Citizens Must Keep Calling-Out Trump

Trump corona speech

Here is the latest Trump tweet:

Here is The Washington Post:

President Trump on Wednesday escalated his campaign to discredit the integrity of mail balloting, threatening to “hold up” federal funding to Michigan and Nevada in response to the states’ plans to increase voting by mail to reduce the public’s exposure to the coronavirus.

Without evidence, Trump called the two states’ plans “illegal,” and he incorrectly claimed that Michigan’s “rogue” secretary of state is planning to mail ballots to all voters. The state is planning to send applications for mail-in ballots to all voters — not ballots themselves.

“This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted about Michigan. “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

Trump later corrected the error and suggested he would not need to withhold federal money, but he did not retreat from his claim that both states are taking steps that will encourage voter fraud. A spokesman for the Trump campaign asserted that the Michigan secretary of state did not have legal authority to send ballot applications to all voters, a claim that she disputed.

Speaking to reporters later at the White House, the president claimed without proof that mail-in ballots lead to “forgeries” and “thousands and thousands of fake ballots.”

“I think just common sense would tell you that massive manipulation can take place,” he said. “And you do have cases of fraudulent ballots where they actually print them and they give them to people to sign, maybe the same person signs them with different writing, different pens. I don’t know. It’s a lot of things can happen.”

The president’s aggressive and unfounded rhetoric drew immediate rebukes from Democrats and voting rights activists, who accused Trump of intentionally sowing mistrust in U.S. elections.

And his claims that absentee voting will encourage cheating are at odds with the activity of state and national GOP leaders, who are mounting aggressive field operations, including mass mailings of ballot applications, to encourage their voters to cast ballots by mail. GOP officeholders in various states — including Nevada — are also backing expansions of absentee voting because of the pandemic.

Read the rest here.

Voter fraud is very rare. And let’s not forget Trump voted by absentee ballot in this year’s Florida primary, leading to a baffling exchange at an April press conference.

Some will get tired of people who hold Trump’s feet to the fire. They will say we have “Trump-derangement syndrome.” If such a syndrome means that one will not sit back and tolerate this president’s lies, hypocrisy, narcissism, and failure to lead during this pandemic, then I am happy to be called deranged. As Philip Vickers Fithian taught me, “political jealousy is a laudable passion.

Keep sending those e-mails! 🙂

The Pot-Smoking Dutch Calvinists Who Stopped “worshipping the Ph.D.” and Gave Their Students “guerrilla credentials.”

InstituteChristianStudies1

Institute of Christian Studies, Toronto

I don’t pretend to know much about Dutch Calvinism in America or the differences between Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd. (There are good books on the subject, I would start with the work of James D. Bratt). But I know these differences mean a great deal to the Christian intellectuals who live in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Sioux Center, Iowa. Having said that, I have been learning a lot about this unique religious culture since both of my daughters started attending Calvin University in Grand Rapids. In fact, my youngest daughter, a political science major, just finished reading Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism for a course in political philosophy. It has made for some good quarantine conversations.

I also knew that Dutch Calvinists have a presence in Canada where they established educational institutions such as the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto), Kings University (Edmonton), and Redeemer University (Ancaster, Ontario).

It is the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) that provides the focus of David Swartz‘s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: “The Reformed Evangelicals Who Smoked Pot in Toronto.” Here is a taste:

ICS adherents castigated what they viewed as the quaint moralisms of their home denomination. The Christian Reformed Church, they felt, was failing to address pressing social issues.

For instance, the denomination’s periodical explained in the mid-1960s that even if John F. Kennedy’s assassination left his agenda incomplete, still Christ could declare, “It is finished.” Hendrik Hart, James Olthuis, Bernard Zylstra, and other young turk Reformationalists at the ICS—typically fiery personalities in their early thirties—denounced such lines as pietistic sophistry. Instead, they envisioned new radical, socially active Reformed communities all over North America.

By the early 1970s, the ICS had evolved into an idiosyncratic fusion of Dutch ethnicity and political counterculture. Its constituency came mostly from children of the 185,000 Dutch immigrants who entered Canada between 1947 and 1970 because of a stagnant economy in the Netherlands. Tobacco and marijuana were pervasive at the Toronto school. Baggy jeans and tattered corduroy hung on gaunt frames, and beards proliferated. Communal living in several large houses in Toronto was common. Requiring no assignment deadlines, grades, transcripts, or degrees, ICS nurtured a profoundly anti-establishment ethos that stressed collegiality over hierarchy. Its administrative structure evolved into what faculty member Peter Schouls called “coordinate decentralization,” a system in which employees were accountable to boards and committees, not other individuals. An advertisement for ICS in the early 1970s read, “Are you going to grad school? Try the House of Subversion. … We are subverting the American university structure. We don’t have million dollar buildings. … We aren’t scholarly imperialists. We’ve stopped worshipping the Ph.D. We give guerrilla credentials.”

Read the entire piece here. It draws from Swartz’s book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Swartz shows how Grand Rapids Dutch Calvinists associated with Calvin College tried to moderate the radicalism of ICS and connect with moderates and progressives within evangelicalism.  It’s a fascinating read.

