Wade Davies Discusses “Native Hoops”

A prominent Navajo educator once told historian Peter Iverson that “the five major sports on the Navajo Nation are basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball, and rodeo.” The Native American passion for basketball extends far beyond the Navajo, whether on reservations or in cities, among the young and the old. Why basketball—a relatively new sport—should hold such a place in Native culture is the question Wade Davies takes up in Native Hoops; The Rise of American Indian Basketball 1895-1970.

The first comprehensive history of American Indian basketball, Native Hoops tells a story of hope, achievement, and celebration—a story that reveals the redemptive power of sport and the transcendent spirit of Native culture.

1. What’s your elevator pitch for Native Hoops? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

WD: Native Hoops is a comprehensive history of American Indian basketball, from its beginnings in the boarding schools to its rise to preeminence as Indian country’s favorite sport. Through hard years, Native youths bonded with and drew strength from basketballand they made it part of their community athletic traditions. They did this while, along the way, injecting doses of speed and style into the game to help make it the global phenomenon it is today.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about the comprehensive history of American Indian basketball?

WD: As someone born and raised in Indiana during the Bobby Knight era, I was amazed to discover communities that were as deeply devoted to this sport as Hoosiers were, perhaps even more so. Research for an unrelated book brought me repeatedly to Navajo country, where I met people who were inspired by this sport, and took great pride in their teams. As evidence of this, I saw basketball hoops everywhere on the reservation, as one sees in virtually every Native community across AmericaI wanted to know where this passion came from; even more so after witnessing Native teams competing fiercely for the 1999 Arizona high school championship before a sea of dedicated fans. It came as a surprise to me that, at that point, no one had attempted to write this important history, and so I committed myself to it

I was also drawn to the idea of writing a broadly sweeping twentieth-century Native history that was a celebration of resiliencejoy, and triumph. The story of Native basketball includes its darker aspects, of course, but it is largely one of hope.

3. You spent 20 years working on Native Hoops. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?

WD: Because I deemed it necessary to adopt a wide focus studying all forms of the game, in all communities, over a seventy-five year period, the task of completing this project felt overwhelming at times. Just the scope of it, then, was the greatest challenge. Beyond this, my most difficult task was tracking the careers of thousands of players and teams whose stories had rarely been recorded, except in scattered newspaper reportsI cross-referenced these reports with student records and other available sources to get a fuller picture of where these players came from and who they truly were, but this was a time-consuminghit and miss process.

4. Can you put into perspective the influence American Indians have had on the growth of basketball in the United States? 

WD: Native athletes have had a profound influence on basketball from the beginning, in the first place by bequeathing to the world the sport of lacrosse, which partially influenced James Naismith’s invention of this sport. In the following decades, leading up to World War II, Indian boarding school and professional barnstorming teams were also some of the country’s biggest draws at times when basketball had yet to establish itself as a major American sportThe Fort Shaw boarding school girls in the early 1900s not only introduced the sport to their home state of Montana, but gave it a big boost by wowing spectators at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Lakota boys from the St. Francis Mission in South Dakota did their part as well by injecting a dose of energy into the American high school game. They did so namely through their scintillating performances at a national Catholic tournament held annually in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s. Countless other teams did their parts as well, including the Sioux Travelers who frequently barnstormed alongside the famed Harlem Globetrotters and were, in effect, a Native equivalent of that team. Yet another way Natives influenced the overall sport was through their distinctive “Indian basketball style, later known as Rez ball. The speed and flair with which they played, especially on the fast break, helped transform basketball from the much slower, methodical, game it was in the early 1900s into the fast-paced spectacle it is today. I do not argue that Natives did this single handedlymembers of other races and ethnicities also made their marksbut they had a stylistic influence far exceeding their numbers.  

5. Your research stopped at 1970. Can you address what advances, or declines, have American Indians have experienced in that past 50 years?

WD: I selected 1970 as the end-point for this story, as told in detail,because basketball achieved its status as the most popular sport in Indian country by that time. This was not, however, the point at which that popularity peaked. It has just kept increasing since thenImproved access to transportation and broadcast technology, together with the sports’ reopening to women and a variety of rules changes, further opened up the game, both in terms of its public accessibility and stylistic flow. Among other things, this helped the style Natives played in the Indian school era fully blossom into the exhilarating Rez ball style Native public school and independent teams often play today. All-Indian tournaments have also kept growing, as has overall public participation in the gameToday, Native people of all tribes, genders, and ages commonly take to reservation and city courts, including many people well into their seventiesBasketball has also continued to serve important social functions in Native communities, as demonstrated by the recent Warrior Movement against suicide, initiated by a champion boys’ high school program in Arlee, Montana. College ball has also taken on greater meaning for Native communities since 1970 thanks to its increased accessibility to their male and female athletes. There is also hope that more Native women and men will make it as professional players as years progress. Some notable women, like Ryneldi Becenti and Shoni Schimmel have already done so in the WNBA, but the men have yet to make their mark on the NBA the way their ancestors did on the professional game prior to World War II. This may soon change, and become an important chapter in a future book.

6. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

WD: That basketball has made an indelible, and largely positive, mark on Native communities while, at the same time, their players have made their mark on the sport. This is summed up by Blackfeet athlete Jesse DesRosier in the closing passage of the book: “We definitely feel just as much a part of it as it is a part of us. It’s ingrained in us.”

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

WD: Collectively, it’s the descendants of many of these great players whose stories, until now, have never been told by historians. I think of people like Chauncey Archiquette, Spec Blacksmith, Marcella Crow Feather, Clyde James, Grace Vanest, and Tony Wapp. These were amazing athletes who, in times of great difficulty for their people, succeeded on the court and helped change the nature of this sport. Hopefully this book will be a source of pride for their descendants, inspire them to learn more, and encourage some to publicly share their own stories about these heroes.

Wade Davies is professor of Native American studies at the University of Montana, Missoula. His books include Healing Ways: Navajo Health Care in the Twentieth CenturyWe Are Still Here: American Indians since 1890, with Peter Iverson; and American Indian Sovereignty and Law: An Annotated Bibliography, with Richmond L. Clow.

New Book Alert: The Pro-Life Pregnancy Help Movement

The Pro-Life Pregnancy Help Movement; Serving Women or Saving Babies? by Laura S. Hussey

There is more to the pro-life movement than campaigning against abortion. That, at least, is the logic behind a large and growing network of pro-life pregnancy centers offering “help” to pregnant women. As these centers face increasing scrutiny, this book offers the first social-scientific study of the pro-life pregnancy help movement.

The work being performed at pro-life pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and other charitable agencies is, Laura S. Hussey suggests, distinguished by several strategic features: it is directed at non-state targets, operates in largely privatized venues, employs service provision as its primary tactic, and aims to address causes popularly associated with its countermovement such as women’s (including poor women’s) wellbeing and empowerment. The motives and nature of the services such pregnancy centers deliver have become the subjects of competing political narratives—but, until now, very little empirical research. A rich, mixed-method study including data from two original national surveys and extensive interviews, Hussey’s book adjudicates these opposing views even as it provides a measured look at the identity, work, history, and impact of pro-life pregnancy centers and related service providers, as well as their relations with the larger American antiabortion movement.

To what extent is pro-life pregnancy help work primarily geared to serving women versus “saving babies?” Pursued in these pages, the answer has broad implications for the wider study of social action and the pro-life movement, and for the future of the American abortion conflict.

“Professor Hussey provides a novel, in-depth account of the pregnancy help movement (PHM) that both confirms and refutes much of the existing literature and conventional wisdom about this feminized branch of the pro-life movement. Drawing from an unmatched wealth of original data, she takes a balanced approach to a controversial topic. Although many people on both sides of the abortion debate may find her conclusions unsatisfying, they provide a solid (and much needed) starting point from which future research, perspectives, and debates can be developed.” – Alesha E. Doan, author of Opposition and Intimidation: The Abortion Wars and Strategies of Political Harassment and coauthor of Abortion Regret:The New Attack on Reproductive Freedom

Laura S. Hussey is associate professor of political science and director of the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her extensive work on social movements, public policy, and politics has appeared in many publications, including American Politics Research, Politics & Policy, Political Research Quarterly, and Social Science Quarterly.

 

New Book Alert: The Power of Accountability

The Power of Accountability; Offices of Inspector General at the State and Local Levels

by Robin J. Kempf

Migrant children separated from their parents.
A scheme to defraud Cook County using property tax breaks.
An undisclosed thirty-year business relationship between city officials in Baltimore.

These are the sorts of headlines regularly generated by offices of inspector general (OIGs)—bureaucratic units dedicated to government accountability that are commonly independent of the agencies they are charged with overseeing. In 1976, OIGs were virtually unheard of and were largely at the federal level, but today there are more than 170 OIGs overseeing state and local government entities. Why have OIGs been so widely adopted, and what do they do? How do they contribute to accountability, and what are their limitations? In The Power of Accountability Robin J. Kempf sets out to address these questions with empirical data and to examine the conflicts that have led to variations in the design and implementation of OIGs. In doing so she explores the power of the concept of the inspector general: an institutional model for keeping subnational government units accountable to the public.

