Diehl Ends 35-Year UPK Career

Few things are more interconnected with the University Press of Kansas than Direct Mail and Exhibits Manager Debra Diehl and, after 35 years, May 14 marks her final day with the Press.

Diehl’s responsibilities at UPK extend far beyond those covered by her job title. She’s the resident expert on Press history, official favorite person in the office of visiting kids, and long-time recruiter of local wildlife.

“Debra’s career with UPK has been inspirational,” said Kelly Chrisman Jacques, UPK managing director. “While I wish her chapter in UPK’s book had been a couple of years longer, I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work alongside her and learn from her. Deb’s sincerity, enthusiasm, patience, efficiency, and kindness have set the gold standard of exemplary performance and collegiality. She’s incomparable! I’ll miss Deb dearly, but I wish her only the best in her next chapter.”

Diehl’s extensive experience reaches beyond UPK’s walls. She’s represented the Press at meetings across the country and made sure books have traveled to events large and small. If there’s an event at which UPK books might be displayed, Deb knows about it.

“Deb is hands down the best exhibits manager I’ve worked with in over thirty years in publishing,” said Joyce Harrison, editor in chief. “It’s such a joy to come into an exhibit space, with tables to be put into place and boxes to open, and know that all of the books and supplies you need are there. Exhibits require a lot of advance work, and Deb goes about this work with stunning efficiency, especially considering the number of conferences we attend each year.”

As part of the marketing department team, Deb focused on promoting UPK books via the mail—postal and email—and arranging for them to be on display at conferences and events. Deb was originally hired as an office assistant and has worked for every department at the Press. Eventually, when the Press was able to increase its staff, a marketing assistant position was created and she started working with marketing. When the marketing department added another position, Deb moved into her role as direct mail and exhibits manager.

“Debra was on the committee that hired me,” said Suzanne Galle, marketing assistant. “In the many years that have transpired since, she has been a colleague, friend, and confidante all in one. I think all who have had the good fortune to work with her would say the same. Her skill, professionalism, and generosity have been a boon to both the press and all who have worked here. I will sorely miss working with her, but I look forward to seeing the good things that life’s next chapter has in store for her.”

Deb will begin work with Bowersock Capital Partners in Lawrence. It is undecided who will feed the birds and squirrels outside her office window.

“I’m glad that I help market a quality product,” Deb said. “Seeing a book ‘do well,’ whether that’s defined by sales, an award, or getting the author’s next project, is gratifying. But the most rewarding aspect of being at UPK is that I work with great people— people that I respect and like and admire. That’s been the case since day one.”

From Fear, Anger, and Grievance to Boring Competence: The Rhetorical Journey from Trump to Biden

by Robert C. Rowland, professor of communication studies, University of Kansas and author of The Rhetoric of Donald Trump: Nationalist Populism and American Democracy

Presidential elections often lead to a shift not only in policy, but in rhetoric. Jimmy Carter’s straightforward simplicity was followed by Ronald Reagan’s graceful narrative of America as a “shining city on a hill.” George W. Bush’s blunt direct style was followed by Barack Obama’s depiction of a nation in which there “never has been anything false about hope.” While shifts in rhetorical practice are common when one administration succeeds another, there has never previously been a shift as stark and dramatic as when President Joseph R. Biden succeeded Donald Trump. A rhetoric based in fear, anger, grievance, and self-praise was succeeded by one based in themes and language that best might be characterized as boring competence.

In my very recently published book, The Rhetoric of Donald Trump: Nationalist Populism and American Democracy (University Press of Kansas, April 2021), I explain how Trump activates negative emotions such as fear, hatred, and grievance, and then resolves that activation through presentation of himself as first the citizen-outsider and later the strongman president who can fix the problems facing the nation through strength of will. Trump’s rhetoric had and has undeniable power. It has made much of the current Republican Party into his personal rhetorical fiefdom, a point that is quite evident in the efforts to remove Liz Cheney from the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. Cheney’s sin was to put conservative principles ahead of loyalty to Trump. Only a few other Republican leaders have shown the same commitment to principle as Cheney, meaning that the current Republican Party probably should now be known not as the GOP, but as the POT (Party of Trump).

