The Trump Spectacle

9780700622856By Bruce Miroff, author of Presidents on Political Ground: Leaders in Action and What They Face

As the inauguration of Donald Trump approaches, his future course as president is as hard to predict as the man himself. One prediction, however, seems safe to make: Trump’s presidency will be a continual spectacle in the media.

I depict the presidential spectacle in the first chapter of my recently published book with the University Press of Kansas: Presidents on Political Ground: Leaders in Action and What They Face. It is through spectacles mounted in the media that presidents establish a political identity (and critics contest it with their own media efforts). The idea of the presidential spectacle contains three elements:  the presentation of the president as a larger-than-life character, the supporting role of the president’s team, and the ensemble of White House gestures whose principal aim is to dramatize the president’s virtues rather than to promote policy accomplishments. Since the coming of the television age in the administration of John F. Kennedy, every president has had to cope with the imperative of producing a winning spectacle.

During his extraordinary run for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama seemed to possess all the ingredients of a historic spectacle. Once in office, however, Obama concentrated heavily on the details of policymaking, slighting, by his own admission, the “symbols and gestures” through which a president communicates with the public. Immersed in rational deliberation, Obama lost much of his campaign luster, and the press began to complain that he was too cerebral, too cool, too aloof—in short, “professorial.” Obama regained some of his spectacle mojo in his second term, especially with African Americans and millennials, but his presidency remained committed at its core to good policy as the core of good government.

Evincing little interest in the substance of public policy, Donald Trump is likely to epitomize the opposite of Obama: the presidency as pure spectacle. Trump’s campaign for the White House was all “symbols and gestures,” with grandiose themes backed by scanty details. The signature spectacle of the Trump campaign was his rallies. These were participatory events for rally attendees, vicarious participation for his millions of followers watching on television.

Trump rallies were unlike any others in presidential campaigning. They were spectacles of fervor and fury. In some respects they resembled rock concerts: the star performer in the spotlight, the audience garbed in fan T-shirts and hats, the crowds chanting their favorite lines. “Build the wall” and “lock her up” allowed the crowds to echo Trump’s own contempt for immigrants and for his opponent, simultaneously signaling menace to the protestors and journalists in the hall who Trump pointed out in anger.

The rally attendees and the fans watching around the nation were predominantly the white working-class base that was the key to Trump’s election as president. His rallies were not the first occasions when he had found this base and made it his own. Recall Donald Trump’s stint with professional wrestling: he will be the first president who has previously been welcomed into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame. Recall Trump’s role as impresario of the Miss Universe pageant.  Trump staged profitable spectacles of beauties and beasts—of slim young women in bathing suits and huge men in trunks. These were not spectacles that appealed to the educated classes, especially to those that Trump delighted in denouncing as “politically correct.” But through these spectacles the billionaire connected to a working-class base that no other candidate in 2016 could reach. One cannot imagine a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, a Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, as the host of wrestling matches or beauty contests.

Since his election, Trump has not let go of spectacle for a minute. His auditions for cabinet positions have been a near-daily TV drama as he holds court in his iconic Manhattan tower. He has even reenacted his campaign rallies in “thank-you” appearances–a golden-oldies tour that keeps the fans aroused. His inauguration is likely to be over-the-top in gold and glitz. But the day after, he will have to govern, and then the Trump spectacle will meet its real test.

At least two major risks for the Trump spectacle can be foreseen. One is that Trump’s non-stop spectacle will grow tiresome, as an increasing share of the public audience feels that they have seen his antics too many times. Franklin D. Roosevelt is an instructive guide here. FDR’s fireside chats were an electronic marvel of simulated intimacy between a president and his people. Yet the fireside chats were broadcast on average only 2.5 times per year. When a supporter urged FDR to take to the air more often to promote his agenda, the president demurred, arguing that over-exposure would take away the freshness—and the effectiveness—of his radio appearances.

An even larger risk to the Trump spectacle is the intrusion of reality. It is far easier to make promises on the campaign trail than to deliver on them in the White House, especially when the promises, like Trump’s, are grandiose and may run contrary to long-established trends. The capacity of stark realities to subvert crowd-pleasing spectacles is illustrated by a notorious event during the presidency of George W. Bush. When Bush staged his “Mission Accomplished” spectacle on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to celebrate his apparent triumph in Iraq, the press treated it as a new peak in the production of spectacle. However, after the conflict in Iraq resumed with appalling brutality, “Mission Accomplished” became a mockery for Bush. Presidents may score points for an appealing spectacle, but they are judged in the end by how well they perform in enacting successful policies.

