Who is Jay Sekulow?

Sekulow

The New York Times is profiling the lawyer who will be leading Trump’s impeachment defense.  Read it here.

Now allow me to add a few things to this profile based on our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

First, Sekulow has strong court evangelical connections.  He was (and still may be) friends with Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma Magazine, a Christian magazine that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the so-called evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma. (See our section on Strang and Independent Network Charismatics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump). In 2005, Time named Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

In 1989, Strang was editing Charisma and Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor: “Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too.  Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.”  Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read: “This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.”

oral-roberts-1

This is exact copy of the book Strang gave to Sekulow

oral-roberts-2

So perhaps you are wondering how I got this book.  Read this post to find out.

Second, Sekulow, who mostly handles religious liberty cases, has done very well for himself.  (Perhaps Oral Roberts and the prosperity gospelers were right).  In a June 28, 2017 post I suggested that “defending religious liberty is good for business.”  According to a 2005 article in Legal Times, Sekulow used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit organization he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.

And here is a taste of a 2017 article on Sekulow from The Guardian:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

The Washington Post also covered this story.

Third, Sekulow jams with John Elefante (former of Kansas front man) and John Schlitt (former lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra) in a group called The Jay Sekulow Band.  Watch them cover the Doobie Brothers’s “Jesus is Just Alright”:

 

The National Archives Edited-Out Anti-Trump Signs in an Image of the 2017 Women’s March

 

Archives

Here is Joe Heim at The Washington Post:

The large color photograph that greets visitors to a National Archives exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage shows a massive crowd filling Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women’s rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement.

But a closer look reveals a different story.

The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo of the 2017 Women’s March showcased at the museum, blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of Trump. Words on signs that referenced women’s anatomy were also blurred.

In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, with the Capitol in the background. In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered.

A placard that proclaims “God Hates Trump” has “Trump” blotted out so that it reads “God Hates.” A sign that reads “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” has the word Trump blurred out.

Signs with messages that referenced women’s anatomy — which were prevalent at the march — are also digitally altered. One that reads “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” has “vagina” blurred out. And another that says “This Pussy Grabs Back” has the word “Pussy” erased.

The Archives said the decision to obscure the words was made as the exhibit was being developed by agency managers and museum staff members. It said David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, participated in talks regarding the exhibit and supports the decision to edit the photo.

Read the rest here.

Here is presidential historian Douglas Brinkley: “There’s no reason for the National Archives to ever digitally alter a historic paragraph…If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it.  But to confuse the public is reprehensible.”

It is hard to argue with Brinkley here.

A Southern Evangelical Businessman Breaks With Trump

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

Fred Rand is an evangelical Christian and Memphis business man.  He described his background in a recent piece at the Jackson (MS) Free Press:

I cut my teeth as a College Republican working for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have never in my life cast a ballot for a Democrat candidate in almost 40 years as a registered Republican.

I am also a committed Evangelical Christian who grew up in Mississippi as a devoted follower of the Rev. Billy Graham and am now a follower of Andy Stanley. I joined my wife at North Point Church in Atlanta when we first married and briefly attended his Buckhead Church before moving to Charlotte, N.C., when our first grandson was born. We joined Andy’s wonderful startup church called Ridge, where our daughter was on full-time staff and her husband a volunteer youth counselor. Our daughter has recently completed (another) degree in Christian counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary here and is currently in private practice, but still very active in our church….

I first heard Rev. Graham speak at an unofficial Reagan event in 1980. I was honored to be among a number of young people he spoke to briefly afterward. Rev. Graham warned us not to be seduced by the lights and excitement of politics. All fame is fleeing. And all men are human and will disappoint you, as Richard Nixon disappointed him. He urged us to put our trust first in God. He will never disappoint you. He will never turn His back on you. He will always love you. And we must honor that love by choosing Him, putting Him first and not turning our backs on Him.

I was a huge fan of the inspirational movie “Brian’s Song” in junior high. But it was my hero Gayle Sayer’s book “I am Third” that changed my life. I adopted his beliefs outlined in the book and have tried to live a life based on this guiding principle. God is first. My friends and family are second. And I am third. Rev. Graham’s off-the-cuff remarks that night echoed that same philosophy, and I saw the truth in his words to us.