Jerry Falwell Jr: *The Chronicle of Higher Education* Interview

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, just gave an interview to Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first part of the interview covers ground we have already covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. The second part of the interview is pretty revealing. Stripling annotates some of Falwell Jr.’s answers in brackets.

Here is a taste:

Are you going in to your office?

I don’t have as many meetings as I used to, but whenever I do need to have one, yes, I’ll go in and have one.

Do you wear a mask?

No.

Do you ever wear one?

No.

Why not?

I don’t get close enough to anybody to need one. I got the antibody test, and I have not had Covid-19.

[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”]

You got the antibody test because you felt you had symptoms, or you were just wondering if you’d won the Covid lottery and might be immune?

I was just curious. I kept hearing so much hype about it; I just wanted to see how real the threat was.

The fact that you didn’t have the antibodies, does that make you think that the threat is exaggerated?

No, I’m just glad to see it wasn’t bad enough around here that I’d caught it.

[Of 31,140 reported coronavirus cases in Virginia, 74 are in Lynchburg, where Liberty’s main campus is.]…

When do you think you will have to make a decision about the fall?

Whenever I want to. Whenever I decide that the powers-that-be have concluded that it’s safe to open, then I’ll make the call. But not until then; I don’t have to. There’s no pressure.

We’re giving faculty their contracts, but we are making them contingent on enrollment levels. And there’s a chance a lot of kids won’t come back because parents are scared to send them back. So we’re going to keep our options open.

[Liberty professors do not have tenure, except in the law school, where accreditation requires it. The university has a $1.6 billion endowment, and it boasts an enrollment of 100,000 online students.]…

Have you had any direct conversations with President Trump since this pandemic began?

Yeah, he called yesterday. I was sitting in the car, and the phone number popped up and I didn’t recognize it and I answered it: “Jerry,” the president said.

I can’t tell you what he said, but it was just a friendly conversation.

I told him about what we were planning to do with The New York Times about the trespassing charges, and he said, “I hear that people are dying at Liberty. Now I hear there’s zero cases. He said, “Why don’t they correct it?” I said, “Good question.”

What did he think of how you were handling The New York Times?

I never say what the president says to me.

You just did!

Not really.

Fair enough. In your Fox interview, you were floating the idea that North Korea and China might have created the virus. There’s been criticism that there’s just no evidence for this, that this is conspiratorial thinking. Was it appropriate to voice that out loud?

Afterward, everybody else started saying the same thing. I was ahead of the game on that one.

It’s funny: A lot of Ivy League schools have connections to that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard that. I don’t know if they’re working over there. I just read last week there’s some connection between Ivy League schools and that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if that means anything.

If I didn’t know better, I would think you were planting a seed that Ivy League universities are part of some conspiracy to release the coronavirus. Is that what you’re saying?

No, no, no. I was just surprised to read that they were involved with that lab.

This is the exact kind of stuff that people complain about with you: Just floating the ‘isn’t this curious?’ type of thing. Now you’ve added Ivy League universities to the list, as if they’re part of some problem.

That was published in the mainstream media. They did it to raise suspicion. I didn’t. I was just telling you what they said.

[Scientists have said they doubt the new coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan. But the theory remains resonant in political circles. In response to follow-up questions about Ivy League connections to the Wuhan lab, Falwell provided an article from Bloomberg about a Harvard University chemistry professor who had been arrested in a crackdown on intellectual-property theft sponsored by China. There is no evidence that Charles M. Leiber, the professor, had anything to do with the novel coronavirus, despite social-media posts suggesting otherwise, FactCheck.org reported in FebruaryThe Chronicle provided Falwell with a link to FactCheck.org’s reporting on Leiber. “Interesting,” Falwell replied].

How would you feel if you opened Liberty and you had a student or faculty member who got really sick, or even died? Would you feel tremendous guilt?

That’s why I said I’m going to exercise extreme caution before making decisions. You weigh all the factors, and you make the risk known, and it’s their choice whether to come. I don’t see how that’s any different than going on a ski slope in the state of Virginia.

But I wouldn’t open school and say we recommend you come if this thing’s still going like it is now. You’re welcome to come, but please realize that we can’t control what we can’t control.

I wouldn’t care how many showed up and how many didn’t. A lot of schools would.

Because you have so much money.

If you want to put it that way [laughing]. I didn’t say that; you did.

You’ve kind of been saying it.

We don’t have the financial pressures that a lot of schools have.

Read the entire interview here. It may be behind a paywall.

Incoming Princeton University Students Will Explore American History, Nationalism, and Civic Ideals

LeporeI am waiting for the day when the Messiah College administration asks all incoming first-year students to read a history book and then publishes a press release to tell the community about it.

Today, Princeton University announced that all incoming students will read Jill Lepore’s This America: The Case for the Nation.  Here is the press release:

The Pre-read is a Princeton tradition that introduces first-year students to the intellectual life of the University by offering opportunities to engage with a book that students, faculty and staff read.

Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker and host of the podcast “The Last Archive.”

“This America” was published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2019. The book investigates the ideas and principles that animate the American nation in particular and free nations in general. It is a follow-up to Lepore’s 2018 international bestseller, “These Truths: A History of the United States.”

