Starting with the Man in the Mirror: How Can We All Help to Heal America’s Political Incivility?

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The last time I posted, I asked the question, “Can the McCain Eulogies Unite Us?”

I knew it was overly-optimistic to even fantasize that they could—even if just for a few days. But the answer to my question has been given over the last two months, and it is a resounding NO.

Make no mistake, it was nice to see Biden, Graham, Bush, Obama, and others discuss McCain’s life-long attempts to work when he could across party lines, denigrating those that divide us and praising McCain’s calls for civility.

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If only all political rivals saw this as the best way to engage with each other.

“We never doubted that we were on the same team,” Obama said of his political rival, speaking of the times they shared in the White House having discussions and disagreements about policy.

The eulogies brought a ton of tears and clear criticisms of those that peddle in the politics of fear and division (Meghan McCain was amazing and probably stole the show), calling on us all to have the same optimistically positive view of America and of American democracy that John McCain had. Democrats and Republicans both stood in line to offer praise of the man and his convictions about what made America great. Those that had nothing positive to say about him just simply kept quiet.

It was a nice salve for our wounds, but at best, it lasted about one week before we started to rip the nation apart again.

I don’t have to dwell on the things that have divided us lately. We’ve all lived out the partisan ugliness that has been the last couple of months, from the Kavanaugh fiasco to our current pipe bombs/murders.

It seems like we are nearing a breaking point. On Monday of this past week I was having a great discussion with one of my classes about our current national divisiveness, and in an effort to put things into context, I told them that we’ve had worse moments than this in our history, and yet emerged from them. Discussing the 1960s as one example, I said, “Hey, at least we have not had any political assassinations or attempts,” and then reeled off the names of JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X, and Wallace.

Even as I said it, I feared it was exactly where we were headed. And then came a quick spate of political violence: a Kroger shooting of 2 African Americans when the shooter was thwarted from entering a black church, pipe bombs delivered to two former presidents and other high profile political leaders, and then the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history by a guy that was led to believe Jews were helping to bring a caravan of dangerous immigrants into the country.

It all feels almost as numbing as 9/11. The difference this time: the enemy is within (homegrown terrorists that are products of our own political divisions and rhetoric), and this time we have no president metaphorically standing on the rubble, uplifting us with hope and American pride.

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A moment like this is not going to happen with the current president.

But I post today because this is not any one person’s fault, and focusing on the leadership problems with our current president is only going to make things worse.  As I have posted before, I am done with hate, because the events of the last couple of months are perfect examples of what hate brings.

Instead then, I’d like to humbly point out the things that I hope and pray we will all consider doing—collectively, and with an optimistic outlook on what can be accomplished.

1. Look to others for rhetoric that unites us. We have got to stop expecting the current president to be a pillar that will say the right things that will bring the country together and return us to civility. That simply is not who he is. When he reads from a teleprompter he says good things, but when he reverts to his true sentiments, he just cannot overcome who he is.

Instead of constantly bashing the man for not being what he should be, let’s start uplifting and passing along the words of people who appeal to our better angels. Be they politicians or pundits, preachers, teachers, celebrities, fathers, mothers, or innocent children, let’s listen closely to each other and champion those that unite us. Post their words on social media. Make and share positive memes. Bring these people to the attention of others in our conversations and online chats.

And VOTE for them when we find them among those running for office.

2. And while I am on memes—I wish people would start checking on the veracity of a meme before they retweet or share it. The internet is flooded with inaccurate quotes and “facts” that are misleading and/or downright fabricated lies made by people that just make up or pass along whatever seems to support what they believe. These things are usually incredibly divisive and just plain wrong. abraham-lincoln-quote-internet-hoax-fake-450x293.jpgWhen seeing one that we think should be shared, I wish people would  pause and do a quick check of the facts (Snopes.com does a great job of debunking most of them), and ask themselves, “does this unite or divide us” before they pass it along.

3. Be honest about our history as a nation. It frustrates me when I hear or read people stating things like, “this political violence is not who we are. This is not America.” etc. The truth is, America has always been racked by political violence.

Let me name but a few examples (look them up if you need to): The protests that led to the American Revolution. Violence against loyalists during the Revolutionary War. Burr kills Hamilton. The Trail of Tears. Antebellum attacks on abolitionists. Nat Turner’s Revolt and its retaliatory aftermath. The Caning of Sumner on the floor of Congress. “Bleeding Kansas.” The Civil War. Reconstruction-era violence to suppress black equality and suffrage. The wars on the Plains Indians.  The Haymarket Riot. Violence and imprisonment of women’s suffrage protestors. The “Red Summer of 1919.”  Race riots during WWI and WWII.  The strength and activities of the 1920s KKK. Thousands of lynchings between the 1880s and 1960s. Civil Rights era violence (Little Rock, the beating of Freedom Riders, Oxford riots, Birmingham bombings, numerous murders– including children, Selma, etc.), Kent State. 1960s political assassinations.  The clash between police and protestors at the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago. Stonewall riots. Oklahoma City. Four presidents assassinated and fifteen others threatened by plots and/or attempts.

Need I go on? And this is just a very small sampling that readily comes to mind. I list these not to insist that we have always been this way and that therefore there is no hope we can change. Rather, I list these so that we realize that contrary to what we often hear, political violence has long been part of the fabric of who we are. Let’s stop longing for a time when things were so much better. There is no golden age. We can’t solve a problem until we are honest about it.

We have to work to make America greater now than it ever has been in the past.

4. Let’s be introspective and look at the “man in the mirror.” Our current political tribalism is destroying us, and if we are honest with ourselves, at some level we are all guilty of making the problem worse. I am as guilty as anyone.

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We can’t keep seeing politics like this—Good vs. Evil.

When we talk or post about the people that support political parties other than our own, we all too often paint them as dumb, naive, and insane, or worse, evil people that hate our country, its values, and its mission. Good vs. Evil.

I can’t see how that helps anything. How can you expect someone to listen objectively and civilly to the thoughts and opinions of others, when their own opinions are belittled, twisted, and demonized? Or how can you expect everyone to act civilly when people are whipped into a frenzy by someone that paints the opposition as a dangerous threat to our country and our lives?

I wish people would be careful in their words when they talk about the political opposition, and would show a willingness to listen. We are more likely to find the places where we agree and can compromise if we are willing to demonstrate, as Obama said of McCain, that “we are on the same team.”

Our government was created as a product of compromise, meant to facilitate compromise. Our Founders were politically divided, just as us, and on many of the same issues. But in working to find common ground, they crafted the Republic that we love so much. Compromise is the only way it could be created, and the only way that it works.

Bottom line: we are not going to get anywhere if we’ve come to believe that the opposition is evil and must be destroyed. If our Founders had felt that way, our nation would have never made it out of the cradle. Instead, let’s follow their example by understanding that most Americans want the best for our country, and that because we disagree on how to obtain that, we MUST compromise in order to get it.

5. Educate our youth about how democracy and voting works. Don’t assume that our younger generations understand our political process. I can tell you as a college educator, a very large number of them leave high school without a basic understanding of how our system works.

