The Twitterstorians and Trump

Twitter

Historians on Twitter have caught the attention of The New Yorker.  Check out Lizzie Widdicombe’s piece “The Twitterstorians Trying to De-Trumpify U.S. History.”  It covers a Twitterstorians reception at the recent meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.

The piece includes references to Kevin Kruse (of course), Kevin “The Tattooed Prof” Gannon, Jason Herbert, Robin Mitchell, Heather Cox Richardson, Joanne Freeman, Kevin Levin, Aidine Bettine, Leah LaGrone Ochoa, Ed O’Donnell, and David Trowbridge.

Here is a taste:

“I think it’s a real opportunity for us,” Gannon, who teaches at Grand View University, and whose Twitter handle is @TheTattoedProf, said. “We’re in these public spaces and, to quote Liam Neeson in ‘Taken,’ we have a very particular set of skills.” Gannon, whose burly arms are heavily tattooed, has almost seventy thousand followers and has tangled with D’Souza, too. He has reservations about Twitter as a teaching forum. “It’s not a deliberative space,” he said. “The real struggle for me is it’s very easy to be angry online all the time. But, if all you’re doing is yelling, there’s nothing of substance there.”

David Trowbridge, an associate professor at Marshall University, said, “It’s not us at our best.”

“Well, sometimes it is,” Edward T. O’Donnell, an associate professor at the College of the Holy Cross, said. O’Donnell, whose Twitter handle is @InThePastLane, is the creator of the annual Weemsy Awards, for “the biggest history fails of the year.” He crowdsources the nominations from Twitterstorians. Last year’s winners included President Trump, who said during a Fourth of July speech that George Washington’s army “took over the airports” from the British, and the conservative writer Erick Erickson, who, in criticizing the Times’s 1619 Project, opined about “the cost white people paid to free slaves.”

Gannon argued, “We’re at a particularly dangerous moment, historically speaking,” noting the way that “history, or versions of it, have been weaponized against marginalized communities.” He went on, “When people are reading history and thinking, ‘I wonder what it would be like to live during the Civil War? I certainly would have been one of the good guys,’ well, what you’re doing now is probably what you would have done then.”

“Somebody said that on Twitter a while ago,” O’Donnell said. “It was, like, ‘Remember that time in history class when you were reading about the abolitionist movement and said, ‘I definitely would have stood up’? Well, now is one of those times.”

Trowbridge cleared his throat. “My small viral moment was that one,” he said.

“Oh, that was you?” O’Donnell said. “I instantly retweeted that!”

Trowbridge looked pleased. “I think I went from five followers to five hundred.”

Read the entire piece here.

Eric Foner on the “Buried Promise of the Reconstruction Amendments”

Foner new bookOver at The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner interviews historian Eric Foner on the promise of Reconstruction.  Foner, of course, remains the foremost historian of  Reconstruction.  I have taught his book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 several times over the years.  Foner’s current book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, focuses on the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

Here is a taste of his interview with Chotiner:

You say early in the book that, in one sense, “Reconstruction never ended.” What exactly do you mean?

I defined Reconstruction in two ways. One, it’s a particular time period of American history. You can debate the dates. It starts in 1865, when the Civil War ends, or maybe it starts in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation is issued, and it ends sometime in the eighteen-seventies, although there’s debate about that also.

But, I think, more importantly, Reconstruction is a historical process. And the process is, How does the United States come to terms with the results of the Civil War? The unity of the nation we seem to have come to terms with. But the other matter is the destruction of slavery. How does the United States deal with the fact that four million people who were slaves became free? What role would they have? What rights would they have? How would they be treated? And those debates are still going on. Pick up today’s newspaper, and you’ll find things which relate back to the legacy of slavery. So in that sense, the reckoning has never happened, or we’re still grappling with the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of slavery.

Did you write this book because there was an area of Reconstruction you wanted to learn more about or teach people more about, or had things changed in your understanding of your previous scholarship?

Why does one choose to write a book in the first place? It may be some archival discovery, which was not really the case here. It may be the way debates are going on in the present. That did influence me. The issues central to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, the right to vote, are still part of our politics today. Who should vote? Who should be a citizen? What does equality before the law really mean? But, most important, and without trying to denigrate any other scholar, I lecture a lot about Reconstruction—I lecture in law schools, I lecture in history departments, I lecture to public audiences outside the academy—and I have found that there’s very little knowledge of why the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are important, or what they were trying to accomplish, even in law schools.

One of the things that I think needed to be corrected is that so much discussion of these amendments is based on just law-making places, like Congress and the Supreme Court. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a historian. You’ve got to look at the whole society. Everybody was debating these questions during Reconstruction. So if you want to find out the meaning of these amendments, you’ve got to look way beyond Congress and the courts to see the general debate. And I felt that hadn’t been really illuminated enough.

