Staff Picks: What We’re Reading – March, 2021

An Introduction to the Gospel of John – Don’t let the “Introduction to” title fool you. This is an engagingly written but deeply scholarly book (with a bibliography at the end of every chapter!), but that’s why I love it. No one was more of an authority on John than Fr. Brown, and this book is helping me understand what for me is the most difficult Gospel.    – Joyce Harrison

The Handmaid’s Tale – A dystopian novel set in near-future New England where a totalitarian state has overthrown the United States government. – Erica Nicholson

 

 

O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It – Since I was in fourth grade, and the verdict was announced, this case has always been a topic amongst my sisters. We can’t get enough true crime. My sister Melanie told me that I had to check out this book because she now has doubts that O.J. was the killer. It’s a quick read so far, and the evidence that Dear brings forward is astonishing and should not be ignored for the possibility to reopen the case. – Andrea Laws

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on EarthI’m currently reading Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland. It’s long been on my reading list, and hers is a story that resonates with me: the pearl-buttoned, plaid, threadbare shirts; the chapped and calloused hands; and the strong women. Sarah and I grew up about seventy miles away from each other, and the family that she writes about strikes a familiar and frank chord: one that I’ve surely heard at many a family gathering. – Kelly Chrisman Jacques

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – I started reading William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his life spent searching for waves to worship when it was -18 degrees in Lawrence. Now I’m ready for summer. – Derek Helms

 

 

The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America by Laura Dassow Walls – Humboldt was a Prussian explorer who led a daring and scientifically productive expedition to South America and Mexico during the Jeffersonian era. He was the first scientist to predict man-made climate change and was also an outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights and the abolition of slavery. This book surveys his travels and scientific discoveries and traces his influence on American history, natural science, politics, environmentalism, art, and literature. – Karl Janssen

David Congdon specified his book picks by how he consumes them:

 

 

 

 

Obit – ebook

No One Is Talking About This – audio

Imagining Persecution: Why American Christians Believe There Is a Global War against Their Faith – print

Contingency and the Limits of History: How Touch Shapes Experience and Meaning – print

 

Child Poverty and Richard Nixon’s Family Security Act

by John Roy Price, author of The Last Liberal Republican: An Insider’s Perspective on Nixon’s Surprising Social Policy

It has taken a brutal pandemic for the country to confront the reality of child poverty in “this land of plenty.” Fifty years ago, a Republican president made this a centerpiece of his social policy. In his first months in office, Nixon set out to eliminate federal tax liability for those earning below the poverty line. Out of concern for the wholly dependent as well as those in low-earning working families, he then proposed reform of what was a “catch-as catch-can” program of Food Stamps.

The centerpiece of his strategy was what we first called the “Family Security System” as we were developing it with Nixon. This became his Family Assistance Plan, announced in August of 1969. “FAP” was a complete retooling of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Nixon’s FAP was not only a reform of “welfare”, where its national floor raised help for millions in states whose welfare benefits fell below the states’ own definition of subsistence. But it went beyond “welfare reform.”  It sought a floor under the income of all families with children.

The plan was a “negative income tax.” This meant an income-tested floor of federal payments that would taper off as family income increased. Nixon’s proposal would reach and help the “working poor.” Millions of families struggled to approach the poverty line, even with a parent working full time, where the family was too large, or the wages too little. Nixon would supplement their incomes. The late George Shultz, secretary of Labor under Nixon, was a constant advocate for Nixon including the “working poor.” He did.

An early decision was not to pursue a grant to all parents and children but to focus help on those who most needed it. So, the “capitation grant” or a set amount of money to everyone, without regard to their family’s wealth and other income, was dismissed (to be resurrected in George McGovern’s “demo-grant” proposal of his hapless 1972 campaign against Nixon—an idea McGovern later said he wished he had never heard of). It would have been staggeringly costly, and not concentrated on lifting children and parents out of poverty.

The “negative income tax” had bi-partisan roots. It was advanced by some Kennedy and Johnson economic advisors and by the senior economic advisor to conservative Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, Milton Friedman. Richard Nixon was the first president to set out a universal basic income, out of concern for child poverty, hunger, and the consequent setback for children, whether white or non-white but poor, in a start to their lives to enable them to achieve their potential.

In the course of the debate, Nixon heard arguments about whether people could be trusted with disposable income in cash, or needed to be restricted; whether a floor under and supplement to income would incent them to work or to “lie about.” He wrestled with work requirements, and with the way his plan would fit into existing assistance programs so as not to agitate middle-class concerns about incomes of those receiving federal help exceeding those who were not.