That night had a profound effect on my life. I read an article about Rev. Graham in Parade Magazine less than a year later that I kept framed on my wall for 30 years that was 100% consistent with his testimony to us Young Republicans that night.

“I told (Jerry Falwell) to preach the Gospel,” Rev. Graham said in the Parade article. “That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s, and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

That has been my political lodestone ever since.

In his Jackson Free Press piece, Rand defends Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today and says that “Donald Trump fits the scriptural definition of a fool.”

Read it all here.

Eric Metaxas Vs. Every Bonhoeffer Scholar in the World

Metaxas

In the last week or so we have called your attention to stories about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  First, there was Stephen Haynes’s “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.” And then there was this post: “International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency.”

Eric Metaxas, a court evangelical and Christian radio host who recently made a very flawed “Christian case for Trump” at the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, has written a biography of Bonhoeffer that has been much celebrated in the conservative evangelical community.  It has also been panned by scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of Bonhoeffer, including the members of the International Bonhoeffer Society.  But that hasn’t stopped Metaxas from claiming that he, and he alone, has written the only truly accurate portrayal of the German pastor who opposed Hitler.

Here is what he tweeted in response to a Sojourners article discussing the aforementioned statement from the International Bonhoeffer Society:

The culturally marxist academics who hijacked Bonhoeffer’s legacy for fifty years — until the 2009 publication of my biography — and who unconscionably pushed a profound misreading of his thinking & theology, are at it again. Feel free to guffaw.

This sounds like the kind of tweet Trump might write.  “The Marxists have hijacked Bonhoeffer and I only I can fix it!”

Warren Throckmorton has this covered at his blog.  Read it here.

Ron Sider: I’m Still an “Evangelical”

Sider-764x1024

Ron Sider on the cover of Eternity magazine, April 1979

Ron Sider, one of the elder statesmen of American evangelicalism and someone who I deeply respect, is sticking with the label:

Why would I continue to call myself an evangelical when 81% of white evangelicals voted for a man who is a racist, violates women, lies constantly, ignores (and makes worse)  the environmental crisis, tries to undo a law that expanded healthcare for 20 million Americans and gave a huge tax cut to the richest Americans while trying to cut effective programs for the poor? To make matters (much) worse, many prominent evangelical leaders uncritically support President Trump as God’s anointed.

Many Christians who have long identified as evangelicals and many millennials who grew up in evangelical congregations now consider the label evangelical irreparably toxic. To vast numbers of people both inside and outside the church, it means “Religious Right”, homophobic, anti-science, anti-immigrant, racist, and unconcerned about the poor.

I have struggled with this issue for the last three years. Some of my good friends have stopped identifying as evangelicals.  I must confess that in spite of my many decades of strong identification as an evangelical, there are times when I think that it may be time to use a different word. 

But then I remember the long, distinguished history of the term. I recall the fact that the word essentially means a commitment to Jesus’ Gospel.  I ponder the fact that we need some label to distinguish theologically liberal Protestants from those who remain committed to the central beliefs of historic Christianity.  And I note the fact that many millions in the United States and 600 million around the world in the World Evangelical Alliance still want to use the label evangelical…

Read the rest here.

If it’s good enough for Ron Sider, it’s good enough for me. 🙂

I’m Really Dating Myself With This Post

Earlier today I posted a song by an anti-Trump evangelical trying to convince his fellow evangelicals that Trump is hurting their Gospel witness.  The song is written in a classic “praise song” style that will undoubtedly connect with many evangelicals in a way that books like Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will not.

As I listened to the “A Hymn for the 81%” I thought about this 1980s classic (1984 to be exact) from the Christian group “Sweet Comfort Band.”  Who remembers it?  Remembering this song requires a very deep dive into the evangelical subculture.

 

I Think the Circus Just Came to Washington

Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

In case you haven’t heard, Trump has added Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz, and Robert Ray to his defense team.  I think the days of Dershowitz receiving dinner invitations on Martha’s Vineyard are over.  The shunning will only get worse.