In a foreword to the Pre-read edition of “This America,” Eisgruber wrote that one reason he chose the book was because “It addresses big questions, including one of the most important ethical issues of our time: How can Americans, and the people of other nations, see themselves as united in a shared quest for the common good despite differences and disagreements that might pull them apart?”

In a video message to the Class of 2024, Eisgruber noted that it is an especially important book to discuss in the midst of a presidential election year in the United States, and as the public health crisis of COVID-19 requires us to work together across the globe “as peoples and as humanity.”

“This America” is “a terrific Pre-read for another reason,” Eisgruber said, in that “it explores what it means to be a scholar and hence what it means to be a college student (especially at Princeton, where we expect all of our students to do research). Lepore, quoting W.E.B. DuBois, argues that the best history ‘tells the truth’ about ‘the hideous mistakes, the frightful wrongs, and the great and beautiful things that nations do,’ and also ‘foster[s] a spirit of citizenship and environmental stewardship and a set of civic ideals, and a love of one another.’”

Reflecting on the current crisis, Lepore added: “What it means to belong to a place always matters, but a global catastrophe calls upon each of us to think harder about the consequences of belonging to a nation, in a suffering world.” 

A prize-winning professor, Lepore teaches courses on American history, evidence, historical methods and humanistic inquiry. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity,” which won the Bancroft Prize in 1999, and “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” which won the 2015 American History Book Prize. Her next book, due to be published this year, is titled “IF THEN: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.” She is the author of numerous articles and book reviews, with recent topics spanning the census, the coronavirus and loneliness.

This summer, the incoming class will receive a copy of “This America” in time to prepare for discussions in the fall. “This America” also will be distributed to incoming first-year graduate students and faculty, and will be available to staff and other community members by request.

Discussions with students about the Pre-read book are among the highlights of the academic year for him, Eisgruber said, noting: “A book like ‘This America’ invites conversation. It demands active engagement and thoughtful argument, rather than uncritical veneration.”

“The Stubborn Myth of the Great Gatsby”

Great GatsbyOver at The Baffler, Matt Hanson reviews Greil Marcus’s Under the Red White and Blue: Patriotism, Disenchantment and the Stubborn Myth of The Great Gatsby.

Here is a taste:

We’re seeing now, from the ghoulish first family on down, exactly what that kind of confidence is like when mixed with political power. This counts double when money is something the well-born have never had to work for, or have ever been without. It’s pretty unlikely that the current president has read The Great Gatsby, but it’s very easy to connect the novel to the Trump administration’s blatant venality and xenophobia. Maybe one of the most unintentionally prescient examples of misreading that connection came from George Will, who called Trump “a Gatsby for our time” during his inauguration, probably thinking he was being snarky.

Marcus rebuts this by accurately pointing out that Trump was really just Tom Buchanan all along. When we first meet Tom Buchanan, the polo-playing child of privilege, he’s spouting some supremacist, pseudo-intellectual bullshit about how “if we don’t look out the white race will be . . . utterly submerged . . . we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that.” Marcus notes the scene where Gatsby naively remarks that his wealth has now made him one of the in crowd. Tom immediately sneers that he’s still “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere,” which sounds like it could be a Trump tweet. In an effort to shut Gatsby up for good, Tom says, “we were born different. It’s in our blood. There’s nothing you can do, say, steal, or dream up—” which is a very thinly veiled way of grabbing a tiki torch and marching around, shouting that new money will not replace him. What we now call Trumpism has been with us for a long time. Fitzgerald spotted it almost a century ago.

And with the antidemocratic exclusion that Fitzgerald saw, a heavy door is slammed on the American experiment and the “greatness” Americans love to claim. Marcus reminds us what a collective slap in the face Tom’s assertion of hereditary dominance really is to the way America likes to think of itself. The cruelty is felt by those who want to become Americans, many of whom suffer unimaginably in the process, and by those who already are Americans by birth but either can’t or won’t fit this narrow mold. In Tom’s world, as in ours now, you’re either in or you’re out. The very American Dream we’re all told so much about, with its promises of pursuits of happiness, recedes ever farther, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Read the entire review here.

Ravi Zacharias, RIP

Ravi Zacharias speaks at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Zacharias speaking at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, September 17, 2013 (Wikimedia Commoms)

I must admit that I have not read much of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. I have a few of his books, but for whatever reason I have not opened them. Nevertheless, I realize that he was an important thinker for millions of American evangelicals. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:

Ravi Zacharias, an Indian-born preacher who rose to prominence in a predominantly white evangelical subculture and who wrote popular books and lectured widely at colleges to make an intellectual defense of the Christian faith, died May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an aggressive form of bone cancer, according to a statement from Zacharias International Ministries, the evangelical organization he founded in 1984 and is based in the Atlanta suburbs.

The Rev. Zacharias published and edited more than 25 books, and he was a frequent presence in university lecture halls. His international travels as well as his radio and television show “Let My People Think” extended his reach globally.

He did not get involved in political campaigns but befriended leaders in politics, particularly conservative Republicans. He mentored the son of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations. Before his death, President Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, lauded him for reinforcing her faith. He also was close to baseball player Tim Tebow.