As more and more government entities have created offices of inspector general, practitioners in this developing field have recommended an archetypal structure for these agencies that assures their authority and independence. Why then, The Power of Accountability asks, have so many states and localities incorporated significant deviations from this recommended model in their design? Through an extensive review of government websites, laws, and ordinances; original surveys of the identified OIGs; legislative histories; and interviews with thirty-eight OIG staff in eight states, Kempf analyzes why OIGs have proliferated, why and how they work differently in various jurisdictions, and what effect these variations in design have on the effectiveness of OIGs as a mechanism of accountability.

The ever-expanding call for accountability in government drives the increasing demand for offices of inspector general, which necessarily entails intense political maneuvering. The Power of Accountability is a uniquely useful resource for judging whether, under what circumstances, and how well OIGs fulfill their intended purpose and serve the public interest.

“Robin Kempf walks us step-by-step through the considerations involved in creating offices of inspectors general (OIGs) and in doing so provides us with a rich account—as ethnographic as it is statistically informed—of the institutionalization of one of our primary contemporary modes of public accountability. Using a rich variety of methods, she tells the story of how OIGs come into being and of why and how this model of institutional accountability has spread so widely across states. Her compelling account begs questions about the effectiveness of such models and will be a reference point for future scholars of accountability.”  – Nadia Hilliard, author of The Accountability State: US Federal Inspectors General and the Pursuit of Democratic Integrity

Funding for this work was provided by a grant from the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College.

About the Author: Robin J. Kempf is assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, University of New York.

Roger R. Reese Wins 2019 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Prize

The World War One Historical Association’s 2019 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., prize for the best work of history in English on World War One has been awarded to two exceptional historians: Yigit Akin for his When the War Came Home: The Ottomans’ Great War and the Devastation of an Empire (Stanford University Press); and Roger R. Reese for The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution 1856-1917 (University Press of Kansas).

In 2017 two books also won the Tomlinson prize. Three titles shared the award presented in 2011, 2016, and 2018. The Tomlinson awards began in 1999.

In December 1917, nine months after the disintegration of the Russian monarchy, the army officer corps, one of the dynasty’s prime pillars, finally fell—a collapse that, in light of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, historians often treat as inevitable. The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856–1917 contests this assumption. By expanding our view of the Imperial Russian Army to include the experience of the enlisted ranks, Roger R. Reese reveals that the soldier’s revolt in 1917 was more social revolution than anti-war movement—and a revolution based on social distinctions within the officer corps as well as between the ranks.

Reese’s account begins in the aftermath of the Crimean War, when the emancipation of the serfs and consequent introduction of universal military service altered the composition of the officer corps as well as the relationship between officers and soldiers. More catalyst than cause, World War I exacerbated a pervasive discontent among soldiers at their ill treatment by officers, a condition that reached all the way back to the founding of the Russian army by Peter I. It was the officers’ refusal to change their behavior toward the soldiers and each other over a fifty-year period, Reese argues, capped by their attack on the Provisional Government in 1917, that fatally weakened the officer corps in advance of the Bolshevik seizure of power.

As he details the evolution of Russian Imperial Army over that period, Reese explains its concrete workings—from the conscription and discipline of soldiers to the recruitment and education of officers to the operation of unit economies, honor courts, and wartime reserves. Marshaling newly available materials, his book corrects distortions in both Soviet and Western views of the events of 1917 and adds welcome nuance and depth to our understanding of a critical turning point in Russian history.

Roger R. Reese is professor of history at Texas A&M University. His many books include Why Stalin’s Soldiers Fought: The Red Army’s Military Effectiveness in World War II, Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925–1941, and Red Commanders: A Social History of the Soviet Army Officer Corps, 1918–1991, all from Kansas.

Timothy B. Smith Discusses “The Union Assaults at Vicksburg”

It was the third week of May 1863, and after seven months and six attempts, Ulysses S. Grant was finally at the doorstep of Vicksburg. What followed was a series of attacks and maneuvers against the last major section of the Mississippi River controlled by the Confederacy—and one of the most important operations of the Civil War. Grant intended to end the campaign quickly by assault, but the stalwart defense of Vicksburg’s garrison changed his plans. The Union Assaults at Vicksburg is the first comprehensive account of this quick attempt to capture Vicksburg, which proved critical to the Union’s ultimate success and Grants eventual solidification as one of the most significant military commanders in American history.

Establishing a day-to-day—;and occasionally minute-to-minute—;timeline for this crucial week, military historian Timothy B. Smith invites readers to follow the Vicksburg assaults as they unfold. His finely detailed account reaches from the offices of statesmen and politicians to the field of battle, with exacting analysis and insight that ranges from the highest level of planning and command to the combat experience of the common soldier. As closely observed and vividly described as each assault is, Smith’s book also puts the sum of these battles into the larger context of the Vicksburg campaign, as well as the entire war. His deeply informed, in-depth work thus provides the first full view of a key but little-studied turning point in the fortunes of the Union army in the West, Ulysses S. Grant, and the United States of America.