Read the entire interview here.

Tim Naftali Talks About Reagan’s Racist Comments

Nixon and Reagan

If you are unfamiliar with what Ronald Reagan said to Richard Nixon in 1971 you can get up to speed here.

Tim Naftali, a history professor at New York University, published the text and audio of the tape in which Reagan uses the term “monkeys” to describe people from “African countries.”  Over at The New Yorker, Naftali talks with Isaac Chotiner.  Here is a taste of the interview:

One thing that struck me about this audio was that on some of the Nixon tapes, Nixon is the one being racist or bigoted, and his underlings are fawningly trying to catch up to him, or echo him. Here Reagan is the one leading the charge. Was this a new dynamic?

What I found interesting about this, besides the revealing imagery used by Ronald Reagan, was that Nixon acted as if Reagan unlocked a trope that he, Nixon, wanted to use and felt he could use by quoting Reagan. Nixon went into this conversation angry at the African delegates at the U.N. We know that because he previously called Alexander Haig, his deputy national-security adviser, and said—I am paraphrasing—“Am I supposed to meet with any African leaders here? I recall I said yes to a list you sent over, and I want to know who they are, because they voted against me. I don’t want to see them. I don’t care if I promised to see them.”

And when Reagan calls Nixon, Reagan has a whole idea about what the U.S. should do to penalize the U.N. for voting to kick out Taiwan. Nixon doesn’t think it is a workable approach at all, and tells his Secretary of State, William Rogers, we can’t do this. But what Nixon finds interesting, exciting, and worth repeating, is how Reagan dramatically describes the African delegation that Nixon is so angry at. Earlier that month, Nixon had been explaining to Daniel Patrick Moynihan—an academic who had worked in the White House—about how he had been thinking about how, in his mind, “blacks” just had a hell of a time governing. And that [Reagan’s comments] really said something to him, and that squared with things he was reading about this noxious idea of a connection between I.Q. and race.

Reagan taps into all of this with his racist comments, and sets Nixon off. What I thought was important, at this juncture in our history, was for people to see how racists enable racists, how these turns of phrase and tropes are daggers. And people who think them but don’t say them, when they hear them, it emboldens them. Nixon doesn’t say these words as Nixon; he repeats them. If he found them disgusting, if he found them offensive, if he thought it was a sign of Reagan’s inferiority rather than the African delegates’, then he would not have repeated this phrase as he does on the tape. So I thought this was revealing not just as a data point about Ronald Reagan but also about Nixon’s psychology. He did not consider himself a racist, even though he had racist ideas.

Read the entire interview here.

After *The New Yorker* Nixes Steve Bannon, Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Steps-In

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas yucking-it-up with Ted Cruz

David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, was going to interview former Trump adviser and Alt-right leader Steve Bannon at the magazine’s annual festival.  When other guests at the festival said they would drop-out unless Bannon was disinvited, Remnick folded and Bannon was dumped.  Learn more here.

Not everyone–even those who are not part of the Alt-right–were happy with Remnick’s decision.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone called Remnick’s decision “a journalistic embarrassment.”

Malcolm Gladwell tweeted:

Jack Shafer of Politico described Remnick decision as a “screwup” and said:

The primary objection to the invitation coalesced around the idea that the New Yorkershould never present a bigot or a fascist or a xenophobe like Bannon to such a distinguished audience, thereby normalizing hate. Exactly how a hardball Remnick interview with Bannon would normalize anything has yet to be explained. How many New Yorkerreaders—you know who you are—attending the festival were likely to start thinking of Bannon as “normal” after Remnick cross-examined him? Too few to count, I reckon. So the Bannon ban wasn’t designed to protect New Yorker fans….

Is Bannonism so contagious and corrosive that it must be suppressed? If you really fear Bannon’s thoughts, isn’t it better to allow a mind like Remnick’s to dissect and refute them rather than trying to no-platform them into oblivion? Talking to a monster is not necessarily an endorsement of a monster’s ideas. The whole episode is enough to make you wonder whether the celebrities who bailed from the festival even read the magazine, which routinely steers its way into conflict and controversy. 

I lean toward Gladwell and Shafer here.  A fair case can be made that Steve Bannon was influential in the election of a President of the United States.  Bannon does have ideas. And those ideas have been pretty influential among a certain sector of the American population.  They need to be confronted by talented interviewers like Remnick.

Now that Bannon will not be at The New Yorker festival, author, radio host, and court evangelical Eric Metaxas has decided to enter the fray.  According to a piece by Michael Gryboski at the Christian Post, Metaxas will interview Bannon “at a future event.”