There are myriad reasons for this, so please don’t interpret my words here as a criticism of our teachers. They are absolute warriors on the frontlines of our nation’s problems, but they are handcuffed in innumerable ways—not the least of which is how we test and grade learning.

But the simply truth is that our young are not voting in large number because they often times don’t even know how or why they should. This is one of the things that I have learned from my college students over the years, especially when discussing the U.S. Constitution.

Over the last week, I have had detailed discussions with my college classes about everything that is going on, and I can tell you, they ARE paying attention and are worried about our nation’s future. But many honestly do not know what they can do about it.

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Students working on campus and in my building just last week to get their generation voting. Let’s help them!

They all too often are ignorant about the functions and limits on our state and national government, where to go to find unbiased information about candidates, the basics of what to expect when handling a ballot, or even that they have to register ahead of time.

The fear of the unknown plagues them when they consider voting, and that frightens many of them away. Further, all too often those that ARE voting, are simply doing so based on who mom or dad directed them to vote for, and/or because of the party the candidate represents.

Let’s all work to fix that. Don’t leave it to just teachers and professors. Engage the young on voting and the democratic process, and please do it without using language that only increases tribalism and division. Encourage them to find candidates, irregardless of party, that they like and agree with, avoiding language about defeating the enemy, or saving America from those that seek to destroy it.

So that’s it. Just five things I am going to try to do better, and that I encourage others to consider.

Look, I am just some guy with ideas and thoughts no more valuable than anyone else’s. As they say, “opinions are like butts; we have all have them, and they all stink.” So I am far from some authority that should be preaching to others about how they should live their lives.

But there is one thing of which I’m certain—our current tribally partisan problems are only going to get worse, probably MUCH worse, before they get better.

But I refuse to sit idly by, bemoaning the sad state of affairs, waiting for some political savior to ride in and save the day.

We ALL have to be a hero that stands on this rubble and seeks to unite us. I’ve offered my five things that I plan to do and that I hope might inspire others. What’s your ideas? What would you like to see people do to change things? Get your ideas out there and practice them.

And in the words of our last inspiring president; “Don’t boo, . . . . VOTE.”

 

Spike Lee’s definitely got something to say: A review of BlacKkKlansman

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After spotting some commercials and a trailer (see below), I was somewhat interested in seeing Spike Lee’s new “joint,” the true story of a black Colorado Springs police officer named Ron Stallworth that somehow managed to infiltrate the KKK, establishing a connection to David Duke back in the early 70s. TV commercials have played up the comedic aspects of the story (and there are plenty), but considering Spike Lee’s involvement, I knew there had to be a deeper message.

What really drew me in, however, was an interview that Spike did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper discussing the movie’s attempt to connect the past to the present. Cooper confessed that seeing the film shook and unsettled him. After that, I made sure to put the movie at the top of my weekend agenda.

I’m sure glad I did.

The opening sequence of BlacKkKlansman is borrowed from Gone With the Wind, and is perhaps the most famous use of the Confederate flag in cinema history.

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Perhaps the most famous film use of the Rebel flag.

Recalling that Spike said he wanted to connect the past to the present, when this scene popped up on the screen my immediate thought was: “Oh man, Spike has definitely got something to say.”

Based on just my Twitter feed, I’m surprised that historians have apparently not paid much attention to this film, especially when they seem to be consumed right now with analyzing what Charlottesville and the Confederate monuments debates tells us about modern race relations, politics, and Civil War memory in the Trump era, and/or debunking Dinesh D’ Souza’s Death of a Nation book and film.

I don’t want to give away any big spoilers here, because everyone needs to see this film, so I will tread lightly.

From start to finish, Spike Lee offers a primer on how movies have shaped perceptions of race in the United States. Besides Gone with the Wind, he makes heavy use of Birth of a Nation (1915), but also has characters discussing the Tarzan films of the 1930s and 40s, as well as the “Blacksploitation” films of the early 70s.

Spike’s use of Birth of a Nation is particularly interesting (and satisfying) to watch because he uses one of D.W. Griffith’s pioneering film techniques, crosscutting, to make a powerful point about how that film distorted history. I won’t give the scene away, but you’ll know it when you see it (it’s a pleasure to see Harry Belafonte on screen again), so take pleasure in seeing Spike use Griffith’s own technique against him.

One of the film’s most engrossing scenes is a speech delivered by Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) to a group of African American college students, in which he focused on how blacks had allowed American culture to define how they saw themselves.

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Hawkins as Ture. “Black Power!”

The role is played by Corey Hawkins, and he is mesmerizingly good, delivering a wake-up call to the film’s protagonist. It feels historically and artistically authentic, and is an unforced method of kicking the film’s narrative into motion.

As if this were not enough to get the attention of historians, Spike more directly connects the present to the past by demonstrating the way that racial politics have evolved, from the disgustingly upfront and honest language of “massive resistance” in response to school integration and desegregation, to the “dogwhistle” political tactic of speaking about traditional America values, law and order, taking back our country, and “America first.”

Spike makes clear that the latter is the more dangerous form of racial politics. In one particularly well-written scene, a character explains to the film’s protagonist Ron Stallworth (exceptionally played by John David Washington) that someday someone might get elected president using such tactics. When Stallworth then expresses disbelief that someone like David Duke could ever get elected president, he is told that he should not be so naive.

Duke is played in the film by Topher Grace (don’t be surprised if he gets a best supporting actor nomination), and he is a strong contrast to the other Klansman in the film.

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Grace as Duke

The rest are the dimwitted, redneckish, gun-obsessed buffoons that most people associate with the Klan. Duke, however, is a smooth talking, well -read, and deep thinking charmer who understands that “dogwhistle” techniques are more politically powerful than terrorism. As Topher Grace discovered when researching the role, and as Spike powerfully demonstrates,  Duke predates Trump’s use of “America First” and making America “Great Again.”

The film also features another fine performance by Adam Driver as Stallworth’s partner. He’s quickly becoming one of our best and most intense actors, and his character’s evolution is also at the core of the film’s point about identity.

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Driver and Washington

Driver plays a Jewish detective that never really gave much thought to being a Jew (“I was just another white kid”), until he must reckon with the Klan’s anti-Semitism. Suddenly, the white privilege he’s enjoyed most of  his life seems fake. He too is the member of a marginalized minority, and he’s just been “passing.”

All this is wrapped up in a well-paced action/comedy/buddy film. I don’t know Stallworth’s story well enough to comment on how much of it is true and how much of it is just based on truth, but from what I have read, the specifics of what the investigation accomplished is accurately told, uncovering Klansmen in the military and NORAD, and thwarting cross burnings and violence. (Although you’ll be able to tell that the film’s climactic moments and timing are most likely pure Hollywood formula).

The acting is uniformly fine, the dialogue believable, and Spike’s recreation of the 1970s is evocative. (One extended dance sequence makes great use of the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose classic soul hit “It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now,” oozing with the pride of the blossoming Black Power and “Black is Beautiful” movements.)