“His fan base included leaders in many in high-profile places, yes, but he’s one of those rare evangelical leaders from his generation who is actually known for being an evangelical who evangelized, rather than an evangelical who did politics,” said Michael Wear, who worked in faith-outreach for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Rev. Zacharias, ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1980, came to wide attention three year later, at age 37, when he preached at the invitation of evangelist Billy Graham at a conference in Amsterdam.

He soon became one of the most sought-after evangelists to promote apologetics, or the defense of Christianity, and began building a ministry based what he called intellectual arguments for evangelical belief rather than direct appeals to faith.

Read the rest here. Rest in Peace.

What American Historian and Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch Said to Mike Pence

13981-hatchHere is Nathan Hatch‘s op-ed at the Winston-Salem Journal:

Last week, I was invited to a conversation with Vice President Mike Pence and 13 other college and university presidents across the country to discuss what it will take to reopen campuses in the fall.

We talked about all of the considerations — public health and safety concerns, testing availability, robust containment measures and economic impact. We shared the various struggles and contingencies we are all working through. We agreed that universities are vital economic and innovative engines in their communities. And we admitted that there are no easy or predictable paths along this uncharted way.

When I was asked to share my perspective, I thought of a story that would illustrate our best way forward as a university and a community. I proudly talked about our “Mask the City” initiative with the vice president of the United States and shared the creativity, collaboration and unity of the Winston-Salem community. For this conversation is about more than returning to in-person classroom instruction at our nation’s universities; our concern should be about supporting our communities well as we seek to regain economic vitality safely.

As we have navigated these last several weeks, I shared how the people of Winston-Salem have learned to adapt to changing circumstances and adopt recommended practices. I told of the ingenuity of Dr. Bill Satterwhite and the specialists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who spent five days developing a prototype of a reusable mask. A few days later, the idea was shared with Renfro, which had the capability and the capacity to reconfigure their manufacturing enterprise from socks to masks. With the organization of Mayor Allen Joines, Don Flow and other community leaders, many businesses, civic organizations, colleges and universities, foundations and faith-based organizations have made it possible to purchase and distribute more than 300,000 masks — one for every person in the city.

What will it take to reopen our institutions of higher learning? The same principles that will allow us to reopen our communities, re-energize our economy and keep ourselves and our neighbors safe: adapting to our changing circumstances and adopting recommended practices to keep one another healthy. And so the people of Winston-Salem will “wear a mask, love your neighbor, protect yourself, and stop COVID-19.” We all are part of the solution. When we offer what we have — an idea, a quieted manufacturing operation, a monetary donation, an hour or two delivering masks to neighbors — we slowly become whole.

Read the rest here.

Trump Will Not Hold a Ceremony to Unveil Obama’s White House Portrait

Yet another sign of our divided political culture.

Here is NBC News:

WASHINGTON — It’s been a White House tradition for decades: A first-term president hosts a ceremony in the East Room for the unveiling of the official portrait of his immediate predecessor that will hang in the halls of the White House for posterity.

Republican presidents have done it for Democratic presidents, and vice versa — even when one of them ascended to the White House by defeating or sharply criticizing the other.

“We may have our differences politically,” President Barack Obama said when he hosted former President George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012, “but the presidency transcends those differences.”

Yet this modern ritual won’t be taking place between Obama and President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. And if Trump wins a second term in November, it could be 2025 before Obama returns to the White House to see his portrait displayed among every U.S. president from George Washington to Bush.

Trump is unconcerned about shunning yet another presidential custom, and he has attacked Obama to an extent no other president has done to a predecessor. Most recently he’s made unfounded accusations that Obama committed an unspecified crime.

Obama, for his part, has no interest in participating in the post-presidency rite of passage so long as Trump is in office, the people familiar with the matter said.

Read the rest here.

When the Only Coffeeshop in Town Closes

NH_Route_103_eastbound,_Warner_NH

Here is Ruth Graham at Slate:

Fewer than 3,000 people live in Warner. For this community, losing Schoodacs is shattering. My family and I saw someone we knew at the coffee shop every time we stopped in. Our next-door neighbor worked on his novel there; a close friend hosted a reading series. We bought our Christmas tree on the coffee shop’s front lawn, and visited the jack-o’-lanterns lined up on the front steps in October. On Saturday mornings, my daughter and I made what we called “the Warner rounds”: Schoodacs, library, farmers market. In warm weather we sat in the sun on the porch, and in the winter we chose a game from the communal board game cabinet or chipped away at the jigsaw puzzle on a big table in the center of the room. The banner image for the private Facebook group for local parents (121 members) is a photo of Schoodacs on a sunny summer day.

And businesses like this one have a ripple effect. Schoodacs—named for a local brook with a spelling that is apparently only found in Warner—purchased hundreds of gallons of maple syrup a year from a family farm up the mountain; who will that farm sell to now? It provided a place for local realtors and other professionals to hold meetings; there’s nowhere else in town that can fill that role. What will happen to foot traffic at the outdoor farmers market without a coffee shop next door?

Read the entire piece here.

 

What People are Learning About Themselves and Others During this Pandemic

Chernow

Check out this piece at The Washington Post. 