The source of the power of Trump’s rhetoric was not ideology, nor graceful style. Unlike principled small government Republicans (including, most notably, Ronald Reagan), Trump did not espouse a clear ideological perspective, nor was his rhetoric defined by an elegant style (there was very little artistry of any kind in his rhetoric), nor did Trump motivate his supporters by making a strong argument for a particular policy (in the way that Senator Bernie Sanders has captivated many progressive Democrats through advocacy for a single-payer health care system). Instead, Trump motivated his audience through emotional activation. He created fear and anger by warning of the dangers posed by groups who were Other than white Americans. Thus, he attacked undocumented immigrants, warned of the dangers of Islamic terrorists, attacked NFL players for protesting police violence against people of color, and so forth. His narrative of a nation where his core audience among the white working class was under siege from threatening Others was fundamentally false, but emotionally resonant. As I show in the book, Trump’s narrative was most powerful in places with few immigrants or representatives of the other groups he attacked and least successful in places where the groups he attacked were common. This explains why Trump’s message worked so well in places with few immigrants, such as North and South Dakota, but fell flat in places with many immigrants, such as California and New York.

In addition to fear and anger, Trump activated grievance against elites who he said disrespected and ignored “real” (white) Americans. He also used this strategy to undermine scrutiny of his campaign, presidency, and business by, for example, attacking the media as “Fake News” or even “the enemy of the people.” Finally, Trump resolved the strongly negative emotions of fear, hatred, and grievance by claiming that, as he said in his 2016 Republican National Convention acceptance address, “I alone can fix” this nation.

Since Trump’s rhetoric was defined by emotional activation and then resolution of that emotion through adulation for Trump, he hardly ever engaged in policy argument and never presented an important policy speech, either as a candidate or president. In the book, I detail the way that he took occasions that called for rhetoric focused on policy, such as the State of the Union address or COVID-19 briefings during the pandemic, and transformed them into speeches quite similar to his rally speeches. The same thing occurred on social media, which Trump used not to advance an argument, but to activate and resolve negative emotions. Trump’s focus on emotional activation was so heavy that there are individual speeches by President Barack Obama that contained more sustained argument about policy than in all of Trump’s presidential rhetoric combined.

In contrast to Trump, much of the appeal of the rhetoric of President Biden can be traced not to a particularly graceful style, but to the fact that Biden’s boring competence was for many Americans a very welcome contrast with Trump’s rhetoric of fear, anger, grievance, and self-congratulation. As commentator Ezra Klein observed, Biden’s “quieter strategy” of using rhetoric to “turn down ‘the temperature’ on American politics” actually opened “space for a bolder agenda.” Without the scary emotional thrill ride that Trump’s rhetoric produced, there was more space to lay out and defend actual policy proposals.

The difference between the two approaches to rhetoric was quite evident in the contrast between President Biden’s recent address to Congress that took the place of a State of the Union address and the State of the Union addresses that Trump presented in his term. Biden’s speech to Congress on April 28, 2021, was short on poetry, but long on substance. It lacked the grace, for example, of the heroes-in-the-room theme found in State of the Union addresses from Reagan to Obama. At the same time, he laid out a coherent agenda for confronting the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, counteracting global warming, and acting on a host of other issues. In contrast to Biden, I explain in the book how Trump eviscerated generic norms for the State of the Union, transforming the normally policy-heavy speeches into something similar to rally speeches. For example, in his 2018 State of the Union there was relatively little actual policy exposition, but a great deal of time spent activating fear of undocumented immigrants, accusing NFL players of being unpatriotic for protesting police violence, discussing imaginary threats to gun rights, and so forth. The bottom line is that the only message Trump had was that of emotional activation and resolution. Consequently, every speech became a rally speech, every briefing (even the pandemic briefings he presided over in the spring of 2020) a rally briefing, and nearly every tweet a snippet of a rally speech.