After Nixon’s poverty proposals, some of their progeny were created. The Earned Income Tax Credit was a legacy of his negative income tax and concern about the working poor. So were the Food Stamp programs, now known as SNAP or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program

With the “reforms” of welfare in the 1990s, the Republicans and President Clinton abandoned the specific federal program, the AFDC, that focused on child poverty. They pivoted to priority on work requirements and reducing rolls of public assistance, with the termination of any assistance after a period. Republicans then began a retreat on EITC and on Food Stamps, pushing budget reductions in these anti-poverty programs for the next twenty years. The pandemic has focused a light on just how crucial these programs are to combat poverty among American children. It is gratifying to see renewed recognition of the reality and the drastic human costs—along with later huge public costs—of widespread childhood poverty. It is good to see efforts by such as Senator Romney, hopefully working with other Republicans and with President Biden in collaboration on these issues. To this writer, it comes as a ray of hope that America’s decency, and its policy, once more should seek to lift up these innocents.

John Roy Price is the retired President and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. He served as Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs from 1969 through 1971.

You May Also Enjoy: More Binge-Worthy Books.

The majority of the country is stuck inside weathering a deep arctic freeze (oh, and a global pandemic). The staff here at UPK is no different. As an opportunity to turn off the tube, we’d like to suggest some analog matches from our backlist to complement your digital favorites…

 

If you enjoyed Spike Lee’s story of four African American veterans returning to Vietnam decades after the war to find their squad leader’s remains, you might like Lisa Doris Alexander’ Expanding the Black Film Canon; Race and Genre across Six Decades, which expands our idea of what black films are and, going back to the 1960s, shows us new and interesting ways to understand them.

 

Obsessed with mysteries that seem to have no explanation? Dig into J. Patrick O’Connor’s Justice on Fire: The Kansas City Firefighters Case and the Railroading of the Marlborough Five. O’Connor describes a misguided eight-year investigation propelled by an overzealous Bureau of Alcohol, ATF agent keen to retire; a mistake-riddled case conducted by a combative assistant US attorney willing to use compromised “snitch” witnesses and unwilling to admit contrary evidence; and a sentence of life without parole pronounced by a prosecution-favoring judge.

 

Did Aaron Sorkin’s historical legal drama stoke your interests in Chicago history? Check out Joel E. Black’s Structuring Poverty in the Windy City: Autonomy, Virtue, and Isolation in Post-Fire Chicago. Black explains how the process begun by the Relief and Aid Society after the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 would expand outward—from jobless men to workingwomen to southern African American migrants, each defined by, and defining, poverty.

 

Love the work done by the Dutton family in Montana, but know it’s the women who really run the operations? Check out Sandra K. Schackel’s Working the Land: The Stories of Ranch and Farm Women in the Modern American West. Schackel tells the tales of how women on today’s ranches and farms have played a crucial role in a way of life that is slowly disappearing from the western landscape.

 

Has the pandemic and cold weather turned your family into something resembling the Fraser family? Maybe check out Ian Dowbiggin’s The Search for Domestic Bliss: Marriage and Family Counseling in 20th-Century America.In The Search for Domestic Bliss, Dowbiggin delves into the stories of the usual suspects in the founding of the therapeutic gospel, exposing little known aspects of their influence and misunderstood features of their work.

 

If you’ve spent countless hours streaming the 17(!) seasons of “medical drama” on Grey’s Anatomy, maybe it’s time to brush up on your actual anatomy. Try John Cody’s classic Visualizing Muscles, which features a live model painted to look as though his skin had been stripped off and then photograph in multiple poses. Paired photographs—show how the simulated muscles produce the subtle lights and darks, hills and valleys, on the model’s unpainted skin.

 

So you’re into dystopian science fiction Westerns with a side of amusement park fun? Well then, you need to check out William H. Katerberg’s classic Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction. Katerberg takes a new look at works of utopian, dystopian, and apocalyptic science fiction to show how narratives of the past and future powerfully shape our understanding of the present-day West.

 

A flying object, shaped like a potato chip with the center cut out, lands on Earth and grows a crystal shell? Cool. Thomas E. Bullard wrote a whole book about it. The Myth and Mystery of UFOs shows how ongoing grassroots interest in UFOs stems both from actual personal experiences and from a cultural mythology that defines such encounters as somehow “alien”—and how it views relentless official denial as a part of conspiracy to hide the truth. Bullard also describes how UFOs have catalyzed the evolution of a new but highly fractured belief system that borrows heavily from the human past and mythic themes and which UFO witnesses and researchers use to make sense of such phenomena and our place in the cosmos.