Donald Trump has built a remarkably successful career through his talent at spectacle. It has been his one true qualification for the office of president. But will it be enough to carry him through a successful administration? In business, and now in politics, he has lived by spectacle. In the White House, that may be a fatal flaw.

How the Vice Presidency Changed, Exactly 40 Years Ago.

Contributed by Joel Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the White House vice presidency, the most significant recent development in American constitutional institutions and an important legacy of the presidency of Jimmy Carter and the vice presidency of Walter F. Mondale. There were many significant 1976 events along the road to transforming the vice presidency into a consequential, ongoing part of the presidency including the Carter-Mondale interview in Plains, Ga. on July 8, the Mondale selection on July 15, and the first vice-presidential debate on October 15. Yet perhaps no single event captures their creation more than Mondale’s 11-page memo to Carter, “The Role of the Vice President in the Carter Administration” , dated 40 years ago December 9.

fullsizerenderDuring the last 40 years, vice-presidential influence and constructive activity have become an expectation of our constitutional system. That was certainly not the case on December 9, 1976.  Indeed, Mondale’s memo began by noting that finding a role for the vice presidency had been a perennial “problem,” that vice presidential role had been “characterized by ambiguity, disappointment, and even antagonism” and that the eminent presidential historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. had described the job as one of “spectacular and …incurable frustration.” Nelson A. Rockefeller ‘s term began amidst high expectations of vice-presidential involvement, but soon Rockefeller was at odds with President Gerald R. Ford’s chiefs of staff, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, and was dumped from the 1976 ticket.  Less than a decade before Rockefeller’s failed vice presidency, President Lyndon B. Johnson had marginalized and humiliated Mondale’s political friend, Hubert H. Humphrey. The inability of men like Humphrey and Rockefeller to contribute as vice president reinforced the fatalism of Schlesinger and others about the office.

Mondale’s December 9 memorandum culminated a lengthy period of study and thought. Humphrey had encouraged him to be open to the vice presidency during a spring meeting arranged by Mondale’s Senate chief of staff, Richard Moe. Mondale began to study the vice presidency before he met with Carter on July 8. During their meeting, Mondale and Carter were on the same page regarding elevating the second office without getting too specific. After Carter chose him, Mondale asked his former legislative assistant, Robert Barnett, to prepare a study of the office. Barnett’s 38-page report surveyed problems of past vice presidents and made recommendations that helped shape the White House vice presidency. Barnett’s insightful study discussed the importance of the president-vice president relationship and the threats to it and presciently emphasized the possibility of making a meaningful contribution as a “Super Advisor.” After Carter and Mondale were elected, Mondale met with Rockefeller and former Humphrey staff members in addition to ongoing discussions with his associates including his principal aides Moe, Michael Berman and James Johnson. After Carter, Mondale and Moe met to discuss Mondale’s role, Carter requested a memorandum which Mondale asked Moe to prepare.

9780700622023Mondale and his associates understood the difficulties of past vice presidents but they were problem solvers, not pessimists. Mondale had several advantages. Carter genuinely wanted to empower his vice president. Carter and Mondale and their staffs had worked well during the campaign. Mondale had contributed to the Democrats’ victory and had important skills and relationships which could help Carter govern. Barnett’s study and the months of discussion suggested a new path forward. The mission of the December 9 memo was to propose a workable vice-presidential vision and the resources to support it.

Mondale’s December 9 memo rested on the premises that the vice president should contribute to government on an ongoing basis, not primarily serve as a presidential successor; that the vice president’s contribution should occur in the executive branch; and that the relevant challenge was to identify a role for the vice president that would contribute to government and the presidency, not enhance the vice president’s power or pleasure.

Consistent with Barnett’s study, Mondale concluded that “the most important contribution” he could make was as a “general adviser” to Carter. As the only other nationally elected officer, and one who was not bound by departmental obligations but was “able to look at the government as a whole,” Mondale was “in a unique position to advise.” Mondale’s political and governmental experience, his “political role around the country,” and his “established relationships” could help connect policy and politics. He could help make sure Carter was exposed to diverse points of view and not insulated from bad news as had some prior presidents. Mondale could also take on troubleshooting assignments for Carter such as traveling abroad, investigating problems, refereeing interdepartmental disputes, and working with Congress on major initiatives. Mondale’s approach differed from prior vice presidents who had sought areas or programs to run, a course Mondale et al concluded was a path to failure.

To succeed in these roles, Mondale told Carter he would need regular private access to Carter, inclusion in key groups, intelligence briefings and other information, associates in important roles, and a relationship for him and his staff with the White House staff.