In case Trump needs more lawyers, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, and Barry Scheck are still alive.  (Unfortunately for Trump, Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian have passed away).

Let the show begin.  This trial is going to be reality television at its “finest.”

Education Without Liberal Arts is a “Threat to Humanity”

UBC

Santa J. Ono is the president of the University of British Columbia.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) recently interviewed him about the role of the liberal arts in the 21st century.  Listen here.

Here is a taste of CBC’s introduction to the interview:

From engineering to medicine, we have more elaborate and specialized professions than ever.

But the academic programs that prepare people for them will have little impact on the health of society unless we develop a sense of the human condition. That’s ‘job one’ for the classic liberal arts education: philosophy, history, the great books, art, music and the sciences, too — at least according to Santa J. Ono.

The president and vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia argues that these disciplines are often underfunded and under-promoted, a refrain he’s made repeatedly over the years because he feels he has to. The reason: he’s seen a steady decline in the study of, and support for, the liberal arts over the past 10-15 years. 

Prof. Ono is himself a medical biologist, and has made breakthroughs in his own specialized field. While he appreciates the value of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), his own thoughts never stray far from the liberal arts courses he took as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, which have still left their mark on him. 

“I believe I’m a better scientist. I believe I am a better administrator. I believe I’m a better teacher. I believe I’m a better father and husband,” Ono said in his 2019 Carr Lecture, Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: More Important then Ever.

“And I believe that I am a better scholar because of my liberal arts education, because it was intentionally diverse and heterogeneous, because it made me move outside of my comfort zone into areas of thought and discussion that were uncomfortable to me…  it broadened my mind, it exercised my mind.”

Ono says a liberal arts education is critical if we are to arrive at a moral foundation that will lead to sustainable peace and progress. 

Read the rest here.

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  1. “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”
  2. Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Says “Turning the Other Cheek” is No Longer Sufficient
  3. Thoughts on the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally
  4. The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”
  5. How Do Americans View the Confederate Flag?
  6. My Piece Today at USA TODAY on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally
  7. N.T. Wright: We Have Created a Monster That Can Only Be Subdued by Love
  8. Out of the Zoo: Why I Cried in History Class
  9. The Ten Most Checked-Out Books in New York Public Library History
  10. How Politics Shapes American History Textbooks

International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency

bonhoffer

The International Bonhoeffer Society is an organization of scholars who study the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who the Nazi’s hanged after learning of his role in a plot to assassination Adolph Hitler.

On January 15, 2020, the Society issued the following “Statement of Concern” regarding the presidency of Donald Trump:

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians, we have a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing. We confess our own complicity in the social order that has produced Donald Trump’s presidency, for many of the social and economic injustices we confront predate it. As we take responsibility for these injustices, we resist the policy goals of this administration that have contributed to everdeepening divisions and growing vulnerability among the marginalized sectors of our population, including the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, systematic attempts to strip rights from LGBTQ persons, the increased rapacious destruction of the environment, the marginalization and assault on communities of color especially through voter suppression, and the economic policies that have contributed to the largest disparity of wealth in the nation’s history. We believe that an honest reckoning with these realities must lead to dismantling the dehumanizing ideologies and systemic inequities in which they are rooted.

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency. We do not make this statement lightly. Bonhoeffer’s writings have been influential for Christians from a wide range of churches and political views, but we feel called to address the grave moral concerns we have outlined here that call every one of us to account. During this new year, debates and discussion will continue to be held concerning the best way for America to move forward. We believe that the United States has the human resources to provide capable and willing leaders, and that together a more just and respectful future can be forged. Acknowledging that all human community and leadership is a mixture of blessing and brokenness, health and dysfunction, we stand with all those who believe this country deserves and needs a constitutional and peaceful change in leadership. And we commit ourselves to listen to the call and obey the commands of Jesus as we enter the year 2020.