Here is author and historian Ron Chernow:

My work has always been my preferred form of therapy and escape, and no less during this period. A shrink would probably speculate that I became a biographer in the first place so that I could disappear every day into other lives and other eras. I have tried to stick with my usual writing routine in the middle of the pandemic. I think it gives a veneer of normality to the situation and makes me feel in some small way that I can control a piece of my life. Luckily, the book that I am writing at the moment is on Mark Twain, so I am holed up in my apartment with arguably the most entertaining person in American history.

One side of me has secretly enjoyed this sudden standstill in activities. I think we have all been reminded of what is essential in life, which is our relationships with other people. When we come out of the other end of this, we are going to have a deeper bond with the people in our lives — of course, the people who have survived this. For many years I have been worried about the state of our democracy. But it’s very heartening to see so many people doing their civic duty and acting not only to protect themselves but to protect their fellow citizens, too. This has been a great demonstration of the power of mass democracy, and I hope it continues. One thing that has struck me very powerfully is the intergenerational harmony. I have been very touched by the generosity of younger friends, members of the millennial generation who have volunteered to shop for me, recognizing that I am at higher risk. One day, my doorbell rang. I went downstairs and nobody was there. But there were three enormous shopping bags bulging with food, household supplies and sanitary wipes brought by a younger friend. In my experience, the younger generation has been extraordinarily considerate of their elders.

Here is park ranger Jessica Korgie:

I have been inspired to create content for the Park Service’s visual media and involve everyone at the park as much as I can. I reflect on perseverance as well. The homesteading era, which was from 1862 through 1986, was about perseverance on many levels. People made it through, and so will we.

I am learning new skills to be a more effective communicator. We’re very keyed in to making sure that all the media we are producing is accessible to everybody. I am so impressed by everyone’s ideas, proactiveness and most of all friendship. Oops, this is where I get emotional. I have daily contact with my co-workers, so it really makes social distancing a lot easier for me. Community is the backbone. If there is anything I have learned through the homesteading story, it is that having a supportive community can make all the difference in survival, whether it is mental or physical in nature. I am hopeful to once again welcome our community of travelers and knowledge seekers and folks who just happened to come through our door. I am waiting for them to come back.

White Supremacy, Capitalism, and a New Book on the History of St. Louis

Broken HeartIs capitalism racist? If you answer yes, you are one of the cool kids in the historical profession right now. Scholars working on the connections between capitalism and slavery have produced some interesting, helpful, provocative, and controversial work. Much of the debate over The New York Times‘s 1619 Project has focused on the strengths and weakness of this historiographical trend.

The relationship between capitalism and race also frames Nicolas Lemann‘s New Yorker review of Walter Johnson‘s new book, The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States.

Here is a taste:

Historically, Johnson doesn’t find many people to admire. Among whites, the main exceptions are a few Communists and radically inclined labor organizers. He takes a dim view, too, of mainstream black organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Urban League. Liberal politicians hardly attract his notice, except when, as in the case of Lincoln, their reputations require revising downward. But after laying out a relentlessly bleak history he ends, jarringly, on a hopeful note. During the unrest following Michael Brown’s death, he tells us, “the disinherited of St. Louis rose again to take control of their history.” Since then, a number of activists—Johnson provides thumbnail sketches of them—have launched efforts in poor black neighborhoods meant to reverse, or at least resist, the pernicious workings of racial capitalism. Today, Johnson writes, “I have never been to a more amazing, hopeful place in my life.” Underlying his stated optimism is an implicit conviction that it wouldn’t do much good to look for help from the larger society; the victims of oppression must find a way forward by themselves.

As a child in the Jim Crow South during the civil-rights era, growing up in a conservative white milieu, I often overheard bitter adult conversations about the hypocrisy of white liberals in the North. Were they really any better than Southern segregationists, to go by their lived behavior? Walter Johnson, coming from the left, offers a good deal of empirical support for opinions like that. His account discourages us from drawing much hope from past events like the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the major civil-rights victories of the sixties, or the election of Barack Obama as President; the regime of racial capitalism, in his vision, always manages to reconstitute itself. Broader reforms that aimed, at least, to smooth the roughest edges of capitalism—like the regulation of business excesses or the creation of Social Security and Medicaid—are, we gather, no match for white supremacy.

Democratic politics, especially in a country with a racial history like ours, is necessarily messy, impure, and capable of producing no more than partial victories, and, even then, only when pushed hard by political movements. But deflating and deriding the progress it has made in the past and the promise it might hold for the future invites the hazards of defeatism. It distracts from the kinds of economic, educational, and criminal-justice reforms that mainstream progressives hope to enact. These are the tools we have at hand. It would be a shame not to use them.

Read the entire review here.

*Columbia Journalism Review* on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Latest Attack on the Press

Liberty Campus

Here is a taste of Bob Norman’s piece at the Columbia Journalism Review:

ON THE MORNING OF MARCH 27, Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer, asked in a text if Calum Best, a student government leader at Liberty University, was available to be photographed for theNew York Times. He’d agreed to the photo shoot the previous day at the request of Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson.

“Sure, what should I wear?” answered Best, 21. They decided to meet on the grounds of the Lynchburg campus.  The resulting photograph was published in the Times two days later. It accompanied  Williamson’s story about a decision by Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical Christian leader, Liberty’s president and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump,  to keep the campus partially open after spring break despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Falwell didn’t appreciate the Times’ coverage. He disputed a claim in the story made by the director of the student health service that students had exhibited symptoms of the virus, and threatened a defamation suit. The Timesstood by its reporting. 