Here is a taste of Gryboski’s article:

In an episode of his podcast “The Eric Metaxas Show” that aired Tuesday, the conservative Christian author announced that he was going to interview Bannon at a future event.

Metaxas explained that he reached out to Bannon’s representatives and they agreed, though a specific date had not yet been chosen. Driving his decision, explained Metaxas, was the New Yorker’s cancellation.

“It’s very important in this country, folks, I just want to say this, that we keep our mind open and that we allow people to have their say,” stated Metaxas.

Metaxas bemoaned Remnick’s decision to cancel Bannon’s interview, noting that he “could have asked him anything,” including critical questions. This led Metaxas to believe that “I need to do something.”

I am guessing that Remnick invited Bannon because he thought it might be important to have some intellectual diversity at the New Yorker Festival.  I commend him for this decision and, like Shafer, I think he folded under pressure when his liberal friends got mad about Bannon’s appearance.

But what is Metaxas’s motive?  This seems like little more than a publicity stunt.  It is yet another attempt by a court evangelical to rally the Trump base.

And Warren Throckmorton also makes a good point in this tweet:

 

Tim Keller: Evangelicalism Will Survive

keller

It is not often that a minister in the Presbyterian Church of America publishes a piece at The New Yorker.  Here is Tim Keller, Pastor Emeritus of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

A taste:

Does the word, then, have an ongoing usefulness? For now, the answer may be no. These new urban churches are certainly not mainline Protestant, yet they don’t look at all like what the average person thinks of by the term “Evangelical.” Will these younger churches abandon the name or try to redefine it? I don’t know, but, as a professional minister, I don’t think it is the most important point to make. What is crucial to know is that, even if the name “evangelical” is replaced with something else, it does not mean that the churches will lose their beliefs. Some time ago, the word “liberal” was largely abandoned by Democrats in favor of the word “progressive.” In some ways, the Democratic Party is more liberal now than when the older label was set aside, evidence that it is quite possible to change the name but keep the substance.

The same thing may be happening to evangelicalism. The movement may abandon, or at least demote, the prominence of the name, yet be more committed to its theology and historic impulses than ever. Some predict that younger evangelicals will not only reject the name but also become more secular. That is not what I have been seeing here in New York City. And studies by the Pew Research Center and others indicate that religious denominations that have become more friendly to secularism are shrinking precipitously, while the evangelical churches that resist dilution in their theological beliefs and practices are holding their own or growing. And if evangelicals—or whatever they will call themselves­—continue to become more multiethnic in leadership and confound the left-right political categories, they may continue to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

What Does Donald Trump REALLY Think About Evangelicals?

pence-and-trump

Here is a taste of Jane Mayer’s very revealing long-form New Yorker essay on Vice-President Mike Pence:

“Trump thinks Pence is great,” Bannon told me. But, according to a longtime associate, Trump also likes to “let Pence know who’s boss.” A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of the late David Kuo‘s 2007 book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction in which he suggested that George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove manipulated evangelicals to support Republican candidates.

Confederate Monuments: “Relics of a bygone era” or “indicators of the one we’re still living in?”

liberty-place

Over at The New Yorker, public intellectual Jelani Cobb reflects on the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans.  It includes a reminder about the period of Reconstruction in the American South, an era that started out as a “bold experiment in actual democracy” and ended in white terrorism.

Here is a taste:

As with much else in Trump’s version of America, the protesters who lined up to defend the monument wish to maintain an à-la-carte relationship with history. They have cloaked their defense of the monuments by presenting it as a recognition of the valor of the men who fought for the Confederate cause. But that excuse falls flat when recognizing, for instance, that there is no monument in New Orleans to the mass slave revolt that took place in 1811, when some two hundred men who had endured the brutality of bondage marched on the city, killing two white men and burning plantations as they went. This is not the version of valor recognized by the crowd before the Lee memorial, or those phoning in death threats to Landrieu’s office.

At the same time, there is a valid, if lesser, risk in removing the Confederate monuments: the possibility that their absence is too neatly exculpatory—that future generations may know little about the acts of inhumanity that took place in the South, and even less about the misguided impulse that glorified those incidents for more than a century. The monuments are not relics of a bygone era; they’re indicators of the one we’re still living in.

Read the entire piece here.

Was the American Revolution a Bad Idea?

RevolutionOver at The New Yorker, writer Adam Gopnik explores this idea through a discussion of several new books on the American Revolution.

Here is a taste of his article “We Could Have Been Canada“:

And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution,” no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior—less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada.

