Princeton’s Julian Zelizer Remembers *Family Ties*

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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

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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

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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

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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”

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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

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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

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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”

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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?

Will You Be Watching the Season Finale of “The Justice” Tonight?

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Tonight, Donald Trump will say “You’re Fired” to either Neil Gorusch or Thomas Hardiman

I hope that tonight you will have some time to watch the season finale of Donald Trump’s “The Justice.”  That’s right, Trump will be announcing his Supreme Court Justice tonight on live television.  The POTUS has identified two finalists:  Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman.  Both men have arrived in Washington D.C. for the live finale.

Here is what I am expecting:  The two men will be sitting next to each other on one side of a large conference table. Trump will enter the room and sit across from them.  Then, with the live cameras rolling, he will publicly question both men concerning their credentials and judicial philosophy.

Trump will then fire one of the judges and nominate the other one as a Supreme Court Justice.

Reality TV meets the Supreme Court.  The ratings will be yuuuuuge!

Super Bowl Commercials and the American Revolution

Andy Schocket, a history professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and the author of Fighting Over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution, is a true historical thinker.  He even thinks historically when watching the Super Bowl!

Over at his blog he analyzes three 2016 Super Bowl commercials that had something to do with the American Revolution.

I do not think the Jack in the Box/Washington’s Crossing commercial aired in the Harrisburg, PA market, but his analysis of the Apartments.com and PayPal ads are on the mark.

Here is a taste:

This next one will get a lot more attention. It’s an offering from Apartments.com. It’s another in a series of ads featuring longtime Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, sure, and Independence Day, of course, but do you remember The Tall Guy?) in his continuing Apartments.com pitchman role as Brad Bellflower, “Silicon Valley Maverick.” It’s worth spending an entire minute of your life watching the over-the-top silliness of the whole commercial, much of which is a reference to the intro and theme song of ’70s sitcom The Jeffersons, but the part that interests us begins at :37, as we see, incredibly enough, on the penthouse, none other than some random actor portraying George Washington and rapper Lil Wayne, calling themselves George and Weezy, again a reference The Jeffersons’ title characters.

Read the entire post here.

BTW, Schocket did the same thing last year.

The David Barton Television Show

ba98f-david-bartonDavid Barton, the GOP activist who uses the past to make his political points and is arguably the most popular Christian nationalist in the country, will be hosting a cable television show.

Actually, the first episode of Barton’s show, “Foundations of Freedom,” appeared yesterday on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Here is the press release:

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 8, 2015 — What are the foundations that made America one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth? Are those foundations still relevant to our society? Do the Judeo-Christian principles that guided our Founding Fathers as they prayerfully launched the American Republic matter today? Is America still “One Nation Under God”?

Noted historian and best-selling author David Barton addresses these crucial questions and many more as he returns to Christian television leader Trinity Broadcasting Network with a new weekly series, Foundations of Freedom, premiering on TBN Friday, January 8th.

Once deeply respected around the world as a place of hope and opportunity, the United States of America today stands at a crucial crossroads as it faces serious issues central to faith, family, and freedom. But what if an entire generation of Americans could re-discover the bold, courageous, and compelling history that made their nation the “land of the free and the home of the brave”?

That is what Foundations of Freedoms is all about: reconnecting Americans to the vision, passion, and wisdom that informed and inspired those who laid the foundations of this nation. With the help of special guests like conservative television host Glenn Beck, former CongresswOman Michele Bachmann, law professor Dr. Carol Swain, and others,David Barton explores America’s founding principles and values to discover how the Founding Fathers used the Bible as a blueprint to ensure the heritage of liberty Americans have cherished for over two hundred years.

TBN Chairman Matthew Crouch noted that “over thirty years ago President Reagan warned: ‘If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.’ It is time for America to return to its foundation of faith in God and its reverence for Scripture. For that reason we’re excited to welcome David Barton each week to TBN withFoundations of Freedom. It’s a program that will educate and inspire the entire family, and build up your faith for the future of America.”

Tune in for the special premiere of David Barton’s Foundations of Freedom Friday, January 8th, at 1:30 p.m. Pacific (3:30 p.m. Central, 4:30 Eastern) and 8:30 p.m. Pacific (10:30 p.m. Central, 11:30 p.m. Eastern), and on Saturday, January 9th, at 3:30 p.m. Pacific (5:30 p.m. Central, 6:30 p.m. Eastern) — only on TBN.

Ice Road Truckers and American Exceptionalism

I will start this post with a confession.  A few years ago I watched an entire season of the History Channel series Ice Road Truckers.  I don’t remember much about it now, and I don’t think I have watched an episode since then, but I was entertained by the show.


Over at We’re History, Boston College graduate student Michael McLean connects “blue-collar programming” such as Ice Road Truckers and Swamp People with longstanding American ideas about exceptionalism and the frontier.  

After explaining Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” McClean writes:

While this theme fell into disrepute among scholars in the twentieth century, the programs of the History Channel show how the idea lives on in popular culture. Surely, the shows suggest, America continues to have a frontier, and the nation must therefore still have a unique national character. Modern life, in which more than 80% of Americans live in urban areas, cannot have emasculated America if we still have brave, hardworking men. This is a powerful idea in part because it is true. People living outside modern comforts display a different kind of grit than most Americans today. But their strength represents only one perspective about American life, just as the narratives of Parkman, Turner, and Roosevelt represented just one perspective on American history. That perspective does not account for the wild variety of other stories that created the great American narrative. It overwrites the voices and struggles of African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, and labor organizers, among many others. It ignores the profound importance of science, transportation, medicine, and education to American progress.

If there is anything truly exceptional about America, it is that we have one of the world’s most fascinating, contentious histories. Surely there is heroism in resistance to slavery, in the labor movement, or in the discovery of penicillin to rival the heroism of individual men in their fight against nature.

Read McLean’s entire piece here.