Carter agreed to Mondale’s vice-presidential vision and the resources he identified. In fact, Carter went beyond the requests in the December 9 memo. He invited Mondale to all meetings on his schedule, directed that Mondale receive the same briefing papers Carter got, gave Mondale a choice West Wing office, and insisted that White House staff respond positively to Mondale’s requests.

The December 9 memo provided the blueprint for Mondale’s vice presidency. Its basic ideas were passed forward to subsequent administrations. In fact, Al Gore’s chief of staff, Roy Neel, later obtained a copy and used it as a starting point for Gore’s arrangement with Bill Clinton. The last six vice presidencies have differed in emphasis and influence but all have functioned as White House vice presidents consistent with the December 9, 1976 blueprint.

In addition to providing the basis for the White House vice presidency, the December 9, 1976 memo, and the events preceding and following it, provide a wonderful case study about the way in which thoughtful and knowledgeable public servants can make positive and lasting changes in governmental institutions. That’s something to study and celebrate this, and every, December 9.

UPK Author Addresses the Mainstreaming of the Alt-Right

Michael 10.inddGeorge Michael, UPK author of The Enemy of My Enemy, recently contributed an article to The Conversation examining how the “alt-right” movement has “gone from being an obscure, largely online subculture to a player at the very center of American politics.”

Michael explains that the movement has gained traction not by promoting “principles such as the U.S. Constitution, free market economics and individual liberty” but by focusing on “concepts such as nation, race, civilization and culture.”

Head over to TheConversation.com to read the strong article.

Who’s Intolerant? Hamilton, Trump, and a Klan Essay Contest

By Kelly J. Baker

On Friday, November 18th, vice-president elect Mike Pence attended Hamilton, the immensely popular and award-winning Broadway play, which might have been unremarkable if not for the fact that the Hamilton cast took the opportunity to speak directly to Pence at the end of the show. The New York Times reports that Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays vice-president Aaron Burr, read a “statement emphasizing the need for the new administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, a Republican, to work on behalf of all Americans.”

Dixon said: “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” Pence remained to listen to the whole statement and made no comment.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, president-elect Trump took to Twitter to complain that Pence “was harassed last night…by the cast of Hamilton.” It’s a hard task to make the cast’s respectful statement to Pence appear as harassment, but Trump attempted to while further demanding an apology from the cast. According to Trump, the cast of Hamilton is “rude” and protesters  of the election are “unfair.” And yet, his Twitter stream shows no mention of the sharp increase of hate crimes since the presidential election, which constitutes real harassment and endangerment. The president-elect would like to claim that he, and white America, are under siege. That white Americans are under threat from multicultural America. That white Americans are the real victims, not those so most recently victimized by hate.

Trump’s rhetoric, and his attempt to shift blame, has reminded me of the 1920s Klan, which I study, since I learned there was a chance he would run for president. His campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” was remarkably similar to the 1920s Klan’s appeals to white Protestants.

9780700624478When most people imagine the Klan, they imagine obvious and heavy-handed racism like the Klan of the 1950s and 1960s, but the 1920s order was more mainstream in their white supremacy. Their attempts to win the hearts and minds of white men and women were bolstered by the commonness of racist thought and action. And their rhetoric, emphasizing white Protestant nationalism, transformed them into victims of the changing demographics of the nation. The Klan claimed that Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and African Americans proved dangerous to a nation that the order believed was created by white Protestants for white Protestants. The Klan attempted to demonstrate they were threatened and harassed by non-white and non-Protestant people rather than being themselves threatening harassers.

One way that the Klan tried to accomplish this was relying on the language of tolerance to promote racism and religious hatred.

In 1929, the Ku Klux Klan’s national newspaper, The Kourier Magazine, hosted an essay contest, “What is Intolerance?” The editor explained, “We have always been accused of INTOLERANCE. We know we are not guilty, and this contest should make clear our position and justify it.” The Kourier offered a $50 reward to the best essay, though the newspaper never announced the winner.

For a contest explicitly about intolerance, the guidelines focused, instead, on defining tolerance. The editor urged contributors to write about whether they should tolerate people who disagree with them and when tolerance is no longer a feasible option. The essays interrogated the concept of tolerance as a method to defend the Klan’s intolerance.

In total, the Kourier published eleven essays, including “No Tolerance for Intolerance,” “The Intolerance of Christ,” and “Toleration of Cess-Pools.” The essay writers, both white men and women, attempted to define tolerance and intolerance as separate terms, but the terms emerged more often as synonyms rather than opposites.