1. What’s your elevator pitch for The Union Assaults at Vicksburg? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

TS: The battlefield where the assaults took place is a national park, yet historians generally gloss over these events, concentrating instead on the siege or the earlier land campaign. But the assaults, while fostering little change in the actual situation at Vicksburg, did have huge strategic implications. Readers will have to dig in to find out how.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about Grant’s was final series of attacks and maneuvers against the last major section of the Mississippi River controlled by the Confederacy?

TS: The main reason was because there has never been a detailed, comprehensive, tactical study of these important events. Also, I’ve always been fascinated with Vicksburg, including the assaults and siege that are interpreted at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Growing up in Mississippi, we went there often. Also, I had a grand total of four direct ancestors inside Vicksburg, and one who marched the other way with William Loring at Champion Hill. Researching and learning more about their actions was a definite motivation.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?

TS: Probably matching the action as described on paper with the terrain. Plenty of records exist from reports to letters and diaries for us to be able to piece together a detailed rendition of what happened. But to overlay that on the battlefield itself is at places tricky, simply because over 150 years things have changed so much. Few of the original fortifications are still in existence, those in the park today being mostly recreations. While the original park commission did a good job of marking positions and events, seeing it how it would have been then is impossible, although recent deforestation at the park gives a better view shed. But so many roads, ravines, and ridges have changed that at places, such as around the visitor center for instance, where the battlefield has been permanently altered, it is difficult to determine exactly what was where.

4. Is it possible to imagine what would have happened had Vicksburg not fallen to the Union?

TS: By the time of the assaults, I don’t think that was a possibility. Grant had an open and secure line of communication and supply once he took Haynes’s and Snyder’s Bluffs on the Yazoo River, so he could outlast pretty much anything the Confederates did. Obviously, it didn’t hurt that he was facing two pretty much incompetent commanders. By May 18, it was all but a foregone conclusion that Vicksburg was doomed, barring of course Joe Johnston suddenly finding his spine. By then it was just a matter of determining how Vicksburg would be captured, quickly via direct assault or slowly by siege.

5. What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of Grant’s leadership as a military commander?

TS: In the public realm, most still think of him as a drunk, which modern scholarship has largely debunked. But old beliefs die hard and the alternative has not made its way into the public mind yet. Same thing with Grant as a butcher. Neither of those was his greatest flaw, however, which I believe happened to be overconfidence. That said, I think his adaptability and unflappability on the move was perhaps his greatest strength, and that is still largely misunderstood or not understood at all.

6. What attracted you Civil War research?

TS: As I mentioned, growing up in Mississippi between Shiloh and Vicksburg, we visited both often. As I grew older and began looking into my ancestors, I began to research their activities. That just led to larger research projects, and I found I love the treasure hunt nature of the research. You just never know what you might find next. The travel you get to do while on research trips is also fun.

7. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

TS: That the assaults are not just something to gloss over, but were real actions that would be considered fairly large battles if they stood alone. And that they had immense repercussions.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

TS: Interesting question. Maybe for obvious reasons my mother who died a couple of years ago, but then she never read a word of my other nineteen books so she probably wouldn’t have read this one either. History wasn’t her thing; we’d drop her off at a Wal Mart while we went on those battlefield visits. I’d probably have to say one of my ancestors in the 36th Mississippi who defended the Stockade Redan during the assaults, with the proviso that I could ask him how accurate I got the descriptions in the book!

 

Timothy B. Smith teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. His many books include, most recently, Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson as well as Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation and Shiloh: Conquer or Perish, all published by the University Press of Kansas.

Three Things I Wish I Knew When I Went on the Academic Job Market

by Rachel Neff, author of Chasing Chickens; When Life after Higher Education Doesn’t Go the Way You Planned

I started preparing for the academic job market in the summer of 2012. Using my temporary title of instructor, I requested review copies of as many books as I thought I might end up using to teach. If I was going to spend the time to design a course for a committee, I wanted to use what I created when I walked into the classroom – a sort of measure twice, cut once sort of approach.

Spoiler alert: all the hours poured into job application packets resulted in no interviews, which translated into zero job offers. Back then, the Modern Language Association (MLA) had recently moved their annual conference from December to January, so I spent my winter holiday break with the sinking feeling that all I was going to get in the new year was the professional equivalent of a giant lump of coal in my stocking.