 

Watching the news have you thinking: ‘Well, how did we get here?’ David E. Kyvig’s The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture since 1960 has some answers. 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 Century Ago, White Protestant Extremists Marched on Washington

by Elizabeth Dias, previously published in The New York Times

In the weeks following the attack on the Capitol, many Americans have argued over whether the violence was a singular event or an outcome of deeper forces. Voters, Congress and a former president are clashing over who is to blame.

To Kelly J. Baker, a writer and public scholar of religion and racial hatred, the attack felt familiar, and it made her nervous. Many rioters, a largely white group, were motivated by religious fervor and saw themselves as participants in a kind of holy war. Some brought Confederate flags, others crosses. Some who invoked the name of Jesus were members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views. Some were motivated by conspiracy theories and QAnon falsehoods as well as their conservative Christian faith.

In many ways it resembled the culture of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and the group’s march on Washington in 1925, said Dr. Baker, who previously was a religious studies lecturer at the University of Tennessee. Many Americans associate the K.K.K. with white hoods, burning crosses and anti-Black racism but are less familiar with its white Protestant ambitions and antipathy toward Catholics and Jews. Dr. Baker explores that history in her book “Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930,” published by the University Press of Kansas in 2011.

In a conversation with The New York Times that has been edited for length, Dr. Baker reflected on how white Protestant Christianity and nationalism have long been interwoven — even a mainstream movement — and how many white churches today have yet to reckon with white supremacy.

No. White Christianity and this white supremacist Trump extremism are definitely not a new combination. I’d push back a little bit about the language of extremism to say that some of this stuff has been remarkably mainstream in American history. I just think that what we’re seeing right now is a dramatic form of it.

What did the attack on the Capitol remind you of historically?

It reminds me of some of the actions of the 1920s Klan, where they are marching on Washington in hoods and robes and carrying flags and crosses to show their dominance and presence in American life.

This was the largest order of the Klan in American history, millions of members in all 48 continental states. Usually the estimates are four to six million. Folks were bankers and dentists and lawyers, pastors and politicians. This involved both white men and women. They stood for, explicitly, white supremacy and white Protestantism. Arguably, it is an evangelical movement too. For membership you were supposed to be a white Christian. You had to be supportive of nationalism and patriotism. They actively encouraged members to go to church. Their language was definitely influenced by evangelicalism, the way they talk about Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

At the time, what was going on with white Christians who were not members?

The Klan was kind of a dramatic example of what a lot of other white people would understand: the importance of Christianity, patriotism, that there was tacit agreement about white supremacy.

There are people that are counteracting these white people that are doing this, but white supremacy wasn’t a controversial topic. The Klan was really upfront and honest about using this term. So a lot of other white Christians might have the same beliefs that they did, but the Klan took it up to 11. These are folks who were picking up the hood and robe to say that America needs to be saved, from immigrants, from people of color.

Did this combination start in the 1920s? Where does it start?

Arguably we can talk about how the combination of Christianity and white supremacy goes to the American founding, with early folks like Puritans showing up and claiming they’re the nation upon a hill and that this is now their land and they have dominion over it. It’s not like we can say that the Klan came from the Puritans. But a variety of different movements in different time periods pick up the same ideas and rhetoric and practices.

What are you observing about this current period of extremism and Christianity. How does it compare to the waves before?

As a historian, sometimes you think, “I don’t know if I can take this moment in history and bring it to the present.” But you can definitely find that if you look at a Klan newspaper from the 1920s that there was similar language about God and there’s similar language about the threat to the nation, from immigrants or Catholics or Jews. It just looked so familiar.

Some of the differences are kind of interesting. Klansmen went around with hoods and robes, so they are not sharing their identity. One of the interesting things to me about this movement now is the willingness of people to be so public about their beliefs. I think they’ve been emboldened by Trump’s behavior.

That feels a little different to me from the more polished version that the 1920s Klan wanted to have, where they’re very careful about their rhetoric, and very thoughtful about how they presented their Christianity, and were very much into having a smooth moving P.R. machine to make them look respectable. I have a hard time imagining a Klan riot on the Capitol.

The Klan was not as apocalyptic as some of the current folks are, you know, where they are thinking about the world ending.