Ultimately, BlacKkKlansman does an excellent jump of connecting the Confederacy to current events, and demonstrating the line from David Duke to Donald Trump. By now you’re probably aware of the TV news footage that Spike uses at the end of the film to not-so-subtely tie his story to the present (if not, I won’t ruin it), and it is a powerful jolt.

Rather numbing, actually.

And yet for me, the most powerful jolt coming out of the theater was in placing the film in context of even more up-to-the-minute events.

Just last week, Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham made comments about immigration policy that David Duke publicly praised. The big news today as I write this is that tapes exist of our president using racial slurs, and even the White House Press Secretary can’t guarantee that it is not true. Oh, and H.U.D. has eliminated the strongest effort in decades to combat housing segregation.

And in my local cineplex, BlacKkKlansman is now playing on the opposite end of the hallway from D’Souza’s Death of a Nation.

It doesn’t get more stark, or timely,  than that.

 

TCM is my lifeboat: Escapism, and taking comfort in the fact that there is no “Golden Age.”

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As I mentioned in my previous posting, like many folks today I am a bit burned out trying to keep up with the daily insanity that is the news during the Trump era. As a professional historian, it is a bit surreal and highly fascinating to watch these truly historic events play out in real time.

But it is exhausting! And frankly, terrifying.

Viewing events from a historical perspective gives us many reasons to be worried about what is transpiring these days. We have lots of faith in our constitution and democratic system, but, history demonstrates, democracies can and do fail.

Yet one of the comforting things about viewing events from a historical perspective is also the knowledge that we as a nation have faced trying and divisive times before, and came out on the other side all the better for it.

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More divided now than ever? Um, no.

I’ve repeatedly asserted here and in my classrooms that our current divisiveness and tribulations will ultimately actually reshape the nation in positive ways, and that’s where this whole story is headed. Americans are increasingly getting “woke,” and that’s refreshing when we have had so much electoral apathy for so long.

But it isn’t always easy to keep that optimism.

In that vein,  I am following up my reading of John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump with Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels. I’ve yet to complete it, but so far it has been a nice tonic for the daily news.

That’s where Turner Classic Movies (better known as TCM) comes in.

Like most historians, I love movies. I think we tend to relish them because at the core of our passion for history is a love of storytelling and stories. You’ll find very few professional historians that will not profess a love for the movies, and when we are not talking about historical events, you can almost bet we are talking about our favorite films. (Here’s me discussing my favorite.)

And of course history and movies have always been linked to one another. Many of the greatest films of all time are historical dramas. And in our classrooms, historians frequently analyze the ways in which films either reflected their times, and/or helped shape them. Birth_of_a_Nation_1915.pngFor example, no discussion of the Jim Crow era, or racial perceptions in the US, is complete without reckoning with The Birth of a Nation (1915), or Gone With the Wind (1939). How can one analyze the late 1960s without dealing with Easy Rider (1969) or The Graduate (1967)?

In our current age when Hollywood seems stuck in a rut of poor dialogue and computer generated imagery, in which remakes, retools, and big budget “the-world-is-endanger-someone-save-us-now” flicks rule the day, going to the movies isn’t what it used to be.

The best new movies these days, I believe, are the independents, not the big studio pics. I’m particularly tired of all these films in which the world is somehow on the brink of disaster, with the only thing standing in the way of armageddon being a band of superheroes, or a rogue government agent/assassin.

Which is why, more and more, TCM is the place to go when I need a break from current events. After watching all the talking heads on the news channels hash and rehash the latest and daily insanity, it is refreshing to flip over to TCM and be greeted by one of the network’s affable and knowledgable hosts as they provide a little background, historical detail, and interesting opinions both before and after a feature presentation.

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Muller, Malone, Karger, & Mankiewicz

And they are all equally good. Ben Mankiewicz’s dry and sarcastic wit never fails to crack me up. Alicia Malone’s interesting commentary and opinions are delivered with a constant smile and sunny demeanor that are downright infectious. (Yes I have a crush on her). Dave Karger’s smooth delivery and pleasant personality never fails to charm. And Eddie Muller’s “film noir” lessons are insightful, fascinating, and always delivered with just the right amount of macho style.

Not every movie TCM shows is great, of course, but they rely on films made during a time when, as Mankiewicz explains in one of TCM’s promos, “we didn’t know how to blow up buildings (or rely on CGI) so we had no choice but to tell great stories, with great characters.” Most of the films they show were made in Hollywood’s heyday—the 1930s and 40s, but also the 1950s, & 1960s. (Although they frequently feature movies from the 70s, 80s’s, 90s, and even more recent films).

I’ve loved TCM for several decades now (and still mourn the loss of the incomparable Robert Osbourne), but I have come to cherish its value as escapism more so now than ever. But most comforting to me, is knowing that these films were escapism for audiences even when they first came out.

Many people (classic film lovers especially) have a tendency to think of the past in terms of a “golden age,” overly romanticizing a bygone era when things were supposedly so much simpler and more innocent than they are now.

But that’s pure hogwash. Every era of time has had its own stresses and problems, causing people to feel just as distressed and burdened by current events and realities as at any other time in history (and often more so).

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Some good 3-D fun, circa 1950s

Thus, when I watch the films of the 1930s, I put them in the context of the Great Depression and the growth of global fascism. During the early 40s, there was the stress of having loved ones fighting and dying overseas, and the enormous burden of supporting the conflict on the home front. In the late 40s, veterans returned home to a world and families that they struggled to integrate back into, many suffering from PTSD. The 50s brought another overseas war,  the fear of atomic destruction, red scare paranoia, and Civil Rights tensions. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement, the ever-growing death toil from political assassinations, and the Vietnam War divided us culturally and politically in extreme ways that we are only just now starting to experience again.

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A film as timely now as it was then

It is often argued that 1939 was the greatest year in Hollywood’s history (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Ninotchka, Young Mr. Lincoln, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din). Just think for a moment what terrifying events were going on in the world when those films were in the theater breaking box office records.

And if you were African American during any of those eras, life was far from a “golden age,” as it was the heyday of Jim Crow, unpunished lynchings, and residential segregation, among other burdens.

But even during those dark eras, there was always the movies–Films that swept audiences up with their humor, excitement, and music, helping them escape, even if only two hours, from the world outside the theater. The big studios turned out every genre of film, created imaginary worlds, and took viewers away from the harsh realities of their times.

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Gable, headed off to war

And that’s the beauty of TCM now. Those very same films are still offering a bit of escapism, as Garland, Bogart, Hepburn, Stanwyck, Gable, Lombard, Stewart, Wayne, and oh so many other timeless actors fill the TV screen with great characters, great dialogue, and great stories. All the while reminding us that we have always needed the movies to take us away from a world that seems out of control.

And just as Americans survived and triumphed over those dark times then, . . . so shall we again

Trump, evangelical Christians, and a history of fear: A review of John Fea’s Believe Me.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. 994854356-1.jpgMy last blog posting was over two months ago.