In contrast, Biden’s focus on clearly describing his agenda, his promise of boring competence, which in normal times might have fallen flat, was quite appealing to many. It was not only that Biden had a clear plan for confronting the pandemic, revitalizing the economy, and so forth, but that this style functioned as what Frank Bruni described as “an exorcism of Donald Trump.” Bruni noted that Biden was “less showboat than tugboat,” but added that the “tugboat [was] humbly poised to pull us out of perilous waters.” Over time, Biden’s “boring competence” may wear thin, but in the immediate aftermath of a presidency defined by constant efforts to activate negative emotions, both boredom and competence were virtues that many Americans found quite appealing.

Joseph R. Biden, “Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by President Biden — Address to a Joint Session of Congress,” Whitehouse.gov, April 28, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/04/28/remarks-as-prepared-for-delivery-by-president-biden-address-to-a-joint-session-of-congress.
Frank Bruni, “Biden Has Disappeared,” New York Times, March 21, 2021, SR3.
Ezra Klein, “Biden is the Anti-Trump, and It’s Working,” New York Times, March 5, 2021, A20.
Donald J. Trump, “Full text: Donald Trump 2016 RNC draft speech transcript,” Politico, July 21, 2016, https://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/full-transcript-donald-trump-nomination-acceptance-speech-at-rnc-225974.
Donald J. Trump, “President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union Address,” Whitehouse.gov, January 31, 2018, https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trumps-state-union-address.

Goldstein on Mondale: “Truly consequential”

The death of Walter F. Mondale on April 19, 2021, brought an outpouring of tributes recognizing that the United States had lost an exceptional public servant and exemplary person. I shared that sentiment but for me, he was also the hero of my book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (2016). I never would have written that book had Mondale not become vice president and much of it focused on his work in the historic undertaking to make the vice presidency truly consequential, work often performed in tandem with his partner in the undertaking, Jimmy Carter. Four chapters were devoted entirely to their work as were parts of six of the remaining 12 chapters.

My earlier book on the vice presidency, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution (1982), written primarily during the late 1970s, had focused on the office during the quarter-century between the vice presidencies of Richard M. Nixon (1953-61) and Mondale (1977-81). It had traced the office’s dramatic move into the executive branch during Nixon’s vice presidency and the consolidation of that development to sweeping changes in American life and government that began with the New Deal and World War II. The book noted Mondale’s greatly enhanced role as a presidential adviser and recommended the Mondale model vice presidency but was written long before internal documents and other important information about Mondale’s term became available or before it became clear whether the new arrangements would continue after Carter and Mondale left office.

Yet by the early 21st century, if not before, it became clear that the vice presidencies that followed Mondale’s—those of George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden—resembled Mondale’s tenure much more than those of Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Spiro T. Agnew, Gerald Ford or Nelson A. Rockefeller. Clearly, Mondale’s vice presidency had initiated an entirely new period for the office rather than being part of the Nixon era executive branch vice presidency.  Mondale’s recent predecessors had migrated to the executive branch but they spent little time in the West Wing. Yet that’s where Mondale and his successors operated.  Vice presidents from Nixon to Rockefeller often performed peripheral matters and rarely saw the president but Mondale and later vice presidents were in the president’s inner circle. They handled assignments that mattered and spent more hours with the president in a day than their predecessors had in a month. And the changes weren’t limited to time in office but extended to the selection and campaign roles. Beginning with Mondale, vice presidents were vetted extensively before selection, they participated in vice-presidential debates, and pre-convention rollouts soon became the norm, an innovation Mondale began in 1984 when he announced his historic selection of Representative Geraldine Ferraro before the convention.