What do you make of the conservative Christians who condemn the violence at the Capitol?

It is interesting that there are conservative Christians who support Trump but say the violence is a step too far. I think that is important. But I have this kind of inkling that that means they’re OK with everything else. Like, the violence is a step too far, but is the white supremacy? Is the anti-immigrant impulse? Are they also convinced that something happened with the election and Trump should have remained president?

Part of the downfall of the 1920s Klan is that there were Klan leaders that pushed too far. There were a couple of cases involving Klansmen that involved a whole bunch of violence. So people started defecting because they don’t want to be associated. But I think the important thing about that is that Klansmen and Klanswomen were on board with exclusion. They’re on board with anti-immigrant sentiment. They are totally there for white supremacy. It’s just that when that violence reached a particular moment, they felt like they had to step back. And that seems similar to me here.

We have also seen a lot of anti-Semitism among the Trump extremists. How does that fit historically with white Christians?

In 1890, there’s a push against immigrants, particularly Catholic and Jewish immigrants. We definitely had it with the 1920s Klan, that the two groups it primarily was against were Catholics and Jews, with again a deep concern that somehow the character of the nation would be changed if it wasn’t so dominated by white Christians, Protestant Christians. They were nervous about the enfranchisement of Black people as well, but so much of their effort was directed toward other religious groups.

The extremism that we are seeing, is it similar to the rise of Islamic extremism? We made such a distinction between Islam and Islamic extremism. Does that apply to Christianity in the United States?

I don’t think we should flatten and say Christianity equals Christian extremism in the same way that we shouldn’t say Islam solely is the same as Islamic fundamentalism. But I do think we have to figure out, what is it about these traditions — and the people that are part of these traditions and have practices and beliefs — that makes extremism a possibility.

To what extent is this moment a pivot point? Are we at the end of something, are we at the beginning of something?

Whether this is a beginning or ending, I think one of the things that we can’t take our eyes off of is this question of, How we could get here? I think there’s still a lot of ‘I don’t know how this happened’ that’s occurring around this moment. It’s a mistake to assume that this is some sort of anomaly that we can just move past. It’s a dangerous mistake because I think we need to be very thoughtful about the roles of the politicians in leading to these sorts of things, the role of social media.

I am not super optimistic that we are at the end of this kind of violence. I’m not. And I think part of that comes from researching white supremacist movements for over 15 years.

I’m wondering the extent to which white, conservative American Christianity is changing. Are there any historical lessons of hope?

There still has to be a reckoning within white Christian churches about white supremacy. There need to be very careful conversations about this, not as, “Individuals are prejudiced,” but about, “This is the system that we all inhabit.”

There were white Christian leaders in the 1920s who were anti-Klan. We see this happening within some white churches, who have very much paid attention to the movement for Black lives and have understood that they have a job in this. There are glimmers of hope.

But I think that there still has to be a reckoning with what churches and leaders and organizations are involved in something like the events on Jan. 6. And that’s going to require a lot of soul-searching and interrogation.

Elizabeth Dias covers faith and politics from Washington. She previously covered a similar beat for Time magazine. @elizabethjdias

Kelly J. Baker is the editor of Women in Higher Education.

How Ben Sasse Does and Doesn’t Represent the Modern Republican Party

by Ross Benes, author of Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold

Through op-eds, comments to the press, and voting to let former President Trump’s impeachment trial proceed, Ben Sasse has tried to distance himself from some aspects of the modern Republican Party. But in other ways, Sasse is quite emblematic of the GOP.

Sasse deserves credit for not being conspiratorial. He was one of the first Republicans in Congress to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and congratulate the president-elect. He’s called out members of his own party, like Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, by name for outlandish things they’ve said. He’s made news numerous times for negative-sounding statements he’s made about Trump. This is to say that Sasse is trying to position himself as a leader of the post-Trump Republican Party.

But don’t let Sasse’s chastising of other Republicans fool you about his voting record. In the last Congressional session, Sasse voted in line with his party 95 percent of the time, per Voteview. Sasse voted in line with Trump about 85 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, slightly more often than Florida’s Rick Scott did.

Sometimes Sasse supported Trump’s position because Trump was providing something that Republicans in Congress wanted. But that wasn’t always the case.

For example, when Trump issued an emergency declaration over this proposed border wall, Sasse criticized the measure as an instance of the executive branch overstepping its bounds. “Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power,” Sasse said. When the measure was put to a vote, a dozen Republicans voted against Trump’s position. Sasse was not one of them.