I could blame vacation and general burnout, but the primary reason for my lack of blogging is that the #1 thing I would want to post about are the never-ending Trump outrages. And yet I find myself not wanting to write about Trump for one reason:

I am tired of hating him.

As my closest friends know, I have been grappling with the fact that Trump inspires so much sheer hatred in my heart. As I watch him destroy the dignity of the office, repeatedly lie about big and small things, separate families at the border, enact tariffs which will inflict wounds on our own economy, weaken the alliances that the post-WWII Western world has been built upon, describe the free press as an enemy of the state, and coddle up to murdering and tyrannical madmen, (just to name his most recent misdeeds), the anger in me swells. And every day it’s something new.

1*JRxEPJZ6EjasBIDh9GkPSw.pngIt’s exhausting, and I know that many of you feel exactly the same.

My Twitter followers and Facebook friends know I frequently vent my feelings in short diatribe postings, or by passing along news stories and the writings of others. But this has long become annoying to me, and I’m sure to others. Oh, how I long for the days when my Twitter feed and Facebook wall were filled mostly with interesting history-related stories, the good news of family and friends, sports commentary, or jokes and fun comments about pop culture.

Those are still there, of course, but are clouded and overwhelmed by the ever-frustrating and increasingly-frightening news. Living through world changing events in real time is fascinating as heck, but the fear and hatred it stirs has become oppressive.

And what good is all that fear and hate?

I’m a big believer that nothing good ever comes from hate. As MLK wrote (perhaps leaning on Romans 12:21), “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Perhaps Maya Angelo said  it best:  “Hate has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not yet solved one.”

Indeed, has it not been hatred and fear that has caused this current problem? As we know, Trump’s narrow election victory owes much to the fact that he received the support of 81% of evangelical Christians. It seems ironic that perhaps the most immoral man ever nominated for president received evangelical support.

But is it? And was it not their fear and hatred that helped make his victory possible?

That argument is at the core of historian and Messiah College Professor John Fea’s new book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump5101e574-4c2f-4e5a-8b90-5366b66f02f1._CR63,0,375,500_PT0_SX300__.jpgPurposely choosing a publisher of religious books (Eardman’s), the Christian author’s main target audience seems to be other evangelicals. Yet anyone interested in understanding the 2016 election through solid historical context and analysis should pick up Fea’s fascinating and incisive work.

(Quick shoutout to the small independent bookstore where I picked up my copy,  Ernest & Hadley’s. Shop local, y’all.)

Like Fea, I too was dismayed that a large majority of fellow Christians embraced such an immoral man like Donald Trump, especially when considering that these were the same people that excoriated Bill Clinton, insisting that beyond his perjury, his sexual improprieties and other character flaws made him unfit for office. What happened? If character mattered then (and I believe that it did), why did it not seem to matter now?

Further, I wondered, how could evangelicals be blind to the fact that embracing Trump would only widen the conception of Christians as hypocrites? Couldn’t they see that the goal of spreading the good news would be severely hampered? Who would want to convert to a religion of such blatant hypocrisy?

Instead of letting such questions bewilder and anger him, Fea went looking for answers, and has reached what I feel are convincing explanations. Simply put, Trump tapped into the long standing evangelical tradition of using fear as a tactic, embraced their political playbook for recreating a nostalgic American past that never really existed, and rallied their leaders to his cause by seemingly offering positions of political power and influence. Fea concludes that many evangelicals “decided that what Donald Trump can give them is more valuable than the damage their Christian witness will suffer because of their association” with him.

Fea builds his case by providing a “short history of evangelical fear,” touching on Puritan Massachusetts, anti-Catholicism in colonial, revolutionary, and antebellum America, the fear of deism in the early republic, southern fears about race war and/or miscegenation that drove them into secession, the Nativist response to Jewish and Catholic immigrants, images.jpegand the modernist cultural forces of the 1920s that brought about the revival of the KKK and lynchings (and a war on the teaching of evolution).

Thus by the time of the Civil Rights movement, Fea demonstrates, evangelicals had a long history of revealing their fears in how they “responded to the plight of people who do not share their skin color,” as well as how they responded to anyone that “might challenge the power and privilege that evangelicals have enjoyed in a nation of Protestants . . ..” And those responses “have led to some dark moments” in the history of the United States.

Indeed.

After WWII, Fea narrates, evangelicals were dismayed by “a renewed emphasis on the separation of church and state, the removal of prayer and Bible-reading from public schools, the influx of immigrants from non-Christian Western nations, the intrusion of the federal government into their schools (desegregation), and the court’s endorsement of abortion on demand.”

As a result, the 1970s saw evangelicals turn against the forces of big government, making them a natural fit for the more than welcoming (and wooing) Republican Party. (Fea doesn’t point it out, but he reveals there was more at play here than just the infamous “southern strategy” that was based on blowing racial dog whistles).

Furthermore, Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” developed what Fea labels a “political playbook” in order to defeat the forces that seemed to be winning the cultural wars. mf1000.jpgSimply put, this playbook encouraged Christians to restore America to its Christian roots (which required historic revisionism to argue that America was founded solely by Christians, upon Christian principles) by contending for political power via the recruitment and financial support of candidates dedicated to using government to achieve the church’s religious goals.

Christians in political office would then place Christians in the courts, and these judges would limit the separation between church and state (which would allow the passage of laws enforcing Christian morality), and ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade. “While control of the presidency and the Congress is certainly important to the successful implementation of this playbook,” Fea argues, “the control of the Supreme Court is essential.”

And yet, despite forty years of following this playbook, by 2015 it had had little if any success. Abortion was still legal. The internet had made pornography more widely and easily available. Gay marriage was upheld by the Supreme Court. Crime rates seemed to have not dropped. America was becoming more ethnically and racial diverse than ever.  Some states had legalized the recreational use of pot. Christian church membership was dropping substantially. A man many Christians (ridiculously) believed was a foreign-born Muslim had been twice-elected president. Etc. etc.

And then came Trump. Despite his life-long commitment to greed, sexual infidelity and immorality, shady business practices, and outspoken crudeness, he quickly understood his best path to the White House must involve picking up the evangelical vote. Drawing to his side what Fea labels the “court evangelicals,” Trump learned from certain Christian leaders how to speak the language and embrace the playbook. These leaders saw a man that would not just give lip-service to the playbook, but would faithfully implement it and place them into positions of political power and influence.

These court evangelicals include the Christian Right (such as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr.), the followers of “prosperity gospel,” (such as Paula White), and the Independent Network Charismatics (some of which insist they prophesied Trump’s victory and his role in their ultimate success). Donald-trump.jpgWooed by Trump’s apparent commitment to the playbook, these evangelicals have become his staunchest defenders, insisting his past does not matter, that he is a faithful Christian now (despite all evidence to the contrary), and even that he is the fulfillment of prophesy.