“The enemy is real,” Falwell said of the media on the John Fredericks Showon April 14. “They really don’t have any care for the well-being of average Americans. They just want power. They’re authoritarian. They’re like nothing I’ve seen … since Nazi Germany.”

Falwell hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit, but he did go on the attack. The Liberty University Police Department obtained a warrant for Rendleman’s arrest on a trespassing charge shortly after her visit.

The university also pressed charges against ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis and freelance photographer Amanda Rhoades, who had entered campus on March 31 on behalf of Agence France-Presse. Falwell said his police department sought a warrant for Williamson as well, but the judge refused to sign it based on a lack of evidence. 

“They’re willing to come from hotspots like New York and go right past no-trespassing signs that we had at every entrance,” Falwell said on the conservative radio show. “These people are not gonna trespass on our campus and bring viruses on our campus and bring whatever it is they’re doing.” 

He promised an “ugly legal fight” over the trespassing charges. 

“They forced us into a corner and I don’t think God wants Christians to just sit back and not protect what they believe in,” he said on the Todd Starnes show last month. 

But Falwell apparently relented after speaking with prosecutor Harrison and receiving written statements from both Rendleman and MacGillis. In mid-May Harrison announced that she was not prosecuting the two journalists on the misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail if convicted. 

In written statements, Rendleman issued an apology and MacGillis offered an explanation for his campus visit and accepted a ban from returning to the campus: “Mr. MacGillis believed he had the right to report there based on a prior conversation with [Falwell] and because such reporting constituted business with the university. Mr. MacGillis now understands that Liberty believes he should not have been on campus in light of newly posted signs restricting certain access.”

Harrison told CJR a decision in the Rhoades case has not been made because she has not been in contact with counsel for the photographer. 

Read the rest here.

What Can We Learn From the Great Depression?

Soup

Here is Harvard historian Lizabeth Cohen at The Atlantic:

Americans are out of work. More than 20 million lost their jobs in April alone. Lines at food banks stretch for miles. Businesses across the country are foundering. Headlines scream that the coronavirus has brought about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The economic collapse of the 1930s, one of the defining traumas of the 20th century, is still the benchmark against which recessions are measured. And, for many Americans, the New Deal, launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, remains the standard for how the federal government should respond to a major national emergency. By the late 1940s, the United States had exited economic calamity and entered into an unparalleled period of national prosperity—with measurably greater income equality. America did not merely endure the Great Depression; its response transformed it into a richer and more equitable society.

Many hope to replicate that achievement today. But the success of the New Deal was built on more than all the agencies it spawned, or the specific programs it established—it rested on the spirit of those who brought it into being. The New Dealers learned to embrace experimentation, accepting failures along the path to success. They turned aside the ferocious opposition their bold proposals provoked. They organized supporters, and learned not just to lead, but to listen. And, perhaps above all, they pushed for unity and cultivated empathy.

The New Deal offers us more than a simple guide for returning to some semblance of normalcy. The larger lesson it offers is that recovery is a complex and painful process that requires the participation of many, not directives from a few. And that, ultimately, we’re all in this together.

Read the rest here.

 

Have You Seen Ben Sasse’s Commencement Speech?

What is this?

Watch Sasse mock the graduating class of 2020, take multiple shots at China, make fun of the name “Jeremy,” tell kids that they are heavier than his generation, belittle “gym teachers,” and tell students not to study psychology.

As the father of a 19-year-old, I do not think Sasse is connecting with many graduates here.

UPDATE: My 19-year-old tells me some of it was funny, but not as a commencement address.

 

Three Sundays in April (Part 4)

If you had thirty minutes to say something to the most powerful man in the world, what would you say?

This is how I started our short series titled “Three Sundays in April.”

On April 19, 2020, the Sunday after Easter, Donald Trump watched the service at Jack Graham’s Prestonwood Baptist Church in West Plano, Texas.

What did he hear?

Jack Graham is sixty-nine-years-old and a life-long Southern Baptist. He has a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Southwestern in “Church and Proclamation.” After serving several Southern Baptist Churches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, Graham came to Prestonwood, a prominent Dallas-area megachurch, in 1989. Today the church claims 45,000 members. Graham was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2002-2004.

Graham has strong court evangelical credentials. Here are some of his greatest hits:

  • Has has defended Trump’s immigration policies.
  • He is part of the Southern Baptist faction who opposed Russell Moore’s criticism of Donald Trump.
  • He has supported Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
  • He believes that Trump is the “most pro life president” in his lifetime.
  • He rarely misses a photo-op with Trump.
  • He was one of the several evangelical leaders who prayed for Trump at the “Evangelicals for Trump” gathering in January 2020. (I wrote about this event at USA Today).
  • He signed a letter criticizing Christianity Today after former editor Mark Galli wrote an anti-Trump editorial. (He said the magazine was “increasingly liberal and out of step and out of touch with conservative Christians and churches”).
  • He defended Trump during impeachment, calling the proceedings against the president “ludicrous” and a “sham.”