It’s January again. I’m here to tell you it’s time to stop refreshing the job wiki every five minutes. Don’t fret about rumors (or facts) of inside candidates and the heartbreak of canceled searches. You’re going to need to get pragmatic. This might sound harsh, but your advisors and your peers in the academy have little to no clue on how the wider working world works. You can chase the diminishing hope of a full-time, tenure track position, but know that there’s an entire world outside of academia.

I have friends in my cohort who graduated and got the academic jobs. They’ve called me, some crying, to say they wish they had my life – the one outside of academia. As someone who made the transition from academic to “other” in the checkbox of post-grad life, here are the three things I wish I had known in December 2012 that will still serve you in December 2019.

1. The Academic Job Market Can Feel Fickle

Perhaps one of the most comforting things that was said to me during the academic job application process was from my advisor, who said, “I don’t know why some people get jobs and others don’t. Your application packet was very strong.”

Looking back at my graduate career, I had tried everything to position myself for the job market. I started by attending conferences all over the United States. I’d organized several workshops and conferences. I served on committees. At the end of the day, that undercompensated labor meant nothing. Those activities don’t even get a mention on my current resume.

Thus, when facing complete silence or outright rejection from the academic job market, it is really hard not to blame yourself. I spent a lot of time wondering if I would have gotten a shot if I had “just attended that one summer conference” or if I had “only served on a few more committees.” The reality is that you can do everything right during your graduate studies and still end up with no job interviews or offers. That doesn’t make you a bad person or an inferior scholar. It means you were unlucky. You bought a lottery ticket to become a professor and your numbers weren’t called.

2. Counseling is One of the Best Investments in Yourself

The academic job market is emotionally draining. Again, you can do everything right. Have a beautiful CV and amazing job application packet. You can still end up with no interviews or no job offers.

Counseling is a great space to find support outside of your advisor and peers. There is something to be said about the confidential space that is created in therapy. Kvetching about a peer who is getting interviewed at a top tier school who you felt wasn’t the best won’t get back to them. You get a safe space to vent.

Access to mental health care in the United States can be difficult, but reach out to your campus mental or health services to see what options are available. Some schools offer emergency or crisis counseling for five to ten appointments. Some of these appointments can be free. Many campus services can help refer you to practitioners who offer sliding scale rates.

The job market can bring about an identity crisis. You’ve spent years preparing for a career and identity that may or may not be going forward. This can be a huge blow. Getting support during this time can really help your mental health. I certainly spent a lot of time bawling in a private office about how unfair things were and how unhappy I felt my last year of my PhD. I started out with weekly appointments, moved to biweekly, then went to once a month.

If the pain and overwhelming disappointment of not getting interviews or not getting a job becomes too much, please remember the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. While this is often a taboo or hush-hush topic, it is important to note that there are services available and you are not alone. The feelings of failure and despair are temporary. It sucks. It hurts. But you are not only your dissertation and job title. You are a wonderful, inquisitive human being who can and will find purpose and happiness, even if it’s not as a professor.

3. Life Outside of Academia is Rewarding

I’m here to tell you that life outside of the academy is surprisingly wonderful. Work is a job and life goes on. Do I still feel a twinge of sadness when my friends talk about teaching and grading and conferences? Sure. I’m human. That’s the life I thought I’d have.

But, for the most part, I’m making as much as most assistant to associate professors. I have health care. I bought a house. I run a side gig. I write fiction and poetry. I knit. I live near my family and I have a job I enjoy. Is it a bit perfunctory box checking? Probably. But I’m happy. I leave work at work.

There’s money to be made. Careers to be found. All outside of the university system. Choosing not to chase a tenure track position by doing visiting assistant professor gigs for years at a time doesn’t make you less of anything. Again, I’ve got friends from my cohort who call and say they wish they had my life. Most days, I’m happy with how things turned out.

You’re Going to be OK

You might not believe me right now. That’s fine. But you’re going to be OK if you don’t get an academic job. You’re going to land on your feet. Might not be a graceful landing, but you probably won’t crash. If you’re wondering what my journey was like, then please check out my book, Chasing Chickens: When Life after Higher Education Doesn’t Go the Way You Planned. Why yes, the chicken chasing is literal – and hilarious in hindsight.

For more advice on transitioning to the non-academic world, please check out the collection Succeeding Outside the Academy, edited by Kelly J. Baker and Joseph Fruscione. My chapter is titled, “How to Eat an Elephant; or, There’s Life Outside Academia.” (Do we see a theme?)

My poetry has been published in several journals. I have a chapbook published and work in three anthologies (Bearing the Mask and Weaving the Terrain from Dos Gatos press and They Said from Black Lawrence Press). I doubt I would have had the time and energy to devote to creative writing had I stayed in my PhD field of Spanish literature.