Fea’s work is thus powerfully enlightening, helping to explain why a man with Trump’s deficiencies would find favor with Christian evangelicals. Though he does not explore it, his work also explains why these long-time Republican faithfuls would embrace a man that campaigned on and has embraced so many anti-Republican Party policies (such as his hostile tariffs and questionable commitment to our traditional alliances and NATO responsibilities).

Further, Fea’s work helps explain why, despite Stormy Daniels and Trump’s continued deplorable behavior (such as his easily demonstrable lies and disgusting moral equivalencies), evangelicals refuse to abandon him. With Trump appointees taking judgeships, and with one on the Supreme Court and more possibly coming, why should they quit on him now when their playbook finally seems on the verge of success?

In his later chapters, Fea begins to more directly address his message to fellow evangelical Christians. Taking aim at the slogan “Make American Great Again,” the author rightfully asserts that there is no time in America’s history when things were “great” for a majority of U.S. citizens, and that our past is more often filled with dark and dangerous times for people that were not white male native-born (and heterosexual) Protestants.  Trump thus relies on nostalgia for a time that never really existed.

For most Americans, the evangelical playbook’s success would be regressive, not a restoration of greatness. (For those of you that have been watching Hulu’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale, how frightening does all this seem??) “For too many who have been the objects of white evangelical fear,” Fea asserts, “real American greatness is still something to be hoped for–not something to be recovered from an imagined past.”

On abortion, Fea argues that even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the issue would go to the states, where certainly a large number would keep it legal. That impoverished red state women might not be able to afford travel to blue states would likely reduce the number of abortions, “but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.” How much more could have already been done in America to end abortions, Fea ponders, had the billions of dollars given to pro-life candidates been spent on more economic, social, and cultural solutions to the problem, rather than political ones. Now there’s food for thought.

In his conclusion to Believe Me, Fea finds inspiration in the Christian leaders of the Civil Rights movement,mbb1-1.jpg
encouraging evangelicals to end their faith in the playbook, stop relying on the politics of fear and embrace a message of hope, be inspired by true history and not a nostalgic version of it, and seek to shape American culture through more humble and less political means (you know, like Christ).

“Too many [evangelical] leaders (and their followers) have traded their Christian witness for a mess of political pottage and a few federal judges,” Fea concludes, arguing that we should thus not be surprised by the number of people leaving the Christian church altogether.

Believe Me is powerful stuff, made all the more so by Fea’s readably jargon-free prose, confident authorial voice, and gently encouraging tone. I have some quibbles with it: I would have liked an organization that maintained a more chronological flow, racial dynamics needed a bit more emphasis, and his conclusions seemingly disregards the political agenda of the Civil Rights movement. Fox News and political tribalism needed to be in there somewhere, too.

I think his conclusion also misses the opportunity to point out that African American Christianity has almost always centered on a message of hope for future justice, helping blacks endure bleak times in America. That’s a powerful contrast to Fea’s outlining of the white evangelical history of using fear.slavery-2.jpg

I’ve long awaited Fea’s book, and it did not disappoint. If you have read much of my blog, you know that I often express my belief in the view of history that embraces the idea that the “arc of the moral universe” bends toward justice. These times that we are living in however, are a great reminder that it is our responsibility to keep it bent in the right direction. American history has always shown that this involves fighting against powerful forces, so we should not be surprised by what we are up against now, as unprecedented as many of these events are.

I see much to be excited about, as perhaps the Trump backlash is helping to end political apathy in America. And yet, as I acknowledged above, the unrelentingly disturbing and frightening news has been weighing me down with hatred.

Fea’s book has thus come at just the right time for my soul, demonstrating that fear and hatred are what have given us Trump’s America. So, as he concludes, it must be resisted with humility and hopeful determination that looks forward and not back. The resistance can’t be driven by negativity and fear.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Damn right.

 

 

“Great man” theory, “contingency” and NBC’s Timeless.

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Now that NBC’s Timeless is about to wrap up their season with another visit to the Civil War, I have had a few people ask my opinion of the show after it has had two seasons. (What’s with these short TV seasons these days? Remember when a full season of a show was 22+ shows?)

Initially, I viewed the show as pretty harmless fun, and I still feel that way, but it is actually a bit more than that.

In case you haven’t been watching, Timeless involves a team of time-traveling heroes that are at war with an evil Illuminatilike organization called Rittenhouse, which is desperately trying to destroy democracy so the world will be run by a select few superior peoples. Namely, themselves.

The nefarious organization tries to accomplish this task via time travel and the planting of “sleeper cell” agents in the past, who at the right moment, are ordered to complete a task that will alter humanity’s time-line which is marching toward greater democracy. This almost always involves an attempt at killing some key historical figure at a moment before they can accomplish their deed. The job of our heroes, of course, is to stop them, and/or to mitigate the damage.

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It is up to this diverse group of heroes to keep the arc of the moral universe bent towards justice.

The show’s creators have wisely decided to keep their time-travel rules simple so that the show is less about the sci-fi and more about the history. I like that choice, of course.

But our heroes do have to make sure that the time-line gets altered as little as possible, and that does not always happen. The big events essentially remain the same, but some of the details get altered because of their efforts. Let’s call it a small price to pay in order to save the world from tyrannical rule.

So from the perspective of an historian, what is good about the show, and what is bad?

The Good:

If you have read many of my blog postings, you know I am sympathetic to the “arc of history bends towards justice” view of American history that President Obama has championed. No, that doesn’t mean that the arc always goes the way we want, instead, it means we are responsible for keeping it moving in that direction–and that despite the significant forces pulling the other way, mankind has slowly overcome them and successfully kept things on the right trajectory. It is a fight we must vigilantly continue.

Timeless seems to embrace that concept as well, as Rittenhouse goes into the past to essentially try to bend the arc in another direction, and our heroes are there to stop them.

Each week we are treated to a little history lesson that often demonstrates that the past was not a great place for minorities. That alone helps fight the “golden age” concept that gets peddled too much these days (that there was a time in the past that was so much better than our present, and that we need to get back to that again).

But we also get a history lesson about a historical figure with which most people are probably unfamiliar. Rittenhouse knows their history well, so their targets are usually more obscure figures that did big things.

This of course also makes it more difficult for our heroes to know exactly what they are up to. If you track the bad guys to landing on December 7, 1941, it’d be pretty obvious what they were trying to shape. But what if they have landed in San Antonio on November 23, 1936?

Yes, in the largely inferior first season we did get storylines and brief appearances by Franklin, Washington, and Lincoln, and the second season had an episode involving JFK (in his high school days. That was kinda cool). But more frequently this season, audiences have learned about more obscure figures who nevertheless did big things.

And there is great diversity among these figures. Timeless understands the world has been shaped by more than just white men. So far this season, viewers have been treated to little history-lessons-of-the-week involving less familiar people such as Marie and Irene Curie, Hedy Lamarr (1940s Hollywood! Fun!), Abiah Franklin, Grace Humiston, Alice Paul (who should not be less well known), as well as African Americans Wendell Scott and Robert Johnson.

