Tweet Thread of the Day: The Historiography of American Conservatism

Buckley and Reagan

Last weekend Politico published historian Geoffrey Kabaservice‘s piece “Liberals Don’t Know Much About Conservative History.”

Kabaservice writes:

The end-of-century victories of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, however, forced historians to realize that conservatism could no longer be dismissed as a mere road bump on the inexorable progression toward a liberal future. The result, over the past two decades, has been a veritable tsunami of historical literature on conservatism. Virtually all of these works have been written by liberals. Nonetheless, historians of this new generation consider themselves to be unbiased and even sympathetic observers of conservatism. Many believe their collective efforts have produced a profound historical understanding of conservatism as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon, and thus contributed in some measure to bringing politically opposed citizens together.

Color me skeptical. I was a graduate student at the beginning of this new wave of conservative studies and I couldn’t help but notice that it coincided with the historical profession’s purge of any scholars who could be described as Republicans or conservatives. Some of the new works on conservatism have been excellent, others awful. But nearly all reveal the pitfalls for liberals writing about a movement with which they have no personal experience. If you’re a historian who has not a single conservative colleague—and perhaps not even one conservative friend—chances are you’ll approach conservatism as anthropologists once approached tribes they considered remote, exotic, and quite possibly dangerous.

The result is that two decades’ worth of scholarship hasn’t contributed as much as one might have hoped to our understanding of conservatism, especially in the age of Trump. This is particularly true of the works that have been most popular with the broader public. That’s a shame, because historians could provide deeper answers than they have so far to the questions many citizens now wrestle with: How did our political system become so divided and dysfunctional? To what extent is the conservative movement responsible for Trump’s rise? What have been the movement’s greatest successes as well as failures, and what relevance do they have to our understanding of ourselves as a nation and a people?

Thomas Sugrue, Director of American Studies at New York University responded to Kabaservice’s piece in a very informative Twitter thread.  Graduate students and advanced undergrads interested in American conservatism should read this thread.  Here it is:

 

A Right-Wing Pundit Gets a History Lesson

Reagan and Thurmond

I know a lot of you have been following Kevin Kruse‘s twitter take-down of right-wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza.  Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University, is challenging D’Souza’s claim that today’s Democratic Party is the party of racism because it had championed racism in the past.

Any undergraduate history major knows that political parties change over time.  On matters of race, the Democratic Party of the 1950s and early 1960s is not the Democratic Party of today.

Jeet Heer calls attention to the Twitter debate at The New Republic:

D’Souza has made a specialty of highlighting the undeniable racism of the 1960s Democratic Party as a way to tar the current party. His arguments ignore the way the two political parties switch positions on Civil Rights in the 1960s, with the Democrats embracing Civil Rights and Republicans, under the guidance of national leaders like Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, exploiting racist backlash.

Read Heer’s entire post, including some of the tweets between Kruse and D’Souza.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to our interview with Kevin Kruse at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The interview focuses on Kruse’s use of Twitter to bring good history to the public.

Another Post About People Who Tweet About Wendell Berry

Riverside-Drive-Harrisburg-City-Island-1422x711

Some of you will recall this post from last week.  Since my critical review of Matt Stewart’s piece “Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter,” several other folks have responded to it at the Front Porch Republic.  So far the only person to really defend all of Matt’s piece is Eric Miller.

I actually brought this debate up very briefly yesterday in our live podcast episode, “Flourishing in a Digital World.”  I imagine that my friends Eric and Matt think it is heresy to even consider putting the word “flourishing” together with “digital world,” but this is exactly what we tried to do yesterday at Messiah College.  Frankly, I was blown-away by how our guests connected their digital footprints as historians, writers, community activists, bloggers, social media-users, and story-tellers to particular places and communities.  I hope you get a chance to listen to this special bonus episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Podcast when we release it next month.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read Tara Ann Thieke’s critique of Stewart’s essay: “Alone Together on the Internet.”  Here is a taste:

Wendell Berry was able to reject the computer. I think it was the right decision. But his choice and his work have come to us through the connections he made by going to Stanford and Europe, teaching at NYU, earning himself an audience, and allowing the publishing industry to use the best technology at their disposal (including computers) to make his work accessible. Later on, once he was well-established, audiences were able to hear out his reasoning for preferring the pen to the keyboard (a choice I agree with; most of my writing is first done in notebooks with a trusty blue rollerball pen). The computer was still a fundamental part of the supply-chain connecting Mr. Berry to the reader; we are none of us islands and the supply-chain is inescapable except to true hermits.

