(The premise for this collection is here.) Here’s the blog post from 2011 in which I first realized that my broad-spectrum criticism of American founding history — from the rise of the postwar liberal consensus in the scholarly profession itself to the history-tourism industry to bestselling founding-father books to political speeches and so on — is really about a failed American civics. And that instead of blaming the people for supposedly not knowing anything, we should be blaming the intelligentsia that forever bemoans the people’s supposedly not knowing anything. I think this one may have especially weird resonances, post 2016: “The Constitution, the Citizens, and the Futility of Teaching Civics.”
Next in the series is here.
The premise for these posts is here. This is the fifth entry in the series: another long read from Boston Review, orginally published in 2010.
Here I think I’m making my first specific lob at liberal commentary itself — favored liberal modes of thought, really — for failing, in the wake of a rise in right-wing populism, to address the historical origins of what’s called liberalism and what’s called “populism” (a term so loaded now that I find it almost impossible to use clearly). Some of what’s in this essay will seem weird in light of how things have really developed — the focus on Sarah Palin, for one thing — and yet I think a lot of it may play, in debate over sources of the current crisis, anyway.
“Liberalism has long defined itself from a position of expertise and wisdom that it justifies as meritocracy, and for which it keeps reflexively congratulating itself.” To some, of course, the “paranoia” of a Chip Berlet or a Frank Rich may seem now to be fully realized.
Anyway, here it is: “Real Americans“.
(Next item in the series: here.)
The premise for these posts is here. This is the fourth entry in the series: three briefer blog posts from 2010:
— On John Yoo, George W. Bush, and the painful history of presidential overreach (with reference as well to the case of one of the Guantanamo prisoners).
— On President Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of some truly bad-history TV.
— And, very briefly, on Obama’s inexplicable description of the history of progressivism in Supreme Court decisions.
One thing I’m somewhat startled to see going on in the 2008-2010 essays is a quandary over President Obama as a constitutional scholar and “historian-in-chief”– I think I threw up my hands on that one pretty quick.
Also, since we’re talking ’08-’10, I can feel the presence of the financial and foreclosure crises, never referred to directly in these history essays and posts, yet thanks to the Tea Party and Occupy soon to get me into the big discussion of regressiveness in Alexander Hamilton’s founding-era finance policy that I’ve been involved in, on and off, ever since.
Funny to recall now that the Hamilton fetish was already well underway in Bush-Obama economic-policy circles — Henry Paulson, the Brookings Institution, Peter Orszag, etc. — when the musical wasn’t a gleam in anyone’s eye.
(Next item in the collection: here.)
The premise for these posts is here. This is the third in the series: another longread, also originally published in Boston Review, at the end of that big year of ’08 (the trip will soon speed up, I promise).
This is “Constitutional Conventions,” on the abject failure of the National Constitution Center, which had recently opened. This was the most mainstream of mainstream history-tourism destinations, with a board staffed by professional historians and legal scholars, and man, talk about a toxic effect on public understanding of the nation’s origins. This kind of big institutional effort is one reason we don’t have a real civics. Ten years later, we can see the effects of that absence everywhere we look.
The essay also contains inchoate beginnings of the critique of the postwar U.S. history consensus that I mounted in the 2012 book Founding Finance (much of the historiography in the version linked above– references to Gordon Wood, Edmund Morgan, Jesse Lemisch — I ended up cutting from the version published in book form in Inventing American History, in ’09, by Boston Review and MIT Press).
(Next item is here.)
The premise for these posts is here. This is the second in the series: a longread, as they say, originally published in Boston Review in ’08, the same year as the Obama piece that I linked to yesterday.
This one is about how mainstream modes of lefty-liberalism and the supposedly responsible conservatism now bemoaned as lost to Trumpism falsified their fallen heroes’ legacies: “American Dreamers“.
Nothing could have been more startling to me, for a host of reasons, than Greil Marcus’s selecting this essay for the tenth annual Best Music Writing in 2009.
(The next item in this collection is here.)
Starting with the essay linked at the bottom of this post, I’m creating a decade of “collected essays”: sixteen things I’ve written, beginning in 2008 and ending in 2018, on various failures in American history, as that history has been presented to the non-specialist public (I’m a member of that group), by everybody from professional historians to political candidates to museums and newspapers and broadcasting and other cultural institutions. My essays, starting in ’08, seem to lead inevitably but unexpectedly to two massive cultural phenomena, for me interlinked: the Broadway success of “Hamilton: an American Musical” in 2015 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Some of these essays were originally posted on this blog. Others were published elsewhere.
Despite where it all ended up heading, there’s no neat arc: the essays are linked by their general subject; they range from commentary on TV shows and politics to historiography of postwar U.S. history scholarship; they refer critically to figures from Sarah Palin to Gordon Wood, from Barack Obama to Ron Chernow. Some people who have been long forgotten will show up (Christine O’Donnell? wha?). And yet themes develop, as we move from the Obama years to the Trump years, through the trial by fire for founding history and its relation to modern politics that is the Hamilton musical.
OK, so here’s the entry point, from March of 2008, on candidate Obama’s fantastical constitutionalism in the “More Perfect Union” speech: Barack Obama on the U.S. Constitution.
Number two in this collection is here.