That’s a pretty good lineup, and Timeless usually gets most of the details about these people and their contributions to the world mostly correct (the Alice Paul storyline being the biggest exception). The show is getting about 2.5 million viewers per episode (which is way down from the first season, but the critical response has been higher). This means they are educating a lot of people about the diversity of historical actors that have shaped and created the more democratic and inclusive world we currently inhabit, and they are doing it mostly well. Bravo, Timeless.

The Bad:

But here’s the ironic thing, in doing so, they are at the same time embracing the “great man” theory of history. That is, simply put, that the history of the world has been shaped by certain great men that were born as exceptional individuals, and that their actions alone have shaped most of history. The history of the world, the theory argues, can thus be told within the context of the biographies of these great and exceptional men.

Yes, the historical figures on Timeless are more obscure, and very often not men, so how can one say that the show embraces great man theory?

Because the creators are often attributing big events and movements to the actions of just one individual, and if that individual does not accomplish their task, the whole world would be different. Abiah Franklin can’t be killed in the Salem witch trials, we are told, because if so, Ben Franklin would never be born to advance democracy.

Two other examples from this past season make the point stronger. In one particularly excellent and fun episode, we learn about African American blues guitarist Robert Johnson. He makes a recording of his inventive and distinctive style of blues music in San Antonio in 1936. If that recording doesn’t get made, Timeless tells us, his influence on American music is destroyed, and with it, the emergence of rock-n-roll, and with no rock, we get no 1950s and 1960s protest/counter culture, which means no Civil Rights movement, no withdrawal from Vietnam, no fall of Nixon.

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The Robert Johnson episode. Rock must be saved!

Huh? As a blues lover, I love Johnson, and I appreciate the effort to demonstrate the cultural and political influence of Rock, but the show asks us to disregard the myriad other musicians and influences that shaped American music, especially those that came before Johnson. As an amalgamation of African American jazz, gospel, and blues, with elements of country music stirred in, rock was coming, Johnson or no Johnson.

As for protest/counter culture, doesn’t the liberal consensus, the Cold War, and television insure its emergence, with or without rock? Didn’t those very same things provide momentum for Civil Rights, which provided momentum for the war protests, etc. ? How is rock music the most essential key ingredient? It was an important one, no doubt, but crucial?

The other example: another episode focused on suffrage hero Alice Paul. I was very excited about this episode, as I am a big fan of Paul and believe she should be much more well known than she is. Yet the episode argues that if she had not delivered one particular diatribe within earshot of, and directed at, Woodrow Wilson, the suffrage movement would have failed, and American women would have never gotten the right to vote.

Not only does the episode get the details wrong about Wilson’s stance on women’s suffrage at the moment in time depicted (he had already succumbed to the movement’s intense pressure), but it asks us to believe that a movement that had gained steam after close to one hundred years of work by untold thousands of suffrage workers would have been wiped out in a moment had one particular speech not been given.

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The suffrage episode: somebody has to make that speech!

Most frustrating to me in the episode is that when Rittenhouse succeeds at killing Paul, our heroes implore the other women to make sure the speech gets delivered, yet none of them are willing to do so. Paul was exceptional, but come on, there were plenty of motivated and eloquent women in that movement that could have easily stepped up to the plate. Lucy Burns comes to mind, for just one example.

So Timeless is giving us moments in time in which just one person’s actions (or non-actions) can change all of history. Instead of the “great man of history” theory, it is peddling “a great person of history” theory.

The Judgement:

So does the good of the show outweigh the bad?

I am a big believer in what historians often refer to as “contingency” in history, and Timeless’s entire premise is based on it. Events in history have not been inevitable, and are the product of decisions, choices, and actions that mankind has made. Different decisions or choices would have resulted in different outcomes.

(And yet at the same time, Timeless also asks us to consider whether or not certain things are destined to happen, no matter what we do. Consider this season’s JFK episode, for instance).

It is important for people to understand historical contingency, because it encourages us to become actively involved in shaping what happens to our world. Keeping the arc bent toward justice requires our vigilance and action. Contingency teaches us that it is our responsibility to keep things moving in the direction we want. What happens is not inevitable, because what has happened in our past was also not inevitable.

Timeless brilliantly makes that point, and does so by demonstrating that our world has been shaped by more than just dead white guys, highlighting a diversity of history’s most important contributors. But the cast of heroes charged with ensuring that things stay on the right path is also a very diverse group. The point of the show could not be any more clear, and it is a needed one.

I’d just like to see more sophisticated stories than just “we’ve got to make sure this person doesn’t get killed!” Or “we’ve got to make sure this one person gets to do their thing!”

Anyway, in the end, the show is a bit of harmless fun, and at its best it is giving good history lessons to large audiences. And it is doing so in a way that diversifies our history and embraces contingency theory—showing how important our actions and decisions are in shaping the world in either positive or negative directions.

That, and debunking the “golden age” of the past, are pretty important message to be sending out right now.

The two-hour season finale (and possibly the series finale) is set for this Sunday. It appears that Rittenhouse is headed back in time to help the Confederacy win the Civil War. Uh oh!

And it looks like it will involve Harriet Tubman. Yeah boy!

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A scene for the upcoming finale of Timeless.

That should prove to be an interesting episode, and perhaps a hit at the Lost Cause. Let’s see how well they pull it off.

Stay tuned.

(Oh, and if you subscribe to Hulu, you can quickly get caught up on both seasons one and two).

Do people listen to historians? The Electoral College, Trump, Putin, civil liberties, and Aleppo.

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Although I have been blogging often about the Hamilton Electors, like most people I’ve agreed all along that their hope of preventing Trump’s inauguration is a longshot. Why? Professor Sidney Plotkin has a good succinct essay today in Salon explaining why the Electoral College no longer serves its original purpose, and in fact is controlled by party mechanisms. I think his explanation of that original purpose (while accurate) fails to focus on the bottom line fact that it was about preventing the masses from making a bad choice. He also argues that Hamilton’s explanation of the Electoral College (which we have seen quoted so much recently) was an “after the fact” defense of it. Not exactly. The Federalist Papers were written to explain the Constitution in order to promote and bring about its ratification, so there is nothing “after the fact” about it. Still, I agree that they probably envisioned the college would be so divided that the vote would usually get thrown back to the House of Representatives. Will that happen on Monday? Again, it is highly unlikely, but if it does, it will be very interesting to hear how those that advocate for “original intent” will react.

Did you see that some 1200 historians and other scholars (affiliated with hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S) have issued a statement expressing “concern and alarm” over the First Amendment implications of Trump’s election? Using specific history lessons to make their point, they argue that we could be looking at 4 years of attacks on civil liberties such as “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and equality.” They conclude by calling on all Americans to be “vigilant” in looking for and aggressively challenging any attempts to restrict our rights. I support their effort, but sadly, it will likely have little impact. People always quote the cliché that “those they fail to learn from their history are doomed to repeat it,” and yet when the professional historical community spoke up in massive numbers warning against a Trump presidency, he won anyway. So I have to wonder if this public statement will do any good, because clearly people don’t seem to be listening to us. On the other hand, I suspect that they are listening, but that the condemnation of Trump by the scholarly community only helped him get elected.