Despite his talk, Sasse fell in line with Trump when he had to actually vote on the matter, which is what Sasse usually does. After this vote, Reason magazine stated that Sasse is “fond of talking about the importance of Congress as a check on runaway executive power but who declined Thursday to play his part in stopping exactly such a power grab.” This statement could be repurposed whenever Sasse’s votes don’t align with his strong talk, which happens quite often.

In trying to appease Nebraska Republican primary voters while branding himself as principled conservative ready for a grandeur stage, Sasse has struck an awkward balance. His tone and statements are unlike the salient Trump-driven wing of the GOP, but his voting record is all the same.

Ross Benes is the award-winning author of three books. He has written for Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Lincoln Journal Star, Nation, Omaha World-Herald, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, and more. A native of Brainard, Nebraska, he now cheers on the Huskers from New York.

The Second Catholic President: Prelude and Prospects

by Patrick Lacroix, author of John F. Kennedy and the Politics of Faith

Until Joe Biden’s victory last November, the United States had not elected a Catholic president since 1960. In that interval, though many Catholics aspired to hold the nation’s highest public office, only one—John Kerry in 2004—won his party’s presidential nomination. It is as though the presidency again became a political forbidden fruit for Catholics in the wake of John F. Kennedy. Though the most recent election does not have the symbolic significance of Kennedy’s triumph over Richard Nixon, pundits and scholars of religion are already debating what Biden’s breakthrough says about the current landscape of faith and politics in this country.

At first glimpse, the connection between the two Catholic presidents seems tenuous—and not merely because of the amount of time that has elapsed or because Donald Trump has been a political creature like no other. In the early 1960s, after an election campaign that pitted them against anti-Catholic sentiments as much as the Republican ticket, President Kennedy and liberal allies cast new lines of religious activism. Though this was not, at the outset, a conscious or coherent political program, its effects were undeniable: religious bigotry declined, new faith-based alliances formed, and henceforth Catholic involvement in politics would mean confronting moral issues largely absent from the debates of 1960.

Despite a popular narrative that identifies the election of 1960 as a decisive blow against religious prejudice, Kennedy’s victory did not in itself change hearts and minds about Catholics’ ability to fulfill their constitutional obligations. Only once in office did he have the opportunity to challenge certain Protestants’ preconceived notions and substantiate the pledges he made on the campaign trail, most famously in his September 1960 address to Protestant ministers in Houston.

In his first months in office, Kennedy lived up to one of those pledges by proposing federal aid to education that excluded religious schools. While incurring the ire of leading figures in the Catholic Church, Kennedy earned political capital among moderate Protestants who traditionally supported the Democrats and whose religious reservations might be overcome.

Other administration officials would later recall that Kennedy, adviser Theodore Sorensen, and their team occasionally wrote speeches that grated religious audiences. There may have been bitterness lingering from the religious battle they had waged during the election as well as a desire to move to issues of substance. When faced with unexpected foreign and domestic crises, however, Kennedy embraced the religious forces that shared his political vision.

In a little-known twist, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, Catholic figures with Vatican connections facilitated communication between the White House and the Soviet Union. With Pope John XXIII and editor Norman Cousins serving as secret intermediaries, the president and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev came to an understanding regarding a nuclear test ban. During the summer of 1963, the White House openly courted American Catholics, Protestants, and Jews committed to détente and enrolled their support in the Senate’s ratification of the test ban treaty.

A similar story played out in the struggle for racial justice. From the Albany, Georgia, campaign of 1962 onwards, liberal white clergy took part in the Black freedom movement in ever-rising numbers. That interfaith and interracial coalition further cohered at the National Conference on Religion and Race held in Chicago, in January 1963. Present during that four-day event was R. Sargent Shriver, an unofficial administration observer.

When Kennedy proposed concrete measures to end segregation and discrimination in February and June 1963, he borrowed from the theme of moral justice propounded at the Chicago conference. The White House invited white and Black clergymen from all parts of the nation in June; they discussed means of advancing racial justice with Attorney General Robert Kennedy and forged an alliance that might ensure the passage of the civil rights bill. By then, the president had at last spoken publicly about his Catholic beliefs. At Boston College, he stated that he shared Pope John’s vision of social justice and international peace—a progressive vision which, when put into action in 1963, announced new lines of religious debate.