We make this statement, in part, because we know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a theologian and martyr – is often cited in times of political contention. We offer the following theological lessons from Bonhoeffer’s work as a glimpse into the ways he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times, and to encourage discernment about how these words might resonate for us today:

  • He spoke of God’s freedom and human freedom as “freedom for others” not “freedom from others.” (1932)
  • He preached that the gospel is “the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order … God’s order,” and therefore it is good news for the poor. (1932)
  • He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)
  • He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)
  • He reminded Christians that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)
  • He wrote, “For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. … The hour is late. The world is choking with weapons. … The trumpets of war may blow tomorrow. For what are we waiting?” (1934)
  • He believed that Jesus’s commands in the Gospels – like love your neighbor as you love yourself, welcome the stranger, and love your enemies – are to be obeyed in the social and political realm. He wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey.” (1936)
  • He wrote, “Behold God become human … God loves human beings. …Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are. … What we find repulsive … namely, real human beings … this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (1941)
  • He wrote from prison, “… one only learns to have faith by living in the full thisworldliness of life. …then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is [metanoia/repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian. … How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)
  • He wrote from prison, “How do we go about being ‘religionless-worldly’ Christians, how can we be [ecclesia/church], those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world?” (1944)

Signed by the Board of Directors, International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section,

Jennifer M. McBride, President
Lori Brandt Hale, Vice President
John Matthews, Secretary
H. Gaylon Barker, Treasurer
Christian Collins Winn
Stephen Haynes
Matt Jones
David Krause
Michael Mawson
Dianne Rayson
Robert Vosloo
Reggie Williams
Philip Ziegler
Keith Clements, Emeritus
Barry Harvey, Emeritus
J. Patrick Kelley, Emeritus
Michael Lukens, Emeritus 

NOTE: I added the links to these names.

Sojourners covered this story here.

It is worth noting that one of America’s most popular Bonhoeffer biographers, Eric Metaxas, is a Trump supporter.  His biography has been widely criticized by Bonhoeffer scholars.  The most recent critique of Metaxas came from Rhodes College professor Stephen Haynes.

Today…

Trump Iowa

  • The trial to impeach Donald Trump got underway.
  • We are discussing the fact that Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, told two different media outlets that Trump knew about attempts to hold aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into a political opponent and lied about it.
  • We learned that Trump broke the law by withholding Ukraine aid.
  • Trump gave a speech supporting prayer in schools.

We are living in strange times.

The Class War Within the Class War

It was going to happen sooner or later. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party appears to have split.  Some support Bernie Sanders.  Some support Elizabeth Warren.  Their non-aggression pact has apparently dissolved.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Clare Malone argues that Sanders and Warren appeal to two  different progressive constituencies.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren played to a friendly crowd when she visited Brooklyn last week. The rally at King’s Theatre on Flatbush Avenue — an ornate people’s palace kind of joint with fleur de lis in the molding and vaudeville ghosts in the rafters — was a 4,800-person shot in the arm for her campaign, which had been flatlining of late. Julián Castro, young, Latino and recently out of the presidential race, had just endorsed Warren and there seemed to be a sense in the air — with a heavy hint from the mass-produced “We ❤ Julián” signs circulating — that the campaign was looking for a little good news out of the evening. The crowd scanned as largely young and professional, and a little girl sitting just in front of me waved another sign: “I’m running for president because that’s what girls do.”

Just under a week later, the Warren campaign would be at war with Sen. Bernie Sanders over Warren’s claim that Sanders told her in a private 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the 2020 presidential election. This salvo from Warren’s camp was seen as a response to reports that talking points for Sanders volunteers characterized Warren as the choice of “highly educated, more affluent people,” a demographic both key to Democratic electoral success and associated with Hillary Clinton’s supposed out-of-touch elitism. Within a few hours, what had been a cold-war battle to define the left wing of the Democratic Party had gone hot. The handshake-that-wasn’t between Sanders and Warren at Tuesday night’s debate seemed to inflame tensions even more.

What’s curious, though, is that the rift isn’t over policy particulars. The Warren vs. Sanders progressivism fight seems to be more stylistic, an unexpectedly tense class war of sorts within the broader progressive class war. Should progressive populism be wonky and detail-oriented and appeal to college-educated former Clinton voters? Or a more contentious outsider assault on the powers-that-be from the overlooked millions of the middle and lower-middle class?