If anything, this election showed how mankind is unwillingly to learn from historians.

Further making the point are the events going on in Aleppo right now. The US Holocaust Museum has pointed out this week that history is once again seemingly being ignored. “Half a century after the end of World War II,” Carson Hudson (one of the museum’s professional historians) said, “the world has still not learned the lessons of the Holocaust. Syria today proves that the international community has failed to make atrocity prevention a factor in its policymaking in this crisis.”

History might judge us harshly for this, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, Assad is the primary person to blame, but Putin definitely is as well, as his fighter jets and missiles have flattened the place, killing untold numbers of civilians (as he has a history of doing).  This is a bad hombre, and the fact that a guy like him seems to be a comrade of Trump, as well as a big fan of the President-elect’s pick for Secretary of State, is terrifying.

Still, Obama is far from clean in this whole mess, as the US played a role in creating the chaotic situation there (by understandably remaining restrained in our involvement) but have done nothing as yet to help. If things are this bad now, how worse might they get under a President-elect that is too busy making a victory lap to even tweet about the situation, has made it clear that he wants to keep Syrian refugees out of the US, and who is apparently Putin’s choice for our president?

Which brings us to today’s Christmas-related link. Given the nature of today’s post, perhaps this is the most appropriate thing to conclude with:

Preserving sacred land in Virginia, but not in North Dakota; Yorktown’s New American Revolution museum; Miranda on Drunk History; A Civil War comedy?

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More great National Park Service news: The other day we learned about the impending creation of a Civil Rights National Monument in Birmingham, as well as the potential saving of almost all of the Malvern Hill Battlefield in Virginia. Now, we learn that a bill that has long been in the works is close to approval that would triple the size of the Petersburg National Battlefield, making it the largest Civil War park in the nation. Virginia’s senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have been working on this for a long while, picking up where others before them left off.

And yet while we are protecting all this land that has been deemed sacred to U.S. history, the protests continue in North Dakota to preserve land sacred to Native Americans. Now we get news that some 2,000 US military veterans are starting to arrive at the Standing Rock site, dedicated to creating a human wall around the protestors to protect them in the event of a forced removal (just think of the historical ironies of that for a second). North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered the protestors to leave, though noting that force would not be used to make them comply. Hiding behind feigned concern for the protestors (which reminds one of actions taken by certain officials during the Civil Rights movement), he insists that the order is meant to protect them from some rapidly approaching severe winter weather. I love the response of the Standing Rock Sioux to the governor. In a statement on Wednesday, they said that because “the Governor of North Dakota and Sheriff of Morton County are relative newcomers” to the land, “it is understandable they would be concerned about severe winter weather.” Further, the Great Sioux Nation has survived “in this region for millennia without the concerns of state or county governments.” Nice. Let’s hope this situation does not get any uglier, but with the veterans arriving, I think it is quickly reaching a boiling point. Our nation does have a history of dealing harshly with protestors like this (even when they include veterans), and I fear for what kinds of things can happen in Trump’s America. (Too bad that North Dakota does not seem to be represented by men like Warner and Kaine).

And while we are on Standing Rock, I highly encourage you to take he time to read the blog post of Wisconsin basketball player Bronson Koenig about his experiences at the protest site, his recent delvings into Native American history, and the impact it all has had on his ongoing personal self discovery.  It is a great read that will take you much deeper into what is going on out there than we see in the headlines.

Well we know about the new American Revolution museum soon opening in Philadelphia, but there is also a new one already open in Yorktown, Virginia. According to the Virginia Gazette, the new facility is heavy on technology designed to draw visitors into an immersive experience (and includes battle simulation games). “You never want to do technology just to do technology,” one of the institution’s media managers said. “So we didn’t just do something because it looked cool or because it was a big wow, but rather, does it present the content in the way that is going to mean the most to the visitor who’s interacting with it?” As a result, the new $50 million museum has 22,000-square-foot gallery that, in addition to 500 artifacts, contains four film experiences, six computer interactives, projections, audio wands and more. I’ll be in the area in just a few weeks, so I can’t wait to drop by and see the new place. I’ll let you know what I think! Stay tuned.

Did you catch Lin-Manuel Miranda on Drunk History the other night? It was pretty funny, although I think it did not completely live up to the hype. It was most successful at painting the lead up to the Hamilton/Burr duel as all very high school-ish (if that is possible), but clearly Miranda knows Hamilton’s story so well that he can tell it pretty adeptly even while drunk. That mutes the comedic aspects of the show, though Drunk History was able to compensate for it pretty well with their always hilarious renditions of the story-teller’s words. If you missed it, you can watch it here at the Comedy Central website. (You’ll need to sign in by using your cable/satellite account info). I love that Miranda concludes by noting that although he was killed by Burr, Hamilton won in the end because someone eventually made an amazing Broadway show about how great he was. Indeed!

Looking for a good history movie on Netflix? How about a Civil War comedy? Not sure how it is possible to make a good comedy out of such a tragic event, but over on Civil War Pop, Christian McWhirter lets us know that an independent film called Men Go to Battle somewhat pulls it off, and manages to be historically accurate. I think I’ll check it out.

And while we’re back on the Civil War: there is apparently a new mini-series set to air in a couple of weeks called Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War. The rather hyperbolic title of the show does not inspire much confidence that this thing will be any good, nor does its description that tells us that the “war’s most significant battles” were “Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettsyburg, Nashville, and Petersburg.” What, no Vicksburg? How does Fredericksburg make that list but not Vicksburg? Or Atlanta, for that matter? I’ll try not to pre-judge though, so lets see how this thing turns out. It premieres Dec 14 on The American Heroes Channel.  (What the heck is that? I’ll have to check to see if I even have that!)

The Hamilton electors; Preserving Malvern Hill Battlefield; Black history tourism and a National Monument for Birmingham; Miranda on Drunk History TONIGHT!

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Hopefully by now you have heard about the so-called “Hamilton Electors,” a group of electoral college members that are trying to sway other members into denying Trump the presidency. Citing Alexander Hamilton’s explanation of the electoral college, they argue that the institution was created for just this very purpose—to protect us from having an unqualified demagogue that swayed the masses from actually obtaining the presidency. “We honor Alexander Hamilton’s vision,” their new website proclaims, “that the Electoral College should, when necessary, act as a Constitutional failsafe against those lacking the qualifications from becoming President. In 2016 we’re dedicated to putting political parties aside and putting America first.” I believe they are correct in their interpretation, at least in how Hamilton explained it in the Federalist Papers, and I love that they have invoked his name for their cause (which is all the more apropos given Trump’s ridiculous feud with the Broadway cast of Hamilton. Oh, and did you see that they just broke a box office record?). The movement seems to be slowly growing among the electors.  Will it work? Doubtful, but at the very least it sure would be interesting to see them get this thing thrown into the House of Representatives and then to watch and see what House Republicans would do. I’ve seen commentators (like here in The Atlantic,  and from the opposite end of the political spectrum,  The American Conservative) argue that there is no way they can (or should) be able to get electors to switch their vote to Clinton because she won the popular vote. Yet while that is what some petitioners are going for,  that is not what the Hamilton Electors are trying to do. They are very aware that the only hope is to convince Republican and Democrat electors to support a compromise Republican candidate. Of course this would send the country into even more chaos, but there is a viable scenario where this could happen (although it is more likely that they could get it thrown into the House by denying Trump the 270 he needs to win). There is historical precedence for “rogue electors,” as the mayor of Charlottesville, Va., Michael Signer, points out in his interesting and somewhat persuasive post for Vox, calling on us to “make the Electoral College great again.” Frustrated by the election results, many people have called for an end to the electoral college (and Trump supporters were doing so before the election), so wouldn’t it be ironic if in the end it became the thing that denied a Trump presidency? The chances are slim, especially because an elector revolt would likely create some major legal battles, but if this year has shown us anything, it is that anything is possible. Right? At the very least, a revolt of the electors might create the groundswell of public opinion needed to finally do away with the Electoral College altogether.