The coalition of likeminded people of faith, a coalition that cut across denominational lines, quickly pushed past civil rights and organized itself against the war in Vietnam. Though Kennedy was then in repose at Arlington National Cemetery, liberals of all faiths took advantage of the declining religious animosities that the late president had helped foster; they also embraced the ideological legacy of his final year in office. These energies crystallized in the form of the Religious Left, to which an interdenominational Religious Right would quickly and vigorously respond.

Kennedy’s efforts to serve as an impartial interfaith broker had helped expose divisions within denominations. Liberal Catholics found that they could work more profitably with liberal Protestants than with more conservative members of their own church. The same happened on the other side of the political spectrum. Though conservative white Catholics and Protestants never came together in common organizations in substantial numbers, they certainly voted as one during election campaigns thanks to shared views of abortion and religious liberty. Despite Trump’s reluctance to discuss his own moral core, this de facto conservative alliance was by no means a matter of the past during the 2016 contest. There is actually little evidence that Biden’s victory in November reflected a significant shift in the landscape of faith and politics.

Like Kennedy, Biden is facing unfriendly bishops who emphasize different aspects of Catholic social teaching. Whereas the first Catholic president won 80 percent of the Catholic vote, however, the second cannot count on such a committed bloc of supporters in his own church. This reflects Democrats’ struggle to speak sincerely to people of faith on their own terms since the Carter Administration and the importance of abortion (not least as a litmus test for candidates) among Catholic voters. Biden thus faces a deeply fractured religious landscape, with Catholic Washington, D.C., as exhibit A.

From a religious standpoint, Joe Biden is an heir to John F. Kennedy not as a carbon copy, though liberal instincts have informed both presidents’ outlook. The complex interdenominational concerns that Biden inherits attest to the transformative effect of Kennedy’s thousand days in office.

It is too soon to tell whether the Religious Right finds itself at a political dead end with Donald Trump’s defeat. Nor is it certain that Biden’s sincere religious feelings and desire to reach out to people of faith will reinvigorate a sometimes-languishing Religious Left. Nevertheless, we can expect the current president to alter the lines of debate nearly as much as his Catholic forebear once did. He is uniquely positioned to dispel conservative Catholics’ fears of a Democratic Party they believe to be without a moral rudder and to lay to rest the wariness of religious activism expressed by some millennials (the “nones”).

Indeed, as an honest interfaith broker in his own right, President Biden now has the opportunity to mold the place of religion in the public square in a way that engages the hopes and concerns of a country that is every day becoming more culturally diverse and socially liberal.

Patrick Lacroix, Ph.D., is a scholar of American immigration and religious history. He has taught at the University of New Hampshire, Phillips Exeter Academy, and liberal arts colleges in eastern Canada. His research has appeared in numerous academic journals and his first scholarly book, John F. Kennedy and the Politics of Faith, is now available from the University Press of Kansas. Dr. Lacroix currently resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

Amplifying Local Voices with Local Partners

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 three 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.

“There are many reasons it’s beneficial for indie bookstores to work directly with publishers,” Caine explains. “First, especially with specialty or university presses, it just makes economic sense. Additionally, close partnerships between publishers and bookstores can lead to mutually beneficial publicity, event programming, and other synchronicities. Everybody at bookstores and publishers wants to get the right books into the right people’s hands, so it makes perfect sense to team up.”

Since March, when COVID-19 shut down in-person events, Caine started scrambling to find ways to engage with his clients and promote books. The result was four virtual prescient political book discussions featuring UPK authors.

The series featured UPK authors Nathaniel Green (The Man of the People: Political Dissent and the Making of the American Presidency), Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko (Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections), Stephen F. Knott (The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal), and Jon K. Lauck (The Conservative Heartland: A Political History of the Postwar American Midwest).

“It was a new experience, and it was a great one,” Caine says. “As far as I know, it’s the only university press/independent bookstore event partnership. It was a great way to get some serious political discussions going, and I loved how it expanded our slate of programming and our audience. In an age of tweet-sized discourse, I enjoyed helping to provide in-depth political discussions grounded in historical context.”

The speaker series was the latest in a developing line of partnerships between UPK and the independent bookstore.

“It’s just so good to have friends down the road putting out such great books,” Caine says. “Our Kansas section has a solid backlist backbone thanks to the great books of UPK, and at least once a year one of the books really takes off. A book like Petroglyphs of the Kansas Smoky Hills isn’t going to get mainstream award or review attention, but at this bookstore, it was easily one of 2019’s bestsellers. Books like this from university presses help make our curated selection more unique, and certainly more interesting than the one-size-fits-all approach of our larger competition.”