Read the rest here.

The 10 Most Checked-Out Books in New York Public Library History

Snowy Day

Here is the list.  How many of these have you read?

1. “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats (485,583 checkouts)

2. “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss (469,650)

3. “1984,” by George Orwell (441,770)

4. “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak (436,016)

5. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee (422,912)

6. “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White (337,948)

7. “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury (316,404)

8. “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie (284,524)

9. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling (231,022)

10. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle (189,550)

Robert Caro’s Papers Go to the New-York Historical Society

Robert Caro, author of "The Power Broker," a biography on Ro

The last time I checked, author and historian Robert Caro was still writing the fifth volume in his massive history of Lyndon B. Johnson.  I’ve written a few posts on Caro over the years because I am always fascinated by the way historians work.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that Caro’s papers will be deposited at the New-York Historical Society.  Here is a taste of Jennifer Schuessler’s piece at The New York Times:

Robert Caro is famous for colossal biographies of colossal figures. “The Power Broker,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning life of Robert Moses, weighed in at nearly 1,300 pages. His as-yet-unfinished biography of Lyndon B. Johnson — he likes to call the volume-in-progress “the fifth of a projected three” — totals 3,444 pages and counting.

The books are already monumental. And now Mr. Caro is getting monumental treatment himself.

The New-York Historical Society has acquired Mr. Caro’s papers — some 200 linear feet of material that will be open to researchers in its library. And just as important to the 84-year-old Mr. Caro, it will create a permanent installation in its museum galleries dedicated to showing how he got the job done.

Read the rest here.

 

How Do Americans View the Confederate Flag?

Confederate Reenactors

YouGov asked more than 34,000 Americans to say whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism or heritage? Check out the data set here.

A taste:

YouGov asked more than 34,000 Americans to say whether the Confederate flag most represents racism or heritage (additionally, panelists were allowed to select “Don’t know” or “neither of these” as responses). The poll was conducted after Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said that the Confederate flag meant “service, sacrifice and heritage” in her state until a white supremacist “hijacked” its meaning and killed nine Black Americans. Following that shooting, the Confederate flag was permanently removed from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds.

For a plurality of Americans, the Confederate flag represents racism (41%). But for about one-third of Americans (34%) — particularly adults over 65, those living in rural communities, or non-college-educated white Americans — the flag symbolizes heritage. 

The idea of the Confederate flag primarily representing heritage is divisive even among the former Confederate states of America, according to state-level data collected by YouGov. Though a couple of former Confederate states believe the flag is more representative of heritage than racism, that is not the case for all. 

Virginia, in particular, is more likely than other former Confederate states to consider the flag a sign of racism (46%) over heritage (33%). In recent years, the state has argued over whether to keep monuments of Confederate military leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on display, leading to well-covered legal debates on the implication of the Confederate flag. Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore explained the case by writing: “While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time.”

Read the rest here.

A couple quick finds:

  • Of the former Confederate states, only Arkansas and Louisiana have a pro-heritage majority.
  • If you are over 55-years-old you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • Almost half of “not college-educated” white people see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • If you live in a rural area you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • New England is the strongest “flag as racist” region of the country.  The area encompassing Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi is the strongest “flag as heritage” region.

Undergraduate Enrollments in History Courses Remain Steady

History

Good news from the American Historical Association:

Ask any department chair, and most faculty, what the most vexing data point during the academic year is and the most likely answer would be “enrollments.” In a data-obsessed age when it seems everything is tracked and analyzed, few data points matter as much in higher education as enrollments. For many institutions, department funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers. Courses that don’t meet minimum enrollment requirements are canceled, snarling the distribution of teaching responsibilities among faculty and narrowing the intellectual range in the curriculum. Fluctuations in enrollments and majors—a close relative of enrollments data—are cited as reasons to create or cancel tenure lines. A lot is riding on what academic slang calls “butts in seats.”

