused on current events. It has a variety component, with musical guests and comedians, and Huckabee occasionally breaks out his own bass guitar on stage. But in its six months on the air, Huckabee has also interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump-defending Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, anti-abortion activist Serrin Foster and former Senator Joe Lieberman. The very first guest on his very first show, last October, was President Trump.

A generation ago—even a few years ago—this would have been unthinkable. Christian TV was largely the province of preachers, musicians, faith healers and a series of televangelism scandals. Politicians were leery of getting too close. To establishment evangelicals, not to mention the rest of America, Christian TV was hokey at best, and disreputable at worst.

But in the past two years, largely out of view of the coastal media and the Washington establishment, a transformation has taken place. As Christian networks have become more comfortable with politics, the Trump administration has turned them into a new pipeline for its message. Trump has forged a particularly tight marriage of convenience with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, which since early in the 2016 campaign has offered consistent friendly coverage and been granted remarkable access in return. Trump personally has appeared 11 times on CBN since his campaign began; in 2017 alone, he gave more interviews to CBN than to CNN, ABC or CBS. Trump’s Cabinet members, staffers and surrogates also appear regularly. TBN has embraced politics more gingerly—it is still not a news-gathering organization—but Trump has made inroads there, too, starting with his kickoff interview on “Huckabee.”

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump, a politician, is now shaping the agenda of conservative evangelical television.  Another example of how politics and culture influence and shape the character American evangelicalism.  Trump should be getting credit as an unofficial producer for these shows.

A Historian of Civil War Memory Reviews Katie Couric’s “Re-Righting History”

Lee Monument

Historian Caroline E. Janney wonders if we can “right the past.”  “Re-Righting History” was the theme of an episode in Katic Couric’s documentary mini-series America Inside Out.  You can watch it here.

Here is a taste of Janney’s post at AHA Today:

This film offers a powerful reminder that memory is always about the present—about using the past to address social, cultural, and or political ideals. When Union veterans launched textbook campaigns in the late 19th century to ensure that the “proper,” i.e. the “Union,” version of the war was taught in classrooms, or when southern states began flying the Confederate battle flag during Massive Resistance, it was about the present, not the past. Such was and is the case in dedicating monuments, naming schools or state highways, flying the Confederate flag, or removing Confederate symbols and names. This documentary provides a stark example: Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler candidly (and chillingly) explains that the alt-right rallied in Charlottesville to protect Lee’s statue in an effort to push back against the “policies of liberals [who] are ethnically cleansing white people from the face of the earth.” Just as the context of the early 20th century shaped efforts to build monuments, the current social and political climate informs calls to both remove and preserve them.

We need to press our students (and perhaps ourselves) to ask what is at the heart of protecting certain symbols or names, constructing new memorials to forgotten aspects of our past, or removing from the public landscape those we have come to evaluate differently in the 21st century. Who should get to make those decisions? What power dynamics are at play? Whom or what do they serve? And can we, as the documentary’s title suggests, ever “re-right” the past?

Read the entire post here.

The *Great Pumpkin* and Donald Trump

Great Pumpkin

Donald Trump has changed the way Jon Malesic watches It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  He no longer sympathizes with Linus.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion Dispatches:

 

Linus believes according to the logic of Pascal’s Wager: put your faith in the thing that offers the biggest payoff, even if it’s less likely to be true. I can appreciate why someone would make that bet. The Great Pumpkin promises not just candy, but toys, maybe money. Linus’s adoring companion Sally seemed to me like the person whose faith is less sincere, but who nevertheless represents many believers as they actually are: tentative, conflicted, self-interested.

After a year in which I followed the obsessive investigations into the mind of the Trump voter, my sympathy turned sour. I now see self-defeating credulity in Linus and Sally. They seem like the white working-class and evangelical voters duped into thinking Trump was anything more than a resentful plutocrat. Linus’s belief is unwavering only because it’s blind to reality. “If you are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know,” he writes in a letter to the Great Pumpkin. He lives in a thick bubble of fantasy.

Linus values sincerity, because he believes the Great Pumpkin values it. He’s gratified as he looks around the pumpkin patch on Halloween night and says, “there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” Of course, sincerity and truth are quite different things, and Linus favors the wrong one. Trump lies constantly, but to his die-hard supporters, he tells it like it is. He doesn’t mince words; his bluntness absolves him of hypocrisy.

Read the entire piece here.

Here Comes Mike Huckabee

Huck

In case you have not heard, Mike Huckabee will be hosting a show this October at the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  According to Emma Green at The Atlantic, the show will feature “music, faith, and some good old-fashioned politics.” His first guest will be Donald Trump.

The Atlantic is running Green’s recent (and long) interview with Huckabee.  Below is a taste of the part of the interview where Huckabee actually defends Trump’s character. For many Trump evangelicals, “character” has now become something akin to being “the same in public as you are in private.”  He even defends Trump’s tweets along these lines.

Green: You once wrote a book called Character Makes a Difference, and you’ve observed that “character is that which causes you to make the same decision in public as you would make in private.” We’ve seen evidence not just that the president isn’t acquainted with the Bible, or perhaps isn’t a Sunday school teacher, but that he’s made comments or taken actions in private that don’t necessarily show strong character. Are you troubled by this at all?

Huckabee: Many of the things that have been attributed to him, that he even in fact admitted saying, were things that were 12, 15 years ago—20 years and beyond. Would I like for him to speak every day with the most extraordinary sense of faith? Sure.

But I’ll tell you what I’d rather have. To me, character is if you’re the same in public as you are in private, and I think that in many ways, that’s what’s appealing about him. It’s also what gives a lot of his critics their ammunition. Even his tweets, for example, are very transparent about what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling. But some of the more harsh things that have been attributed to him were things that were said many years ago, and there’s been no indication that during his campaign and during his presidency has he said things that would cause people to just be aghast at what he had said. We’ve had presidents that have done things while they were in the Oval Office that frankly were very destructive and embarrassing. And I don’t think anybody has made those allegations about this president.

Historians as “Columbos of Our Cultural Life”

Peter_Falk_Richard_Kiley_Colombo_1974

Paul Croce is Professor of History and American Studies at Stetson University.  In his recent piece at Huffington Post he compares historians to Peter Falk’s famous television character Columbo.

Here is a taste:

Historians can become like the Columbos of our public life. In Peter Falk’s memorable role as the private investigator Lieutenant Frank Columbo, he would solve crimes by getting to know the suspects. In the same way, historians let us get to know the producers and consumers of fake news, and the whole array of characters, from heroes to villains, in our cultural dramas. That understanding of how we think and feel can help all citizens be better judges of the worlds around them.

Read the entire piece here.  Believe it or not, this piece begins with some thoughts about U.S. intellectual historians Thomas Haskell and James Kloppenberg.

Bill Maher vs. Ralph Reed

Court evangelical Ralph Reed thinks Donald Trump is a good Christian and deserves the support of evangelicals because Trump kept his word on Supreme Court justices, “looked into the eyes of the American people” and said he would make changes to the country, is improving the economy, and is not Hillary Clinton.  Since when are any of these things the mark of a true Christian?  Is this the best the court evangelical can do in their defense of Donald Trump?