There are many possibilities out there for you, and you can and will find happiness and purpose in other places.

 

Rachel Neff, the owner of Exceptional Editorial in Portland, Oregon, has worked as a digital strategist, a copy editor, an adjunct instructor, and a tutor. She is the author of The Haywire Heart and Other Musings on Love and has published in numerous anthologies and magazines.

The Road to the Trump Presidency

by Stephen Knott, author of The Lost Soul of the American Presidency; The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal / Opinions expressed here are entirely his own.

Donald Trump is everything critics of a populist presidency, particularly Alexander Hamilton, warned about—a demagogue who practices the “little arts of popularity” for purposes of firing up his base, a man lacking the attributes of a magnanimous soul, a purveyor of conspiracy theories, and a president incapable of distinguishing between himself and the office he temporarily holds.

Yet Hamilton’s fear of a demagogic, populist presidency, was realized long before the election of Donald Trump. In fact, the seeds were first planted by Thomas Jefferson in his “Revolution of 1800.” The Sage of Monticello launched the presidency on a populist course that, in the long run, undermined the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. While many members of the founding generation were worried that a demagogue manipulating public passions would destroy the republic, Jefferson argued that public opinion served as the “best criterion of what is best,” and that enlisting and engaging that opinion would “give strength to the government.” As the nation’s only nationally elected figure, Jefferson’s executive was rooted in popular support and thus uniquely situated to serve as a spokesman for and implementer of the majority’s wishes.

Jefferson turned his rival Alexander Hamilton’s arguments on their head, arguing that popular opinion conferred constitutional legitimacy. Jefferson made this abundantly clear in a letter he wrote to James Madison in 1787: “after all, it is my principle that the will of the Majority should always prevail.” In essence, the majority would govern, not the Constitution.

The “Revolution of 1800” paved the way for the populist presidency of Andrew Jackson who held that the fundamental principle of the American government was majority rule. While the American framers believed in government by consent, they did not believe in government by the majority, believing instead in a system of representation and other “filtering” elements including judicial review, indirect election of Senators, and the Electoral College. Jackson believed that checks on majority rule, including the Electoral College, represented a perversion of the principle that “as few impediments as possible should exist to the free operation of the public will.”

As all demagogues are inclined to do, Andrew Jackson played upon fears to mobilize his base. No one understood this better than John Quincy Adams, a target of Jackson’s wrath and a champion of the rights of other frequent targets of those resentments, including abolitionists, free Blacks, and Native Americans. Unpopular minorities bear the brunt of the populist presidency, and Adams was one of the last of a dying breed who understood the threat this presented to the American body politic. According to Adams, Jackson was “a man governed by passion rather than reason, a demagogue.”

With Jackson’s election to the presidency, and with the wider success of his movement at the state and local level, the American republic moved from a system designed to check majority tyranny to one where an unfettered majority governed, using its power at the state level to disenfranchise an unpopular minority (free blacks) and to press for the expansion of slavery, and leveraging its powers at the state and the federal levels to remove a different but equally unpopular minority from its midst, Native Americans.

The coalition Jackson assembled was, at bottom, a cauldron of boiling partisan, racial, and class resentments, and in Jackson’s case, all of those elements, plus decades of personal resentments thrown into the mix. Thirty years later, Jackson’s fellow Tennessean, Andrew Johnson, who considered Jackson his beau ideal of a president, stirred the same populist pot on his path to power, rising to prominence as the nineteenth century’s version of Donald Trump.

The refounded presidency of Jefferson and Jackson was embraced by many twentieth century progressives. While Jefferson and Jackson did not believe in an activist federal government, these progressives did. But having unmoored the presidency from the Constitution and grounded it in public opinion, it was a small step for Jefferson’s and Jackson’s heirs to claim that the president spoke for the majority and was uniquely situated to view the whole, and that the people demanded a federal government that could be as big as it wanted to be, led by a president who was as big a man as he wanted to be.

Progressive politicians, Franklin Roosevelt in particular, along with historians such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Henry Steele Commager, considered Andrew Jackson to be a precursor to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The age of Jackson and the age of Roosevelt may have been a century apart, but both men fought the elites of their day and considered themselves the tribune of the people. As with Jackson, FDR was a genius at firing up his base by labeling his opponents as un-American evil doers.

Sadly, Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of those who sought a more responsive, unrestrained presidency, rooted in public opinion. This refounded presidency placed the office on a dangerous and unsustainable path, a path of heightened expectations that encourages a contemptuous view of checks and balances. It also diminished the important unifying role the president was expected to play as head of state, forcing him to become a party leader and policy formulator—in short, a perpetual partisan lightning rod. All of this has contributed to an erosion of respect for the office.