The thought is taboo, the Revolution being still sacred in its self-directed propaganda. One can grasp the scale and strangeness of this sanctity only by leaving America for a country with a different attitude toward its past and its founding. As it happened, my own childhood was neatly divided between what I learned to call “the States” and Canada. In my Philadelphia grade school, we paraded with flags, singing “The Marines’ Hymn” and “Here Comes the Flag!” (“Fathers shall bless it / Children caress it / All shall maintain it / No one shall stain it.”) We were taught that the brave Americans hid behind trees to fight the redcoats—though why this made them brave was left unexplained. In Canada, ninth grade disclosed a history of uneasy compromise duality, and the constant search for temporary nonviolent solutions to intractable divides. The world wars, in which Canadians had played a large part, passed by mostly in solemn sadness. (That the Canadians had marched beyond their beach on D Day with aplomb while the Americans struggled on Omaha was never boasted about.) Patriotic pageantry arose only from actual accomplishments: when Team Canada won its eight-game series against the Russians, in 1972, the entire nation sang “O Canada”—but they sang it as a hockey anthem as much as a nationalist hymn.

Over the years, we have seen how hard it is to detach Americans from even the obviously fallacious parts of that elementary-school saga—the absurd rendering of Reconstruction, with its Northern carpetbaggers and local scalawags descending on a defenseless South, was still taught in the sixties. It was only in recent decades that schools cautiously began to relay the truth of the eighteen-seventies—of gradual and shameful Northern acquiescence in the terrorist imposition of apartheid on a post-slavery population.Scars

The Revolution remains the last bulwark of national myth. Academics write on the growth of the Founding Father biographical genre in our time; the rule for any new writer should be that if you want a Pulitzer and a best-seller you must find a Founding Father and fetishize him. While no longer reverential, these accounts are always heroic in the core sense of showing us men, and now, occasionally, women, who transcend their flaws with spirit (though these flaws may include little things like holding other human beings as property, dividing their families, and selling off their children). The phenomenon of “Hamilton,” the hip-hop musical that is, contrary to one’s expectations, wholly faithful to a heroic view of American independence, reinforces the sanctity of the American Revolution in American life.

Academic histories of the Revolution, though, have been peeping over the parapets, joining scholarly scruples to contemporary polemic. One new take insists that we misunderstand the Revolution if we make what was an intramural and fratricidal battle of ideas in the English-speaking Empire look like a modern colonial rebellion. Another insists that the Revolution was a piece of great-power politics, fought in unimaginably brutal terms, and no more connected to ideas or principles than any other piece of great-power politics: America was essentially a Third World country that became the battlefield for two First World powers. Stirred into the larger pot of recent revisionism, these arguments leave us with a big question: was it really worth it, and are we better off for its having happened? In plain American, is Donald Trump a bug or a feature of the American heritage?

Read the entire piece here.

Needless to say, The Weekly Standard is not happy about Gopnik’s piece.  They don’t seem to understand that it is a review essay.

*The New Yorker* Tackles *The Benedict Option*

BenopCheck out Joshua Rothman‘s article on Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.

There was a time when a secular New York magazine like The New Yorker couldn’t have cared less about a book like The Benedict Option or a guy like Dreher. What does the New Yorker’s decision to devote so many words (it’s a long-form essay) to the subject of this book tell us about the role of religion in American culture today?  Just a thought.

Here is a taste of Rothman’s piece:

Dreher takes the phrase “the Benedict Option” from “After Virtue,” a 1981 work by the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre argued that Western civilization had lost its ability to think coherently about moral life. The problem was the Enlightenment, which put individuals in charge of deciding for themselves what was right and wrong. This, MacIntyre thought, rendered moral language meaningless. Try to say that something is “good,” and you end up saying only that it’s “good (to me)”—whatever that means. It becomes impossible to settle moral questions or to enforce moral rules; the best we can do is agree to disagree. Such a world falls into the hands of managers and technocrats, who excel at the perfection of means but lack the tools with which to think deeply about ends. Surviving this new age of darkness might call for the construction of local forms of community, where a realist approach to morality lives on. Today, MacIntyre wrote, “we are waiting not for a Godot but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Dreher’s book describes a number of intentional “Benedict Option communities” that serve, in his view, as arks in a liquidly modern sea. (Dreher hopes that many different kinds of communities—even, in theory, Muslim and Jewish ones—will adopt the “Benedict Option” label.) One is in Hyattsville, Maryland, a small suburb of Washington, D.C. The community has no name—residents just call it Hyattsville—but, judging from the size of its two gendered Listservs (“Barn Raisers,” for men, and “Hyattsville Catholic Women”), around two hundred Catholic families live there, in modest brick homes with front porches. They send their kids to St. Jerome Academy, a local Catholic school that they have more or less taken over.

Read the entire piece here.