For the past several years, the AHA has conducted an optional annual enrollments survey of history departments. The inquiry, which asks participating departments to report enrollments for each of the previous four years, is the only available source that collects history-specific enrollments data from individual institutions. While not statistically representative of higher education as a whole, these data capture broad national trends. With the data’s limitations firmly in mind, we’re parsing this year’s survey in the context of wider efforts across the discipline and across the landscape of higher education to better articulate the value of studying history and the humanities. 

Undergraduate enrollment in history courses remained relatively stable in 2018–19, with a total decline of 1.1 percent from 2017–18 levels across the 104 US institutions that provided data to the AHA (Fig. 1). When responses from two Canadian institutions are included, the dip was just 0.8 percent overall. The four-year trends reported in our 2019 survey show a decline of 3.3 percent since the 2015–16 academic year. The modest change from 2017–18 reinforces the flattening trend we observed last year and is slightly lower than national declines in total undergraduate enrollment, according to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Our enrollment survey corroborates a sense reported at many departments that the years of free-falling undergraduate enrollment may be behind them. 

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Jeffrey Zvengrowski

Jefferson DavisJeffrey Zvengrowski is Assistant Editor of the Papers of  George Washington and Assistant Research Professor at the University of Virginia. This interview is based on his new book, Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870 (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Jefferson Davis?

JZ: Even before beginning history graduate studies at the University of Virginia, I was intrigued by aspects of the American Civil War and particularly the Confederacy that I do not think any group or “school” of historians have adequately explained. If nearly all Confederates fervently stood for states’ rights, agriculturalism, and pro-slavery Protestantism, then why did the Confederacy feature such an intrusively powerful central government dedicated to industrialization? Only a handful of slaves ever entered Confederate service as soldiers, to be sure, but why did the Confederacy eventually decide to enlist slaves and promise them manumission? Why did the Confederate cabinet feature a Catholic (Stephen Mallory) and a Jew (Judah P. Benjamin)? And why did many Confederates so intensely hate Confederate president Jefferson Davis as well as Confederates who supported him?

I began reading through Davis’s documentary record to answer such questions in graduate school, and I expected to find that he and likeminded Confederates shared the same beliefs as their Confederate disparagers but were much more pragmatic than the Confederacy’s ideological hardliners. To my surprise, though, the Davis primary sources indicated to me that he and his supporters subscribed to an ideology very different from that of their vitriolic Confederate critics. I wrote my dissertation, “They Stood Like the Old Guard of Napoleon: Jefferson Davis and the Pro-Bonaparte Democrats, 1815–1870” (2015), to explain the nature of that ideology; and to offer solutions for what I take to be outstanding problems in Civil War historiography.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Jefferson Davis?

JZ: I argue in my book that Davis and likeminded Confederates hailed from a venerable faction in the Democratic Party that championed equality among whites and white supremacy while insisting that states’ rights did not preclude the federal government from vigorously exercising delegated powers to help all regions industrialize. Believing that French Bonapartists espoused similar “democratic” values and similarly loathed abolitionist Britain for championing inequality among whites together with racial equality, pro-Davis Confederates were willing to jettison slavery under continuing terms of white rule if doing so would help induce Napoleon III’s France to overtly support the Confederacy against pro-British elements in the Americas.

JF: Why do we need to read Jefferson Davis?

JZ: In addition to answering what are, in my view, unsettled historical questions about the Confederacy, I believe that my book offers a fairly original and therefore refreshing interpretation of the entire Civil War era; one which meshes quite well with world history too. It’s no coincidence that the most war-torn periods in nineteenth-century United States history (the War of 1812 and the Civil War) coincided with the rise and fall of the two Bonaparte emperors (Napoleon I and Napoleon III). We somehow appear to assume that the “War Hawks” who turned the U.S. into a de facto and nearly de jure ally of Napoleon I during the War of 1812 failed to sire any ideological heirs. The pro-Bonaparte faction, however, survived through the interregnum between Bonaparte emperors and returned to prominence under Secretary of War Davis shortly after Napoleon III rose to power in France. That faction’s final descent into irrelevance and subsequent dissolution, moreover, corresponded with the Second French Empire’s unexpected destruction in 1870, shortly before which Napoleon III had hosted Davis as an honored guest in Paris.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JZ: I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. In the course of obtaining my BA in history at the University of Calgary, I wavered between pursuing graduate studies in history or attending law school. I opted for graduate school in 2006 because I hoped to make a living doing something I enjoy (studying history), and I am immensely fortunate that I have been able to so. I believe that I explained my specific interest in American history when answering the first question.