For most of the writers, one thing was abundantly clear: Tolerance had limits. Threats to personal identity, religious faith, and nation were unbearable, and the enemies of the Klan were cast as the truly intolerant. The essayists emphasized the long history of Catholic intolerance towards Protestants while another Kourier article in the issue declared that President Lincoln was against racial equality for African Americans. One writer even argued that God was intolerant, so Klan members could be too.

The essays demonstrated that Klan members found tolerance to be an unbearable compromise that proved dangerous to their vision of white Protestant America. Tolerance allowed all kinds of social degradation. A Klanswoman argued that prejudice could be just if it was used to protect the nation’s interests, so intolerance was often righteous choice. For the Klan, particular people, Catholics and African Americans, were never tolerable because they threatened social stability. Tolerance might lead to radical changes in American society in politics, religion, and cultural norms that would displace white Christian dominance. If the 1920s Klan tolerated Catholics or granted equality to African Americans, then Klan members feared that America would decay under the assault of “foreign” peoples, ideas, and religions.

By defining tolerance as problematic compromise, intolerance became the Klan’s preferred method of engaging the world. In “The Tolerance of Protestants,” the essayist noted: “Tolerance ceases to become a virtue when it is used too extremely; when we place too much faith in our fellowmen such tolerance cannot be accepted.”

The danger the Klan feared was too much faith in fellow human beings. Suspicion of others is easier than trust. Intolerance is easier than tolerance. The Klan could claim the mantle of tolerance as long as its members did not have to practice it. Essay by essay, intolerance became a virtue and tolerance was a threat too great to chance.

To put it more starkly, the Klan could be tolerant until some idea, religion, or person questioned the order’s vaunted vision of the white, Protestant nation. When one’s values were threatened, one could no longer be tolerant.

The Klan’s rhetoric of tolerance and intolerance is much more complicated than simple admonitions of prejudice and easy labelings of victims and victimizers. In Regulating Aversion, political theorist Wendy Brown reminds us that tolerance is never an innocent virtue but rather it is a discourse of both power and de-politicization. Tolerance functions often as a supplement to equality rather than as the method to achieve civil rights for the tolerated. Thus, it should not be surprising that the “intolerant” would employ this language to secure political power, media attention, or legitimacy.

And so it is neither surprising that the president-elect, who ran a campaign emphasizing intolerance for people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, and other groups of people, would fill spots in his administration with those who profess intolerance and actively work against the civil rights of particular groups of American citizens. Like the Klan, the president-elect wants to claim that he and the vice-president-elect and their supporters are the targets of harassment from “diverse America.” Those of us who understand our diverse America and imagine a more inclusive nation, know who is actually intolerant and where the threat lies.

Kelly J. Baker is the author of Gospel According to the Klan. She is currently the editor of Women in Higher Education and a freelance writer.

An Ode to the Independents

img_8305Our press is located in Lawrence, Kansas.

The university town has long been a regional center for independent, free-thinking. Before Kansas was a state, Lawrence was ground zero for the abolitionist movement in the territory. After statehood, when a pack of guerilla bandits crossed the border from Missouri and burned most of the town to ashes, Lawrence dusted itself off, and got back to living its independent life.

We are proud to be supported by two outstanding independent bookstores. The Raven Bookstore and the KU Bookstore are vastly different operations, but share a common vision of supporting authors, readers and a fierce passion for getting the job done their way.

The Raven sits on a side street just off Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. If you close your eyes and picture a quaint bookstore, chances are you’ll imagine The Raven. Old wood floors creak with each step and the store is full, floor-to-ceiling, with books. The shop has a reputation for stocking the best mystery novels available, but also carries a full line of non-fiction, best-seller, children and regional books.

Heidi Raak has operated The Raven Bookstore for 9 years (the store has been a staple for Lawrence readers since 1987). An independent store since its inception, Raak has weathered (and continues to weather) the changes in the marketplace.

img_8308“Obviously our biggest competition isn’t another store in town, but the internet,” Raak says with a matter-of-fact tone. “We have to overcome the ease of buying a book online with great customer service and knowledge. I think the atmosphere of the store and the experience of shopping for a book is a big draw. There’s something about picking up a book and holding it that is special. You can’t get that online.”

Raak works hard to create an environment around the store that keeps people interested. The Raven hosts countless book launches, readings and parties with authors. Those events bring people to the store and help establish the staff as go-to resources.

“We understand we’re part of a community,” Raak explains. “We support local artists and well-represented authors. We’re proud to carry books by the (University) Press. We appreciate the support Lawrence gives us, and we work hard to be the best, most-welcoming bookstore in town.”

img_8317Up the hill from The Raven, on the north edge of the University of Kansas campus, the KU Bookstore fills most of the 2nd floor of the Kansas Union. The store is one of only a handful of bookstores serving a major university that operate independent of the university.