When Donald Trump pointed his browser toward Prestonwood Baptist Church he watched a few praise songs and then saw Graham interviewing Texas governor Gregg Abbott. The Republican governor knew that his primary audience was not Graham or those sitting on their couches at home awaiting Graham’s sermon. Abbott was talking to the President of the United States. Abbott said that “Texas wants to lead the way” in opening the nation’s economy. He told Graham, “put your faith in God and Texas will once again rise-up to be the number one economy in the United States of America.”

Graham’s sermon was titled “We are Alive.” It was based on Acts 2, a passage chronicling the coming of the Holy Spirit and the first days of the early Christian church. Christians around the world celebrate these events on Pentecost Sunday. This year, May 31 is Pentecost Sunday. Since Southern Baptists do not follow the historic Christian calendar, Graham felt comfortable preaching on Acts 2 six weeks early.

Graham’s delivered a standard 3-point message. Based on the text, he exhorted his listeners to “exalt” Christ, “evangelize” the world, and “engage” the life of the church. Because several listeners had made professions of faith (by contacting the website on the screen) the week before–Easter Sunday–Graham wanted to make sure that these people got connected with a church characterized by these three practices. Those in the evangelical world call this “follow-up.” Billy Graham (no relation to Jack Graham as far as I know) would have new converts fill-out “decision cards” and the Graham organization would “follow-up” with them to make sure they got connected with a local congregation. This became very controversial during the 1957 Billy Graham New York Crusade when some of the decision cards were distributed to the “liberal” churches of the Protestant mainline. Jack Graham does not want this to happen to his new online converts.

In Graham’s first point, “exalt Christ,” he came closest to reminding Trump that because of the events of Holy Week there is another leader in charge. (Unlike Greg Laurie on Palm Sunday and Robert Jeffress on Easter Sunday, Graham never acknowledged the fact that Trump was watching). “Christ is King,” Graham said, and “there is no president or King above him.” I am not sure Graham meant this as a political statement addressed to the current President of the United States, but he said it nonetheless and it is true. But such a statement does not seem to match-up with Graham’s court evangelicalism. I don’t think he has teased out the full political implications of Christ kingship. He is not alone. Most evangelicals have not thought about the Kingdom of God in this way. As a minister, Graham represents an alternative Kingdom. Yet he wants to rely on the corrupt king of an inferior kingdom to advance the mission of the superior and victorious Kingdom to which he holds his higher loyalty. If you view the world through the eyes of faith, this does not make sense. It is also a form of idolatry.

Graham’s second point, “evangelize” the world, represent the classic evangelical understanding of the church’s mission. Christians should preach the “simple” message that Jesus died for the sins of the world, rose again on Easter Sunday, and offers eternal life to all those who believe. When Christians do this, Graham notes, they are following the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20. In that passage, Jesus tells his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Italics mine). Jesus had a lot to say during his ministry about the ethics–including the political ethics–of His Kingdom. The Great Commission is not just about evangelism as Graham defines it. It is also a call to discipleship.

Graham calls himself a “gospel preacher” and subtly distinguishes this kind of preaching from the kind of preaching that helps Christians grow in their faith. “Gospel preachers” like Graham are always trying to ignite a revival. They want to get people saved in the way I described above.  Revival is thus a major theme in Graham’s April 19 message. Such an appeal to revival might even perk-up the ears of Donald Trump, especially since Graham talks about “revival” during this service in both spiritual and economic terms. The message is clear: President Trump and Governor Abbott will revive the American economy and spur a spiritual revival. People will return to church, preach the Gospel, and lead more people to salvation. We know that Trump already thinks his presidency is responsible for a great revival in the church. Now Graham, by inviting Abbott to his service, is implying that Trump will continue to be such a spiritual leader by opening the economy. These two ideas are inseparable in the mind of this president.

But again I ask, what might such a revival look like? Graham said that once the economy comes back, the church will “turn the world upside down.” If this is true, did Trump get the message? Does Graham understand the meaning of such a message?

Graham believes that a revival will come when people accept Christ as Savior, but “turning the world upside down” seems to be a revolutionary political act. I imagine that Graham thinks this means revived Christians will turn the world upside down by reclaiming it as a Christian nation characterized by conservative Supreme Court justices, the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, a restoration of biblical values related to marriage, the defense religious freedom, and the flourishing of a free-market economy. When the revival comes, America will be great again.

As I listened to Laurie, Jeffress, and now Graham talk about the large numbers of people making “decisions for Christ” after watching their coronavirus services, I thought about the mid-20th-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr‘s critique of this kind of evangelism. Writing in the context of Billy Graham’s New York crusade, Niebuhr said that Graham’s success depended on “oversimplifying every issue of life.” Evangelicals like Billy Graham, he added, failed to address “the social dimensions of the Gospel.” Billy Graham’s gospel, Niebuhr argued, “promises new life, not through painful religious experience, but merely by signing a decision card” (Life, July 1, 1957).

So I return to my question: What might Jack Graham’s revival look like? Will it announce the Kingdom of God by speaking truth to the corruption and immorality of this presidential administration? Will it cause Christians to address the structural problems of race in America? What will such a revival mean for the “least of these”–the poor, the immigrant, the unborn, the elderly? How might such a revival inspire Christians to care for the creation?  Or will this be a Christian nationalist and capitalist revival? Or perhaps it will be solely a pietistic revival, with little effect on sin-infested social institutions and practices.