UPK Partners with The Raven for 2020 Election Event Series

The University Press of Kansas has partnered with Lawrence bookstore The Raven to present four virtual prescient political book discussions. The series will focus on four recently released books that tackle a timely election issue. All events are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, October 14 (3:00 pm) Nathaniel Green will discuss his book The Man of the People; Political Dissent and the Making of the American Presidency, which traces the origins of our conception of the president as the ultimate American: the exemplar of our collective national values, morals, and character. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/manofthepeople

On Wednesday, October 21 (6:30 pm) Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko will discuss Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections, which draws upon an unprecedented range of empirical data to reveal how, and how much, running mates influence voting in presidential elections. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/dorunningmatesmatter/register

On Wednesday, October 28 (7:00 pm) Stephen F. Knott will present The Lost Soul of the American Presidency; The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal, which documents the devolution of the American presidency from the neutral, unifying office envisioned by the framers of the Constitution into the demagogic, partisan entity of our day. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/lostsouloftheamericanpres/register

Finally, on Thursday, November 19 (7:00 pm) Jon K. Lauck will discuss the edited collection The Conservative Heartland; A Political History of the Postwar American Midwest, which reveals how conservative victories in state houses, legislatures, and national elections in the early twenty-first century, far from coming out of nowhere, in fact had extensive roots across decades of political organization in the region. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/conservativeheartland/register

KU Libraries and University Press of Kansas Receive NEH-Mellon Humanities Kansas Open Book Program Grant

The University of Kansas Libraries and the University Press of Kansas have received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to convert out-of-print humanities texts into freely accessible digital resources.

“This grant for open books in the humanities offers the opportunity to advance several important priorities for the University of Kansas,” said Kevin L. Smith, dean of libraries. “This support allows us to bring wider attention to some of the excellent scholarship in history and American political thought published by the University Press of Kansas.”

The grant will provide the university with a unique opportunity to digitize humanities titles focused on history and American political philosophy that would be otherwise inaccessible to the public.

“I am thrilled that the University Press of Kansas has been selected as a grant recipient from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities,” said Conrad Roberts, director of the University Press of Kansas. “In collaboration with our Regents universities libraries, this grant will allow us to create an open access book collection that will dramatically increase the accessibility of information related to the history, culture, and politics of the United States to scholars and students in our nation and around the globe.”

The digitized works will be available in spring 2021 through the institutional repositories of all six Kansas Board of Regents universities — including KU, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University and Wichita State University as well as available through MUSE Open and JSTOR Open.

For more announcements about Kansas Open Books, please visit https://kansaspress.ku.edu/kansasopenbooks follow the hashtag #KansasOpenBooks on Twitter.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was created in 1965 as an independent federal agency. The NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the NEH and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, the Foundation supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at www.mellon.org.

Republicans must choose: Are they the party of Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump?

Reagan’s sunny, inclusive vision and principles are the antithesis of what Trump preaches

By Marcus M. Witcher, Ph.D. author of Getting Right with Reagan; The Struggle for True Conservatism, 1980-2016

original published in the Washington Post; 08/24/2020

This week, Republicans will nominate Donald Trump for the second time for president. Trump has built a cult of personality. In the past month alone, he has tweeted about potentially postponing the election and asserted he had the right to limit mail ballot usage — neither of which he has any constitutional authority to do.

These assertions are a stark contrast to what Republicans claimed to support in the last decades of the 20th century — small government and limited federal power. And this is nothing new for Trump. From his comments about Charlottesville, to his family separation and detention policy at the border, to his trade wars with half the world, to his assault on international institutions, to his reckless disregard for separation of powers, Trump has redefined conservatism. He has moved it away from Reagan-era Republicanism — a belief in the rule of law, free trade, civil society, decentralization and working though international organizations abroad. What’s worse is Trump has done so with few objections from many elected Republicans who claim to be Reaganites.

A loss by Trump in November will lead to a moment of reckoning for Republicans and conservatives. But to build a party for the future, they must understand how they got to this moment and how Trump’s brand of conservatism rose to the fore.

Trump’s style of conservatism is not new. In both its ideology and policy positions, it is most similar to the paleoconservatism of Patrick Buchanan, who served in the Nixon and Reagan administrations and was a political commentator. In the wake of the Cold War, some conservatives in the early 1990s began to focus on immigration and a more militant nationalism, as well as reinvigorating the culture wars. At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Buchanan was given a prime-time speaking slot after challenging President George H.W. Bush in the primary and receiving almost a quarter of the vote.