“We are completely independent of the University of Kansas,” explains Jen O’Connor, store director. “We have no affiliation or obligation to the university. In addition, we are an operating non-profit, which helps us serve the students of KU more effectively.”

The great majority of university bookstores are operated by a larger, national bookstore. When asked to name other independent stores serving universities, O’Connor struggles to name more than two or three.

“I know there are more, but  honestly, not many,” she says with a laugh. “We are independent of the University but Student Affairs has oversight of the KU Memorial Union, of which we are a part.”

Much like The Raven, the KU Bookstore puts a lot of effort into bringing students, and the Lawrence community, into the store with events. O’Connor estimates they host one or two unique events a week either at the store or somewhere on campus.

“We have to stay relevant to the students,” she explains. “We know these students have a lot of options and we work hard to be their first choice. Luckily, not a lot of outlets carry every textbook they need.”

Because the store is a non-profit, they can often offer very competitive prices on trade, text and consumer books. In fact, almost half of the store’s sales are books or products not for a class.

“We don’t have to answer to sales numbers or investors,” O’Connor says. “We have to pay the bills and keep the lights on. That gives us a great opportunity to stay competitive on price – which is a big, big help.”

 

“An Ode to the Independents” is our contribution to University Press Week blog tour. Be sure to check out posts by the University of Texas Press, the University of Chicago Press,  Cornell University Press, University Press of Colorado, NYU Press  and our friends at the University Press of Kentucky.

2016 Elections: A Guide for the Perplexed

9780700622764By Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, Authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Trump triumphed. Since he will become President of the United States, his victory matters. If he carries out his platform promises, he will create major changes in tax policy, immigration, foreign policy, Supreme Court appointments and, therefore, in social policies like abortion and gay rights. There will be broad resistance to those Trump policies but by executive orders and the momentum of the first hundred days of his presidency in Congress, he will get his way in changing the country’s direction in the beginning.

In Trump’s victory charisma and anger won over a less charismatic candidate following a careful game plan.

After this election, the Republicans will have a narrower margin in the Senate of probably 52-48 with Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s win in Illinois and a Democrat leading in New Hampshire. But to block any measures President Trump proposes, like destroying Obamacare, would require some moderate Republicans to join with the Democrats.

In the House of Representatives Democrats will probably hold 195 seats to Republican’s 240, too few to block Trump proposals. As a result, the Republicans will be firmly in control under Speaker Paul Ryan, but he may not be lock-step with Trump on all issues.

There were other lessons. Every election seems to be more expensive than the last. 2016 was one the most expensive elections in American. At least $1.3 billion was spent by Presidential candidates, $1 billion by candidates for the House of Representative, and $700 million on the U.S. Senate contests. Contested congressional election candidates spent at least from $2 million each and many spent much more. U.S. Senate races often cost $20-$40 million or more depending on outside PAC spending. In states like Illinois, a half-dozen state legislative districts spent more than $2 million on each of the opposing candidates which is a new record in Illinois. In the most expensive race for Illinois State Legislature, the candidates spent from $106 – $133 for each of the 20,000 votes they each received.   We desperately need real public funding of campaigns or “Small D Democracy” as advocates call it.

After 2014 there were 20 women in the U.S. Senate and 84 in the House of Representatives. Having Hillary Clinton as a major party Presidential nominee was a breakthrough for women this year, but women still have a hard time gaining parity with men at all levels of government. These 2016 elections only slightly improved situation as women hold only 20% of all elected offices. This needs to change, just as more Latino and Asian-Americans need to be able to run strong campaigns and get elected if our government is to look more like the U.S. population.

There were several reform experiments in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In many states, voters can register or change their registration online. Early voting has been extended brought to some college campuses. More people voted early than ever before. Absentee voting can now happen without giving any reasons in most states. And voters were still allowed to register in many precinct polling places even on Election Day. However, Automatic Voter Registration has not yet been widely adopted even though it would allow more people to participate and vote without artificial barriers.

Much of this year’s elections happened behind the scenes at both the national and local elections. Our book Winning Elections in the 21st Century decodes how voter analytics, social media, and old-fashioned door-to-door campaign work proceeded out of the spotlight. It also provides a handbook for those who are dissatisfied with candidates who were elected from local school board member to the President to win with popular participation in the elections of 2018 and beyond.

So what is next? Those who support President Trump will work to help him to have a successful first 100 days in office. Those who oppose President Trump and his policies will work to build resistance as many did when they opposed Reagan’s economic policies back in the 1980s. But the opposition must present a clear alternative and sell it to American voters if they are to win future elections.