JF: What is your next project?

JZ: I am the co-editor for the Papers of George Washington of volume 28 in the Revolutionary War Series, which will be published in 2020 and features transcriptions with annotated footnotes of George Washington’s correspondence from late August to late October 1780. Much of that correspondence pertains to Benedict Arnold’s defection to the British.

In years to come, I would like to write a history of what might be called the first Cold War of the United States, which struggled with the British Empire for dominance in the Americas over the nineteenth century. We seem to have forgotten the important ideological dimension of that struggle, during which the United States generally advocated white supremacy and equality among whites while the British Empire espoused racial equality – at least in the Americas – and inequality among whites. The diminishment of that struggle’s severity by the end of the nineteenth century, I think, coincided with the British Empire becoming more receptive to white supremacy even as the U.S. became more amenable to white inequality.

JF: Thanks, Jeffrey!

Out of the Zoo: Why I Cried in History Class

hamilton curtain callAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reflects powerfully on the last day of her class on Alexander Hamilton. –JF

Anyone who knows me well knows that it doesn’t take much to make me cry. I shed tears during movies, musicals, worship sets and everything in between. I keep tissues close by at funerals and weddings alike, or if I know I’m going to be laughing really hard. If I’m anxious or overwhelmed, or if someone else is tearing up, I usually cry then too. 

When I took my seat in Frey 241 for the last day of my “Age of Hamilton” class though, I definitely did not expect to be crying by the end. When I entered the room that mid-December morning, the air was thick with excitement. Most of us history majors had finished all of our big assignments for the term, so we could practically taste Christmas break. My friend Chloe chatted excitedly about classmates’ Hamilton research papers, persuading them to let her read their essays in the coming weeks. Even though the fall semester was drawing to a close, Chloe and many others in the class were still hungry to learn everything they could about Alexander Hamilton and the world in which he lived. After wrapping up our discussion of Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr at the beginning of the period, Professor Fea launched into a final lecture designed to bring closure to the fifteen-week class. 

Fea, who played the Hamilton soundtrack frequently throughout the course to complement his lectures, thought it would be fitting to finish the semester with the musical’s last song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” That’s what we historians do, Professor Fea explained to the class. We tell people’s stories. We’re in constant communication with our own world and worlds gone by. No one is around forever, but we as historians make sure they’re remembered once they’re gone. It is our right, and it is our duty. 

Professor Fea pulled up the lyric video for “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” on the projector screen, and the class sat in rare stillness as we watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s words flicker by. It’s impossible to capture the beauty of the song in a few words, but the ballad features several familiar characters voicing their respect for Hamilton and the financial system he created. Hamilton’s wife Eliza steps forward and reveals that she outlived her husband by fifty years. She recounts all the things she’s done to preserve Alexander’s legacy, and even laments that she still may not have done enough. All the while, the ensemble repeatedly voices the song’s title phrase: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

The students who usually spouted-off Hamilton lyrics with passionate fervor were subdued and somber, singing along quietly. I even heard a few lower voices chiming in from the cluster of boys who usually congregated in the back of the room. I hummed along too, thinking about the lyrics–which alone are enough to bring me to tears–and Professor Fea’s speech a few minutes earlier. I thought about the people’s stories I’ve heard, the one’s I’ve shared myself, and all of those that have yet to be uncovered. In those three and a half minutes I was reminded of how grateful I am to give a voice to the voiceless, and how blessed I will be to teach my students to do the same someday. After blinking away a couple joyful tears, I thanked God for giving me this vocation, this duty to tell people’s stories for the rest of my life. 

Sometimes in the midst of final papers and exams I can forget what an important job historians have. We live, we die, but in the meantime we tell people’s stories. We make sure they’re not forgotten. What a beautiful privilege we have.