The United States would be well served to return to the constitutional presidency envisioned by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They designed a presidency of “sober expectations,” one that did not pander to or manipulate the public, one that was averse to the notion that it was the president’s job to provide “visionary leadership,” and one that was less inclined to implement the majority will at the expense of political, racial, and economic minorities.

The prospects for a renewal of the office are slim, but not impossible. A recovery of the constitutional presidency, one respectful of the rule of law and appreciative of the role of the president as head of state, rather than full-time rabble rouser, is within our reach. It would require, however, a renewed appreciation for the limits of the office and the limits of politics, along with an understanding that history is littered with examples of leaders who, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “overturned the liberties of republics.” These demagogues began their careers “by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

Stephen F. Knott (@publius57) is professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. His many books include Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth and Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, both from Kansas, and Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency.

Revisiting David E. Kyvig’s “The Age of Impeachment”

Some books seem to live forever, others live multiple lives.

In the summer of 2017, as President Trump was making news with pardons, Jeffrey Crouch’s 2009 book The Presidential Pardon Power began to garner a lot (like, a lot!) of attention.

No, thanks again to President Trump, David E. Kyvig’s 2008 book The Age of Impeachment; American Constitutional Culture since 1960 is roaring back to life.

In this magisterial work, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David Kyvig chronicles the rise of a culture of impeachment since 1960—one that extends far beyond the infamous scandals surrounding Presidents Richard Nixon (Watergate) and Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky) and has dramatically altered the face of American politics.

A buzz word in today’s public life, “impeachment” was anything but that before 1960. Since then it has been transformed from a historically little-known and little-used tool of last resort into a political weapon of choice. By examining the details and consequences of impeachment episodes involving three Supreme Court justices, a vice president, five federal judges, and four presidents, Kyvig explores this seismic shift in our constitutional culture and gauges its ongoing implications for American political life.

Beginning with the John Birch Society’s campaign against Chief Justice Earl Warren, impeachment efforts became far more frequent after 1960, with eight actually ending in resignation or removal. In describing these efforts, Kyvig recounts stories and subplots about key political actors and the controversies they inspired. He argues that judicial cases are as important as the better-known presidential ones and shows why those cases that did not proceed—against not only Warren, but also Abe Fortas, William O. Douglas, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush—are as illuminating as those that did.

Kyvig demonstrates that impeachment has been the bellwether of a changing—and increasingly toxic—political climate. Perhaps most important and ominous, the increasing threat of impeachment has encouraged presidents to hide potentially impeachable actions behind a thick veil of executive secrecy, while dramatically expanding executive power beyond the reach of either Congress or the courts

Combining political and legal history at their best, Kyvig also explores the cultural impact of journalist David Frost, editorial cartoonist Herblock, and filmmakers Alan Pakula, Robert Altman, and Oliver Stone. A gifted storyteller, he presents a cautionary tale that should be read by all who care about our national government and its ability to survive and thrive in perilous times.

Sarah Burns (“The Politics of War Powers”) Q&A

The Constitution of the United States divides war powers between the executive and legislative branches to guard against ill-advised or unnecessary military action. This division of powers compels both branches to hold each other accountable and work in tandem. And yet, since the Cold War, congressional ambition has waned on this front. Even when Congress does provide initial authorization for larger operations, they do not provide strict parameters or clear end dates. As a result, one president after another has initiated and carried out poorly developed and poorly executed military policy. The Politics of War Powers offers a measured, deeply informed look at how the American constitutional system broke down, how it impacts decision-making today, and how we might find our way out of this unhealthy power division.

  1. What’s your elevator pitch for The Politics of War Powers? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?   The book examines the theoretical and historical development of war powers in the United States. I demonstrate how the constitutional system creates an invitation to struggle that the political branches increasingly ignore to the detriment of our foreign policy.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about the theory and history of presidential unilateralism?  I became interested in this topic when I was in grad school in 2011. In March of that year, Obama decided the United States had to address the humanitarian crisis in Libya by creating a no-fly zone with UN and NATO allies. He sent a letter to Congress claiming that he had the power to do so as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. He then used evasive words, such as “national security” and “regional stability,” to justify the unilateral initiation of hostilities. More surprising, was the reaction from Members of Congress and Republicans Members in particular. Many in Congress expressed anger at Obama’s unconstitutional actions and yet they failed to do anything to either support or oppose him. They were so undecided that they had votes to support and oppose his actions on the same day. I was intrigued, was this something unique to Obama’s relationship with Congress or was this indicative of a trend?

3. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?   Handing in the full manuscript! Besides that, developing a clear thesis that goes through hundreds of years of history was a big lift. I also examined a lot of very well-researched presidents during important wars (such as Abraham Lincoln’s action in the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt’s action in World War II). Finding a way to make a real contribution was a daunting challenge.

4. Your book  concludes—after tracing changes through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, the Cold War, and the War on Terror—is that presidents now command a dangerous degree of unilateral power. How has that manifested itself in the past 20 years?   What we see in George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump’s administrations is a staggering ability to make unilateral decisions in the realm of foreign policy in general and military operations specifically. If we look at Obama’s and Trump’s decision making when it comes to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, there is not only very little input from Congress, but also very little deliberation or grand strategy. The public lacks good reasons for their unilateral decisions and Congress fails to hold them accountable in a serious way. I would go so far as to say that even when Congress has authorized military operations, as they did against Afghanistan and individual terrorists in 2001 and against Iraq in 2002, they failed to provide guard rails or serious limitations to presidential unilateralism.

5. In your opinion, is there likely to be a swing away from the executive branch wielding unilateral power?   I was slightly hopeful when Trump came to power that we would see a more aggressively assertive legislative branch. I am less hopeful now. In part, due to partisanship and the dramatic increase in polarization, the best we can hope for is that a Congress dominated by the opposing party will hold a president accountable. That’s the best-case scenario. I think we are more likely to see biased or political efforts to tear down the sitting president. I think it’s safe to say people on the left felt that Obama faced a Congress focused on trying to undermine his agenda. I think those who support Trump feel the same.

6. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?   That’s such a hard question! I think the big take away should be how difficult it is to maintain a healthy constitutional system; how easily it can break; and how hard it is to fix it once it’s broken.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?   I’d say American voters. The reason we don’t have members of Congress who stand up to the President is because the voters keep letting them get away with it. If we want a more assertive Congress (and we should), we have to be the ones who vote for it.

Sarah Burns is assistant professor of political science at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The University Press and Building Community

For Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, building community is just another part of the job.

“What are we without a community?” Caine asks with a sense of sarcasm. “Of course we’re working to build a community around books.”

In the two years since Caine bought the renowned Lawrence bookstore in 2017, the Raven Book Store and the University Press of Kansas (UPK) have partnered on dozens of author events. Caine is a passionate supporter of independent businesses and works tirelessly to promote companies he feels are fighting the good fight.

“Our relationship with UPK is mutually beneficial,” Caine explains. “We work hard to offer a curated selection of books to our audience, and the press provides the fantastic regional books that many of our customers want. UPK produces the beautiful, thoughtful works we want to put on our shelves, and we know when we host a UPK author that they will attract an engaged crowd.”

Caine’s work to build a literary community in Lawrence has taken an ambitious turn. This summer he announced the inaugural Paper Plains Literary Festival (April 23–26, 2020), featuring poets, novelists, and young adult fiction writers.

“I was confident Lawrence would support the idea of a festival featuring authors and poets,” Caine says. “We’re really excited about the lineup we have coming to town, and the feedback says the community will embrace it.”

Paper Plains will be Lawrence’s first literary festival. UPK has assisted in its planning and is excited to host author Dan Flores (American Serengeti) and a roundtable discussion featuring regional UPK authors.

“It’s great having UPK involved with Paper Plains,” Caine says. “The press has a reputation for producing engaging, challenging work, and we’re excited to have them involved in the festival.”

Much like the work Caine is doing at the Raven, Lawrence Public Library Events Coordinator Kristin Soper is actively working to serve the educated community in Lawrence.

“This is a university town, so we know our audience is expecting well-researched ideas,” Soper says. “Our relationship with UPK is great. Actually really great.”

Soper traces the library’s relationship with UPK back to a single book.

“Really, it was C.J. Janovy’s book (No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas) that spurred our relationship with UPK,” she says. “We hosted two events with C.J. that were really exciting and well-attended, and those were eye-opening for us.”

Soper says a relationship with the University Press of Kansas has helped fill a need.

“Since our first event [with] C.J. Janovy a few years ago, our relationship with UPK has really helped fulfill a need for regional topics,” Soper explains. “The press does a phenomenal job publishing books of regional interest, and we know when we bring in one of their authors we will draw a crowd of engaged, intellectual readers.”

The University Press of Kansas and the Lawrence Public Library have partnered on events ranging from C.J.‘s talk about LGBTQ activism in Lawrence to a local author’s story about his scientific grandfather.

“Our relationship with UPK is great,” Soper said. “Our job at the library is to serve our community, and working with the press and their authors has been a tremendous benefit for both of us. We get to bring in intelligent, thoughtful authors who have written great books, and the press gets to build their brand within the Lawrence community.”

 

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