In the end, this was an election in which the majority of American voted no against the elites and the status quo. There have been more than 4.4 million home foreclosures since the Great Recession began in 2008. There have been no real salary increases for the working and middle class. Unemployment, especially in ghetto areas and among young adults, remains too high. Americans were mad as hell and by their vote they signaled they aren’t going to take it anymore.

Seriously, What Would Hoover Do?

9780700623051By Matthew Cecil

FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release an ambiguous and ill-timed update on the Bureau’s investigation into Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server situation has drawn significant public criticism. Former Justice Department officials have noted that Comey violated longstanding Justice Department policies against election season disclosures. Political critics, including many Democrats and even some Republicans have accused Comey of everything from political naiveté to Machiavellian genius for the timing and nature of his announcement.

One name that has not been evoked in the discussion is that of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Perhaps it is not surprising. After all, “What would Hoover do?” is a question that likely only comes up in his namesake building as a warning: “Let’s be sure not to do whatever Hoover would have done.”

It is worth considering, though, how Hoover handled election-year politics during his 48-year tenure as director of the FBI. Would Hoover have acted as Comey did in this instance? My immediate reaction, having read hundreds of thousands of FBI documents from the Hoover era is: Probably not, at least not in a presidential campaign.

9780700619467Generally speaking, Hoover was exceedingly careful about allowing himself to be drawn into election year politics. Most often, efforts to drag  Hoover’s name into campaigns, usually by his friends in Congress as evidence of their anti-communist credentials, were spurned by the FBI through its public relations officials. I can think of one specific instance, however, where Hoover allowed his political capital to be used in an election campaign.

Stalwart GOP Senator Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1960 against popular Democratic U.S. Rep. George McGovern. One early 1960 poll showed McGovern with a 20-point lead over the venerable Mundt, then seeking his third term in the Senate. Mundt, who had been member of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was about as anti-communist as one could be and was considered a “personal friend” of Hoover. In the summer of 1960, an FBI memorandum urged agents to keep a close watch on the race for any efforts by Mundt’s campaign to invoke Hoover’s name. It was left to a friend of the Bureau, newspaper editor, Fred C. Christopherson of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader to orchestrate a Hoover “endorsement” of Mundt. Christopherson wrote to Hoover in October 1960 asking him to name “the most experienced members of Congress with knowledge of the communistic threat and legislative know-how to handle the situation in our national legislature today.”

Hoover, in a letter written by his politically savvy public relations aide Deke DeLoach (see my book, Branding Hoover’s FBI, for more about DeLoach’s political machinations), named Mundt and three others while lamely qualifying the response by stating there were many others in Congress who were experienced in anti-communist matters. Hoover’s response was repackaged by the Argus Leader and by Mundt’s campaign in a newspaper advertisement, as an “endorsement” of Mundt. The Argus Leader published Hoover’s letter in full, including the qualifying statement. Mundt’s advertisement left that part out. Did Hoover understand he was assisting Mundt’s re-election? Probably, although my reading of thousands of FBI files has convinced me that Hoover was often unaware of basic context of the memoranda he read and letters he signed. The impact of DeLoach’s carefully-worded letter was certainly enhanced by the way it was interpreted and packaged by a helpful newspaper editor and by Mundt’s campaign.

9780700623242Hoover was very cautious about public relations matters, and he was subjected to some criticism after the pro-Mundt ad ran, criticism the FBI did not take lightly. I wish there was more clarity in the files. The Mundt file includes one memorandum suggesting that the FBI (DeLoach, anyway) was aware that Mundt was facing a difficult re-election campaign. Hoover certainly couldn’t have been surprised that his quote was used in a Mundt campaign advertisement. But there’s no indication that the Bureau orchestrated the “endorsement,” or that it knew Mundt would use the quote in an advertisement. Mundt won reelection in 1960 by a mere 15,000 votes and ultimately retired in 1973, although he suffered a stroke in 1969 and did not attend any Senate sessions during his last several years in office.

The many FBI files I have seen suggest that Hoover, for the most part, stayed out of political campaigns, at least publicly. Bureau public relations officials, in most cases, discouraged efforts to use Hoover’s image or words in campaigns. And in the case of Mundt’s campaign, the careful wording of the Bureau’s response to Christopherson’s letter demonstrates how cautious the Director was on those rare occasions when he did intervene publicly in election-year politics.

So what does this all mean for James Comey? I’m afraid Comey comes out looking bad no matter how one evaluates the precedent set by Hoover. If Comey was merely acting as Hoover sometimes did to influence elections, he was parroting the actions of the most discredited figure in FBI history. If he was acting beyond the cautious precedent set by Hoover, Comey was exceeding even the discredited Hoover’s Machiavellian tendencies. Either way, history provides little help for James Comey, whose enduring legacy will likely be shaped by the interpretation of this one event.