The White House Vice Presidency began as an effort to describe the office that Mondale and his successors held and to understand how it had become a fixture in the inner sanctum of the West Wing. That investigation kept returning me to Mondale. Carter and Mondale had created the Mondale model vice presidency and the supporting practices and institutions which other administrations had then adopted.

Yet that statement, that Carter and Mondale created the new vice presidency, is misleading since its very simplicity diminishes the difficulty and magnitude of their accomplishment. It was a very big deal!  The unprecedented arrangement required a complicated sequence of steps and created a new model that endured long after they left office. Carter and Mondale needed to reach a mutual commitment that an engaged and empowered vice presidency was in their interests and made sense, to understand the office, its failures and frustrations to create a new vision, to identify and provide the resources to give the new vision a chance to function and to implement it faithfully amidst the stresses of governing to confirm that what seemed good in theory could work in practice. And even if they successfully accomplished each step, their creation would extend beyond their terms in office only if they transmitted the model to their successors and demonstrated its merit and feasibility.

My research led me to appreciate the complexity of their achievement, the necessary steps that were hidden from public view. Mondale had undertaken an intensive study of the vice presidency to understand its vulnerabilities and recurring failures and to identify ways in which it could enhance American government. That study led him to think about the office in a novel way—not principally as a president in waiting but as a senior, elected official committed to helping the president succeed now.  The new perspective on the office accompanied a new vision of the vice-presidential role. Rather than accumulating vice-presidential portfolios, Mondale concluded that the vice president should function as a senior, across-the-board presidential adviser and troubleshooter for high-level assignments. Long before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr memorably sung of the allure of being in “The Room Where it Happens,” Mondale appreciated lessons implicit in that wonderful song as the secret to a consequential vice-presidency. Mondale recognized that being in the room with Carter would allow him to offer Carter uniquely useful advice—the candid counsel of a fellow elected public servant with a similar perspective and shared political destiny—and would enhance his ability to undertake presidential assignments. Mondale understood that the new vice-presidential vision of a general adviser and troubleshooter wouldn’t just happen. It required new vice-presidential resources—access to the president and the information he got and presidential support. Carter, anxious to have Mondale’s help, gave Mondale every resource he requested and demonstrated his commitment to the project by adding others. Mondale implemented the new vision for four years, giving Carter candid advice and handling high-level assignments skillfully. And then, after Carter and Mondale lost their re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan and Bush, Mondale and his aides schooled Bush and his associates on how to be a successful vice president even though Mondale knew that he would be embarking on a presidential campaign in 1984 which would likely match him against Reagan and/or Bush.

The innovations that Carter and Mondale put in place regarding the White House vice presidency, and the selection, rollout, and campaign roles of vice-presidential candidates have been institutionalized since then. To be sure, those features have been tweaked and updated and different vice presidents have done things a bit differently. But the vision, resources, and institutions Carter and Mondale put in place have survived on a bipartisan basis during the succeeding presidential administrations. They created the office Vice President Kamala Harris now holds.

The White House Vice Presidency thus became not simply a book about the vice presidency as it now exists. It also became a study of an important type of constitutional change, a consideration of how enduring institutional change can occur through the repetition of practices until they become established norms.

What triggered this constitutional change was political leadership, principally the commitment, imagination, planning, and performance of Carter and Mondale in finding a way to recreate America’s most problematic governmental institution into a position of lasting consequence. They were the leaders who made the change happen. Writing the book left me with an appreciation of Mondale’s deep understanding of American constitutional government and political behavior, his creativity in reformulating the vice presidency into a consequential and productive institution of government, and his skill and character in discharging his public trust. I hope the book conveys that picture of the leadership and character of this remarkable public servant and person.

Joel K. Goldstein is the the Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law Emeritus, Saint Louis University School of Law. He is the author of numerous works on the vice presidency, presidential succession, and constitutional law.