N.T. Wright has been a lodestar for me during this series.  Here Wright in The Day the Revolution Began:

True, in recent years several thinkers have made a distinction between ‘mission’ (the broadest view of the church’s task in the world) and ‘evangelism’ (the more specific task of telling people about Jesus’s death and resurrection and what it means for them); but the word ‘mission’ is still used in the narrower sense as well, often referring to specific events such as weeklong ‘evangelistic rally.’  Part of my aim in this book has been to widen the scope of the ‘mission’ based on what Jesus did on the cross without losing its central and personal focus. I hope it is clear, in fact, that this task of telling people about Jesus remains vital. But I have also been arguing that the early Christian message is not well summarized by saying that Jesus died so that we can go to heaven  That way of looking at the gospel and mission both shrinks and distorts what the Bible actually teaches. It ignores Jesus’s claim to be launching God’s kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven’ and to be bringing that work to its climax precisely on the cross. It ignores the New Testament’s emphasis on the true human vocation, to be ‘image-bearers,’ reflecting God’s glory into the world and the praises of creation back to God.” (p.356-357)

According to Wright, the vocation of the image-bearing Christian extends beyond Christian Right talking points.

Finally, in point three of his message, “engage the church,” Graham talks about how the church grew in numbers, prayed together, and studied the scripture. This is good. But it is also a pretty selective view of Acts 2. For example, Graham fails to mention Acts  2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What might this passage mean in the larger context of debates over the opening of a capitalist economy defined by individual accumulation of property and possessions? How might this passage in Acts relate to the “spiritual awakening” Graham believes is coming to America and the world?

I have been reading Eugene McCarraher‘s provocative book The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity. In his discussion of early 20th-century businessman Edward Filene, McCarraher writes, “‘The right and power to buy must lead to a great new religious awakening,’ Filene proclaimed, ‘a religious experience such as humanity has never had an opportunity to know before.”

If Trump managed to make it through the entire service, he learned that his attempts to open-up the economy will lead to a religious awakening that will make America great again and secure him the evangelical votes he needs in November.

The Author’s Corner with Allison Fredette

Marriage on the BorderAllison Fredette is Assistant Professor of History at Appalachian State University. This interview is based on her new book, Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War (The University Press of Kentucky, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Marriage on the Border?

AF: I started this project because I wanted to understand the conflicted regional identity of people in the border South, both in the past and today. I was born in Indiana and then lived in southern California for eight years before moving to West Virginia at the age of 11. Having lived throughout the country before settling in the South (and yes, I think West Virginia is in the South), I was fascinated by the confusion with which West Virginians themselves might answer the question, “Are you from the South?” I wanted to understand how West Virginians’ identities got so complicated and messy. Knowing that I wanted to analyze this through the lens of gender, I initially looked at married women’s property laws before my father, an archivist in the West Virginia and Regional History Center in Morgantown, unearthed a box of divorce cases from Wheeling and sent me down an investigative rabbit hole.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Marriage on the Border?

AF: Marriage on the Border argues that the marriages and marital roles of mid-nineteenth-century white Kentuckians and West Virginians reflected the hybrid nature of the border on which they lived. As the Civil War approached, white border southerners sought marriages based on mutuality and individualism–and embraced theories of contractualism to end them when they failed to meet those standards–civil all while living in a society with a deeply racist, hierarchical slave system.

JF: Why do we need to read Marriage on the Border?

AF: Marriage on the Border is about a region of the country that is often overlooked. Historians of gender and marriage often focus on New England or the Deep South, and similarly, studies of southern households before, during, and after the Civil War usually take the plantation as their starting point. Studying the border South and thinking about the formation of a variety of types of southern identity is pivotal for understanding the entire region, as well as how we construct our own identities today.

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

AF: I probably decided, on some level, to be an American historian when I read the Little House books in the second grade. I loved getting lost in the past and learning about families that seemed so different from mine. Although I have read many books since then, I am still an American historian, and I am still a historian of the household.

JF: What is your next project?

AF: My next project, Murdering Laura Foster: Violence, Gender, and Memory in Appalachian North Carolina, revisits the infamous 1866 Wilkesboro murder case that inspired the ballad, “Tom Dooley.” I put Laura Foster, the victim, back at the center of the story by using gender analysis to study the murder, trial and folk song.

JF: Thanks, Allison!

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

We see through a glass darkly

The woman who turned Woodrow Wilson into a supporter of the Nineteenth Amendment

“What would make leaders [of colleges and universities] gamble with human life this way?”

Hope for the humanities

Alan Jacobs on First Things

The case for books

Grateful Americans

Teach My Research

COVID-19 and the end of paper money

Women reading through the Great Depression

Jill Lepore‘s new podcast

Blogging” through a 17th-century pandemic

Karin Wulf reviews Whitney Martinko’s Historic Real Estate: Market Morality and the Politics of Preservation in the Early United States

Kwame Anthony Appiah reviews three new books on Franz Boas

Marjoleine Kars reviews Serena Zabin, The Boston Massacre: A Family History

18th-century schoolmaster’s salaries