Buchanan proclaimed there was “a religious war going on … it is a cultural war.” And who were the enemies in this new war? They were feminists, immigrants in the country without authorization, free traders, internationalists and other purported barbarians who would destroy the fabric of Western civilization. One political journalist, Molly Ivins, quipped the speech “probably sounded better in the original German.”

Immediately after Buchanan spoke, however, Ronald Reagan, addressed a Republican convention for the last time, painting a stark contrast with Buchanan. Reagan called on Republicans to recognize that they were all — regardless of religion, color or creed — “equal in the eyes of God.” But he insisted this was not enough, that as Americans “we must be equal in the eyes of each other.” In contrast to Buchanan’s divisive message of America at war with itself, Reagan reminded the audience “in America, our origins matter less than our destinations.”

The former president mentioned the progress that had been made, but he emphasized “with each sunrise we are reminded that millions of our citizens have yet to share in the abundance of American prosperity … many languish in neighborhoods riddled with drugs and bereft of hope [and] still others hesitate to venture out on the streets for fear of criminal violence.” Reagan asked those present in the convention hall and those at home to pledge “ourselves to a new beginning for them.” He concluded Americans must “apply our ingenuity and remarkable spirit to revolutionize education in America so that everyone among us will have the mental tools to build a better life.”

According to Reagan, only by working together, united as one America, could the country provide equal opportunity and a prosperous future for all Americans.

Commentators recognized the two very different messages being presented. The Washington Post asserted Reagan’s remarks were “a model of sensitivity compared with the hate-filled harangue of Pat Buchanan that preceded it.” The Wall Street Journal noted it was “impossible to imagine Ronald Reagan talking in the way Pat Buchanan does about keeping foreign people and foreign products out of the U.S.” It concluded Reagan would never “give the impression that his political actions drew their energy from reservoirs of bitterness and antipathy.”

Throughout the 1990s, the two different versions of conservatism on display that night in Houston continued to compete for the soul of the movement. In 1996, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled “We Knew Reagan and Pat Buchanan is No Gipper,” in which it explained that Reagan’s nationalism “was muscular but also optimistic,” whereas “Buchanan’s darker nationalism flows from a perception of national decline.” While Reagan hailed “America’s immigrant past and future,” Buchanan wanted “a five-year halt in legal immigration.”

At the time, Buchanan’s views lost out. Bob Dole beat him in the 1996 Republican presidential primary, and in his acceptance speech, Dole made clear for “anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion,” the exits were “clearly marked.” And Dole was emphatic that he would not compromise on this inclusive vision.

While Dole lost, George W. Bush won a narrow victory four years later preaching compassionate conservatism with a focus on education, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and welcoming immigrants. Buchanan left the party, running on the Reform Party ticket in 2000.

But Buchanan’s divisive, nationalist, anti-immigrant conception of conservatism never went away, helping to scuttle bipartisan attempts at comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, 2007 and 2013-2014, while often being voiced by an increasingly influential group of conservative commentators.

And in 2016, defying conventional wisdom that to win Republicans needed to reorient their party, especially on immigration, Trump captured the White House by wielding Buchanan’s playbook. Buchanan recognized this, telling Politico in 2017 he was “elated, delighted that Trump picked up on the exact issues on which I challenged Bush. … And then he goes and uses my slogan [Make America First Again]. … It just doesn’t get any better than this.” Reporter Tim Alberta put it succinctly: “Buchanan’s boldest achievement — and perhaps the most lasting aspect of his legacy — was being Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Yet the party of Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan is not the party of Ronald Reagan. Though certainly not without flaws, Reagan offered an optimistic, forward-thinking and more inclusive brand of conservatism on which to build. Indeed, Reagan provided Americans with some of the most quotable passages about the benefits of immigrants to the United States.

The conservative movement is at a crossroads. It can continue the culture wars and welcome the label of hyper-nationalism, xenophobia and even racism — and in the process become all the things critics on the left have claimed it to be all along. Or it can take a step back and reflect on its past. Revisiting the tenants of Reagan conservatism would be a start. Perhaps conservatives could begin by embracing Reagan’s goal that history remember him — and by extension, conservatism — as someone who “appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence, rather than your doubts.”

About the Author Marcus M. Witcher is a scholar-in-residence in both the Department of History and the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the coeditor of Public Choice Analyses of American Economic History, Volumes 1–3.