And this:

Twitter and social media have allowed me, an arm-chair amateur, to use the system’s tools to advocate for a different vision. While I am surrounded by the cultural consequences of all these wires and flashing screens, these tools have permitted me to find other wandering voices. Do I talk about Wendell Berry on Twitter? Guilty. But I have also started several clubs through Meetup which allows those of us who share these interests to meet face-to-face. Other armchair amateurs, caught in the confines of suburbia, of work, of the ceaseless din of advertising, have found one another through the threadbare wires not closely guarded enough.

We schedule gatherings through Facebook to watch Wendell Berry documentaries. We talk on Twitter and move on to start discussion groups elsewhere; people drive from 50 miles away to come discuss the Inklings, those foes of Mordor, once a month. We gather in an old park to serve the homeless. Imperfect? Always. But Joel Salatin wrote that expecting a first-time cook to bake a perfect cake is as silly as expecting a baby to suddenly stand and walk rather than stumble. Social media, in particular private Facebook groups and Twitter connections, have allowed those of us afraid of stumbling to receive mutual encouragement, advice, and solidarity.

Read the entire piece here.  I guess I identify more as a Wendell Berry evangelical than a Wendell Berry fundamentalist. 🙂

Melania: “Adults Need to Take the Lead”

Here is FLOTUS telling people that “adults need to take the lead” in encouraging good habits on social media.

Either:

  1. Melania and her speechwriters are absolutely clueless
  2. Melania is trying to send a message to her husband.

You decide which one, or perhaps offer another option.

#Evangelicalism vs. #Evangelicals

latin evangelicals

This quick post is for Twitter users.  I have noticed that the #evangelicalism hashtag often tends to produce tweets with links and commentary that I find useful–both as a scholar and an evangelical.  Many of these tweets are written by evangelicals themselves and tend to focus on everything from theology to politics to sociology.

The #evangelicals hashtag seems more focused on trashing evangelicals in largely political terms.

I am not sure this point is worth developing, but I throw it out there for your consideration.

It’s Official: Jim Comey is Tweeting Under the Name Reinhold Niebuhr

Comey

We reported on this back in March.  It now looks to be confirmed.  Comey is tweeting.

From Slate:

James Comey has quietly been on Twitter since 2014, but since that time, the former FBI director had only tweeted once—and it was only after Gizmodo blew up his spot. Then last week, as though suddenly possessed, he started tweeting, posting five times in six days, a fairly rapid rate for someone whose previous output was a single Will Ferrell joke. Still using the name Reinhold Niebuhr, for the theologian he wrote his college thesis on (and still not bothering to change the default profile picture), Comey decided to allow us a peek into his post-FBI, country-spanning, decidedly Under the Tuscan Sun–like journey of self-reflection, which has taken him from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Iowa. Yes, Iowa—the very place you go to kick the tires of a presidential run. (Comey’s wife is from Iowa, but c’mon, we all have “relatives from Iowa.”) Whether Comey is trying to lay that particular groundwork or simply feels inspired to connect with regular Americans (who can one day buy his book, which is conveniently forthcoming) is anybody’s guess. For now, all we have to go on is the tweets themselves. Let’s review them, with the forensic attentiveness Comey would no doubt demand, one by one.

Read the rest here.

#Evangelicals

Last night I was browsing around on Twitter and decided to see how tweeters were using the hashtag #evangelicals these days.  What I found was not pretty.

Here were the first several tweets I read:

Read many more here.