Dr. Matthew Cecil is the Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at Minnesota State University – Mankato. He has published three books with the University Press of Kansas, The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae, Branding Hoover’s FBI and Hoover’s FBI and the Fourth Estate.

The Nature Conservancy, Little Jerusalem & the Wilds of Kansas

by George Frazier, author of The Last Wild Places of Kansas.

courtesy of hdnews.net
photo courtesy of hdnews.net

Great American Desert, flyover country, perfect platonic flatness, Tornado Alley, Dustbowl, Brownbackistan. Do these reject band names —all digs used at various times to describe our grassland zeitgeist —represent only the prejudice of some non-Kansans, or do they reflect something deeper we’ve internalized about ourselves? I sometimes wonder, when it comes to our wild lands, if Kansas has a chronic self-esteem issue, an inferiority complex of landscape.  One environmental slur I’ve always thought we would do better to embrace (and promote) is “badlands”, in the geologic sense —those rugged western landforms starved for water and sculpted by erosion.

From the Lakota mako (land) sica (bad), the term was first used to describe the whimsically eroded mixed-grass hill country of the Lakota homeland in South Dakota. Although the landscape of the Dakota Badlands is unforgiving (in an Old Testament way), nearly a million Aquafina-clutching vacationers exit I-90 every year to visit Badlands National Park and its maze of buttes, pinnacles and spires. It’s a place of little comfort, but many comfort stations.

Kansas, too, has badlands, but they don’t attract many visitors and you’ll be hard pressed to find a public restroom. This is a shame (well, not the part about the public restrooms). Spectacularly under the radar, steeped in Native American and environmental history, the Kansas badlands are a reminder of the remarkable diversity of landforms in the state.

In the 21st Century, access has become the most significant metadatum of the Kansas landscape.  More than ninety-eight percent of Kansas land is privately owned.  By itself this isn’t necessarily bad – while writing and researching my book The Last Wild Places of Kansas I found that the private land owners of Kansas are the greatest champions and most devoted stewards of our last wild places. But to most Americans, and many Kansans, this lack of access can seem like non-existence, and that’s why most people in eastern Kansas have never heard of the Gypsum (or Red) Hills of south-central Kansas or the Arikaree Breaks in extreme northwest Kansas, our two geophysical provinces most defined by badlands topography.

Sculpted from the soft mineral gypsum (Sun City is home to both the largest gypsum mine and one of the most infamous saloons – Busters – in Kansas), the Gypsum Hills west of Medicine Lodge are a shy but stunning precinct of the southern plains. Canyonlands, Martian soil, sandstone buttes, and mesas create a skyline that looks more like Arizona than Kansas. Tables of gypsum, a mineral that occurs as flat, diamond-shaped crystals of selenite and as a silky pink crust called satin spar, cap the tallest hills. In Comanche County, Ted Turner owns the largest single ranch in Kansas – over forty thousand acres of prairie that includes a sparkling section of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas – completely dedicated to buffalo production. They’ve enrolled more than thirty thousand acres in the lesser prairie-chicken recovery program. They’ve petitioned for water rights to rehabilitate a wetland for migratory birds. Throughout the region caves pocked in the porous gypsum provide habitat for bats found nowhere else in the state, including the Brazilian free-tailed bat.

The Arikaree Breaks – our other significant badlands province — are every bit as stunning and unexpected as the Red Hills, but instead of an erosional substrate of red sandstone and gypsum, the Arikaree breaks are sculpted from loess — a fine glacial soil that covers rock gorges, canyons, gravel ridges, and even small mountains lying far beneath the surface of the Great Plains. Loess and other high plains depositional materials are a result of erosion that wore down the Rocky Mountains. Runoff over the course of millions of years deposited this fine slurry across a vast swatch of the Great Plains.

9780700622191Perhaps even more than in the Red Hills, Native American history echoes across the Arikaree Breaks. Nowhere else in Kansas is the drama of the Indian Wars more evident. The Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose was killed along the Arikaree (just across the Colorado state line) and thousands of Native American survivors of the Sand Hill Massacre fled there to regroup and plan their next move in a seminal moment during the Indian Wars.

Like the Red Hills, the Arikaree Breaks have virtually no public access—only a state-sponsored scenic drive on Kansas Highway 27 north of Saint Francis. Brochures lure would-be travelers with dramatic photographs but then warn them to stick to public roads and stay in the car. Anywhere you set foot is trespassing.