The Hamilton Electors have created a nice succinct video to explain and support their cause:

Oh, and then there is this guy: an elector from Texas has decided to resign his position rather than vote for Trump. Doing so, he insists, would “bring dishonor to God.”

Here is the best history news I have heard for a while: a deal is in the works that would result in the protection of about 90-95% of the Malvern Hill battlefield in Virginia. Hurrah! My beloved Richmond National Battlefield Park would then be able to ensure that the site (which is almost untouched by modern development) would stay that way. Anyone that has been to the site can testify to what a special place it is, so this is great news. I have a strong personal connection to it, as I have given many tours there , including one that helped inspire my book.

Great to see this National Park Service news too: As the overwhelming crowds at the Smithsonian‘s new museum reveal, there is a growing interest in the African American aspects of United States history.  As a Birmingham, Alabama, native, I am proud to see that President Obama is set to turn areas of downtown into a “national monument.” These sites were central to the 1963 protests that played a pivotal role in pushing JFK into proposing the Civil Rights Act. Legislation to turn these areas into a National Park is now stalled in congressional committee, but in the meantime, the NPS treats “monuments,” and “parks” pretty much the same. I was a young man in college in the early 90s when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute first opened a museum and began interpreting the sites, so it is really amazing and exciting to see the area on the verge of getting the NPS treatment.

Related to that is this story from the Washington Post about the growing interest in touring sites related to black history. The article focuses on a new company in Alexandria, Virginia called “Manumission Tours,” and I for one am really interested in taking one of their tours next time I am in the area. While these types of historical tours and sites are growing rapidly in number (that new Nat Turner trail can’t get here fast enough), and other historical sites are increasingly adding black history to their interpretations, I hope we do not begin to pigeonhole these places as “African American” sites. These are US history sites that are relevant to us all and tell the story of America. Period.

Lastly for today, don’t forget that TONIGHT is the premiere of the Drunk History episode featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s drunken telling of the Hamilton/Burr story. Set your DVRs!

DiCaprio wants to tell some history; How accurate is the movie “Loving?”; Texas’s new African American history monument; G.Washington’s lost sash resurfaces; America’s war against pinball

It looks the History channel is going to continue its recent trend of doing some actual history programming for a change. It has been announced that a Leonardo DiCaprio produced 8 part “docudrama” about America’s most legendary frontiersmen has been picked up by the channel. I respect DiCaprio, but given the problematic nature of some of these efforts from History lately, I am skeptical. As with their Sons of Liberty, and the remake of Roots, I am worried the show will try too hard to make comic book-like superheroes out of its subjects (which will include Andrew Jackson. Oh no.) But on the other hand, if they stick to the facts, the true history of guys like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Lewis and Clark, and Tecumseh should pay off the way they want. And with Leo involved, the production values should be top notch. No release date is set, but lets keep an eye out for this one.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie about Richard and Mildred Loving, but I can’t say that I am very qualified to separate fact from fiction in the film. Good thing the History News Network has got it covered.

Here’s some good news out of the Lone Star State: Texas is set to unveil a monument celebrating the contributions of African Americans to the state’s history. It will be in Austin, and has been 20 years in the making. Originally conceived as a Juneteenth memorial, it has become much larger and tells a bigger story. Now if Texas could just get its textbook situation fixed.

There’s more news about the awesome collection that Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution is putting together (it opens in March). Check out this story from Smithsonian about a lost relic that will surface at last: George Washington’s sash.

Here’s an interesting little read: Did you know that pinball machines once had such a bad reputation that many cities outlawed them in the 1940s-early 70s? It is true, and there were many different types of groups (from law enforcement to churches) that led the way in an American war on pinball machines.

And just when you thought I would get away today without a Trump story: Remember that history prof that used a history-based prediction model to predict Trump would win despite the polls? Well, the dude is getting attention by making another prediction. Trump will be impeached, he argues.

Oh, and then there is this.

Marking Nat Turner sites; Emmet Till historic marker desecrated; Trump gets some Civil War history; The contested Election of 1876; 25 creepy archeological discoveries

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More on Nat Turner: As I noted a few days ago, there are efforts underway (although they are moving painfully slow) to help tourists locate and interpret sites associated with the 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. Over on Daily Beast, Kevin Levin digs into the racial divide and politics involved with the project, which should come as no surprise considering the moral complexities of the event. (Sadly, Nate Parker’s film glossed over those complexities).

Speaking of roadside history tourism: Did you see the story over the weekend about the fact that a historical marker/sign at the site where Emmet Till’s body was found has been riddled with gun shots? Disgusting. But it is nothing new, the sign has been repeatedly vandalized since it went up in 2007. One has to wonder what might happen to the new Nat Turner markers once they go up.

So Trump was campaigning in Gettysburg and in Virginia over the weekend, and it seems he got a little Civil War history in both places. Thankfully, his lesson in Gettysburg came from an NPS ranger. Unfortunately, in Virginia it came from State Senator Frank Wagner, who tried to make a connection between Trump’s campaign and the odds facing Robert E. Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness. Strange choice.

The other day I complained about the fact that after the last debate, the media did not put Trump’s comments about a rigged election into solid historical context. Instead, they climbed all over themselves to be outraged by what they described as an unprecedented challenge to the democratic election process. Journalists and all those talking heads need more historical knowledge before they prattle on about much of what they talk about, and this was a perfect example. Anyway, History News Network has an article up today in which Professor Matthew E. Stanley puts Trump, his supporters, and right-wing extremist organizations into historical context by examining the presidential election of 1876.

Well, we already know one thing for sure about the World Series before it even begins: It’ll make history.

And for my Halloween season posting for today: the folks at Livescience have put together a photo essay on 25 archeological discoveries “that give us the creeps.” Its a freaky list, and includes vampire burials, a pit with various severed body parts from men, women, and children tossed together, witches, a mummified lung, shackled corpses, evidence of cannibalism in the Canadian arctic, and various other macabre.