I think evangelicals can respond to these tweets in several ways:

  1.  They could take a culture war approach and conclude that all of these tweeters simply hate evangelicals.  I am sure many of these tweeters do dislike evangelicals and have always disliked them.  The evangelicals who interpret these tweets in this way will be tempted to fight back against the haters.  This would be a response fitting with the “Christian” approach to politics that has dominated the GOP for two generations.
  2. They could react in sadness.  As the Bible teaches us, there will always be people who will persecute Christians or say “all manner of evil against” Christians, but I hope evangelicals might be sad that they are now seen by many non-Christians (and perhaps some non-evangelical Christians) in this way.   Some evangelicals might rejoice in the way they are treated on Twitter.  After all, didn’t Jesus say “blessed are the persecuted?” In Corinthians 1:18, Paul said that the message of the cross is foolishness to “those who are perishing.”  Perhaps that is a legitimate Christian response to these tweets.  Or maybe these tweets are simply a response to evangelicals acting like fools in a way that has nothing to do with the “message of the cross.”
  3. Some might decide that they can no longer embrace the evangelical label because it is has become too associated with the Christian Right or Donald Trump or the court evangelicals.  They will look for another term.
  4. Some may want to stay with the label and try to redeem it by living in such a way that conforms to the teachings of our faith.

Whatever the case, the term “evangelical” is taking a beating right now.

Tweeting the History of Slavery at the University of Virginia

UVA

The Daily Progress has a nice piece on Kirt von Daacke, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the university’s co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery, who has been tweeting the results of his research. Check out his tweets @slaveryuva

Here is a taste:

Kirt von Daacke, an assistant dean of history and co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery at the University, writes most of the tweets. The periodic intrusion into Twitter timelines helps to keep the immediacy of slavery alive at the university, von Daacke said, and helps users get a sense of how interconnected and violent the system was in Central Virginia.

“Real people lived and died to build and maintain the U, it’s not just abt Jefferson. #SlaveryU,” he posted in January.

“I started tweeting out information eight or nine months ago just as a way to share it, promote our existence and begin to think about the evidence,” von Daacke said. “As I did it, I was struck by how useful it was as a way to begin to see patterns in all the data.”

So he kept tweeting between classes and meetings, sometimes enlisting students or other researchers to write a few posts about their own research.

“Each individual tweet doesn’t do much, but if you are following, it starts to creep in just how many people were involved, how much money, how much violence and misery,” he said.

Read the rest here.

This project is certainly fitting in light of what happened on the Charlottesville campus in August, but it also serves a great model for using Twitter to share snippets of historical research.

 

 

One More Court Evangelical Checks In

Last year Jerry Falwell Jr. blocked me from following him on Twitter, so I was unable to include him in my earlier post.  But never fear!  My friend Warren Throckmorton just sent me a screenshot of today tweet:

Falwell

I am eager to see how the Liberty University student body responds to this when they return to classes.

Charlottesville Tweets

This morning I return to blogging after about a week of rest.  While I was gone, of course, a lot of things happened.  Though I wasn’t writing here, I was commenting on recent events in Charlottesville via my Twitter feed. Here are some of my tweets with additional commentary.

There are still serious questions here about history and how we remember it, but this past weekend was not the time to have these debates.  Remember, monuments often say more about the time they were erected than the historical event they commemorate.  If the defense of the Confederacy and the white supremacy that came with it is driving the kind of violence we saw in Charlottesville, then the Lee monument should come down:

The next couple of tweets represent a small attempt to provide some historical context:

I was off the grid on Friday night and did not know what had happened with the white supremacist march at the University of Virginia.  I think this was my first tweet on Saturday morning when I finally realized what was going on in Charlottesville:

My tweets during Trump’s response:

“Bringing people together” on what terms?  What are the moral principles that define the community Trump wants to create here?  Remember, Lincoln condemned slavery, discussed our collective sins, and then talked about a new birth of freedom and a way forward.  Communities–even national communities–have clear boundaries.  Trump did not draw them on Saturday.  His call for “bringing people together” is meaningless:

Trump does not read.  He does not understand American history or the role of race within it:

I try to teach my students how to read historically.  Granted, we can never get inside Trump’s mind to know what he really meant when he spoke on Saturday.  So we must interpret what he said in context.  The context of Trump’s campaign and presidency (so far) must be considered if we want to come close to understanding Trump’s mind.  This is how future historians and students of history will approach these remarks when they read them as primary sources.  Context, of course, does not give us a definitive answer to what Trump was thinking, but it should be our starting point in trying to make sense of what he said:

I think this one does not need any further elaboration:

I think it’s fair to say that if Trump comes out tomorrow and gets specific, most Americans will think it is too late.  The window may have closed:

So far, none of the court evangelicals have condemned Trump for failing to condemn white supremacy:

Brinkley gets it right:

Robert Jeffress eventually did tweet that racism is sin.  I hope he called Trump to rebuke him.  That is what Christian leaders with “unprecedented access” do in times like this:

Yes–historians will get the last word:

Very proud of my pastor Sunday morning:

More Charlottesville civil rights history:

These guys lost their friends fighting the Nazis:

Live Tweeting a Historical Event

northwest-museum-of-arts

Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, the site of the Twitter “re-enactment”

Over at Northwest History, Eastern Washington University public historian Larry Cebula writes about how he and some local historians conducted a Twitter re-enactment of Spokane’s 1889 fire.  According to his post, several folks got together with historical documents and began composing tweets using the hashtag #greatfire1889.  They even got coverage in the local newspaper!

Cebula writes:

It was a blast. We each worked from a different resource about the fire, books and letters and newspaper articles, and pulled out striking and dramatic bits. The 144-character limit of Twitter was not as much of a problem as I would have thought, and we quickly figured out that 144 characters equaled about one-and-a-half lines on the Google Doc. We tried to keep the Tweets roughly chronological as we added them to the document. The Google Doc had the great advantage of allowing everyone to see what the others were working on and avoiding duplicate tweets on the same subject. We added brief citation notes to each tweet, not to be tweeted but to document where we had found the information in case there were questions later. We also looked at some of the dramatic photographs that Harbine had identified from the collections and wrote tweets to highlight those images.

After ninety minutes or so we had in excess of thirty tweets that did a really nice job of telling the story of the fire. Camporeale then assigned times to each tweet. The tweets went into Hootsuite, a social media tool that allows one to schedule tweets in advance, each set to be tweeted at the right time.

Cebula offers some tips for doing such a project in a public history or digital history course:

Live tweeting a historical event would make a great classroom project for digital and public history courses. This presentation lays out how they did a similar project on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald has some good tips. Here are the steps as I see it

  1. Pick a historical event. Something dramatic, well-documented, and with contemporary interest. It needs to be an event that took place over a few days, not months. Choose a time period that you will be tweeting, maybe 3-7 days?
  2. Choose a hashtag. Make sure that it has not been taken.
  3. Assemble some resources. It really worked well to have different people pulling their tweets out of different sources. Resources could be a mix of physical and digital, with digitized books and newspapers offering a rich set of perspectives. Make a Google Doc with links to the digital resources.
  4. Write the tweets. If I were working with a larger class, I would organize the Google Doc a bit in advance by making headings for each days tweets. Encourage students to find relevant images to attach to the tweets.
  5. Schedule the tweets with Hootsuite or a similar social media manager

Read the rest here.

Scaramucci’s Deleted Tweets

MoochTrump’s new Director of Communications is deleting his old tweets:

Full transparency: I’m deleting old tweets. Past views evolved & shouldn’t be a distraction. I serve @POTUS agenda & that’s all that matters

— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 22, 2017

Unfortunately for Scaramucci and Trump, it is hard to delete the past.

Read his old tweets here.  It appears that at some point Mr. Scaramucci had a “road to Damascus”-type conversion to the views of Donald Trump.

It is also worth noting Scaramucci’s announcement that he will be deleting these old Tweets may have created more of a “distraction” than if he left them out there.

The Mark of a Narcissist

This tweet is one of the many signs that Donald Trump is a narcissist.  It shows he is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself. Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies, but many of them have been humbled in some way by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.

Trump spits in the face of such historical continuity.  This is progressive thinking at its worst.  It makes me think of Tocqueville in Democracy of America

Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.

Michael Gerson put it his way: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”

And let’s not forget Sam Wineburg in the context of historical thinking:

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.–Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

If Wineburg is correct, the antidote to narcissism is “mature historical understanding.” Let’s keep working.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Fourth of July Weekend Experiment

Jersey

What does a historian do on a holiday weekend when the archives are closed, he can’t get around well due to an injured leg, and his family is out of town?  He hangs out with his dog Jersey and does this:

Check out #ChristianAmerica? Twitter (don’t forget the question mark) or follow along @johnfea1.  We will be tweeting every 30 minutes during the weekend.  Tell your friends to join us for a 4th of July weekend history lesson on religion and the American founding!