But the landscape of access in the Kansas badlands is about to change. Running west across the Smoky Hill country of the Kansas high plains, a thin vein of chalk monuments adds a third movement to the Kansas badlands trilogy. Encompassing Monument Rocks, Castle Rock, the Chalk Pyramids, and a handful of other sites, gracious landowners have provided access to these wild places for years. At a distance, some of these Niobrara chalk formations remind me of small bison herds turned – a la Lot’s wife —into pillars of salt.

In early October, the Nature Conservancy announced plans to acquire “Little Jerusalem,” located between Scott City and Oakley off of US-83, the single largest rock formation in Kansas at more than a mile across. The 330-acre tract will include about 250 acres of rocks. Described as a “golden city” the site also sports a first class fossil field. The discovery of Clovis points in the area means people have been making pilgrimages to Little Jerusalem since before the founding of “Big” Jerusalem.

The new acquisition adds to the Nature Conservancy’s holdings in Logan County, which has played an important role in recent environmental history. In the mid-2000s, a “prairie dog war” was waged between the Logan County Commission and ranchers Larry and Better Haverfield, Gordon Barnhardt and Maxine Blank. At the time, the US Fish and Wildlife service was considering the Haverfield Ranch for reintroduction site of the black-footed ferret, America’s most endangered mammal. The deal hinged on the ranch’s robust (and plague free) prairie dog colony, the largest on the southern plains. The commission argued that the ranchers’ rights to promote prairie dogs on their property were trumped by a century-old Kansas law granting township boards the authority to poison prairie dogs on private property without the landowner’s permission and send them the bill. Eventually Haverfield and his partners prevailed, and just before Christmas in 2007, the black-footed ferret recovery team released ferrets at the ranch, the first to stalk the dark tunnels of a Kansas prairie dog metropolis since the 1950s. With less notoriety, ferrets were also successfully reintroduced at the Nature Conservancy’s other Logan County property, the Smoky Valley Ranch.

Here’s why I think public access at places like the Smoky Hill Ranch, and soon, Little Jerusalem, is important. Rex Buchanan of the Kansas Geologic Survey has said that we Kansans think of ourselves as a rural people, because we once were. But today, more than 50% of Kansans live in just five urban counties. We’ve become an urban people. In eastern Kansan this trend is accelerating as millennials – priced out of hipper locales on the coasts – have started immigrating to places like Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Emporia, bringing with them a hunger for authentic local experiences in the wild. Many of these newly minted Kansans don’t want to feel like strangers in their own state; they want to “learn the land.” Access at Little Jerusalem and other high quality wild places comes just in time as more Kansans realize what an important role the state played in the environmental history of this nation, a legacy that continues to this day.

The details about public access are still in the works, but I’m glad to hear this wild place will be preserved thanks to the efforts of the Nature Conservancy. This will give people one more reason to head out in search of the true nature of Kansas lands, both the good and the bad.

George Frazier’s book The Last Wild Places of Kansas won the 2016 Ferguson Award for Kansas History. Frazier lives in Lawrence with his wife and daughter.

The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table

9780700623198We are thrilled to announce the release of The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table. The book is the result of years of dedicated work from Frank & Jayni Carey.

Nearly 30 years after the first printing of the original The Kansas Cookbook, the new book is a celebration of wholesome, hearty foods that Kansans call their own. The Careys worked with chefs and cooks from Kansas City to Kismet to highlight the best dishes the Sunflower State has to offer. The recipes, accompanied by Louis Copt’s stunning illustrations, cover the state and palate. From burgers to Bison Bolognese, The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table is a celebration of Frank and cookbook-tourJayni’s passion for food, and the state of Kansas.

Through November and December, Frank and Jayni will be promoting the book at a series of events. Stay tuned, more events are on the horizon…

Frank & Jayni Appearances

Nov. 01 Lawrence Public Library / 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Nov. 03 Holy-Field Winery (Basehor) / Ladies’ Holidaze Night Out Open House / 6:00pm -9:00pm

                                                          Nov 16. Kansas City Public Library (KCMO) /  6:30-9:00

                                                          Nov 19. Pendleton’s Country Market / 1:00pm – 2:30pm

                                                          Nov 25. Final Fridays w/ Phoenix Gallery / 6:00pm – 9:00pm

                                                          Nov 30. KU Bookstore Holiday Open House / 5:30pm – 7:30pm

                                                          Dec 03. French Market (Prairie Village) / 2:00pm – 4:00pm

                                                          Dec 07. Washburn University Bookstore / 2:00pm – 4:00pm

                                                          Dec 14. Flint Hills Discovery Center / 7:00pm – 9:00pm