Popular Thinking in Political Life

The American Dream After COVID-19

This piece is featured in the August 2020 edition of ORIGINS: Current Events in Historical Perspective, and can be read in its original format here.

The COVID crisis is prodding a rethink of the American Dream—but actually, it has always been about more than acquisition of more material goods. The dream for ever-more goods has been a driver of so many ills, including class and racial inequalities, eroding nature’s health, and temptations to use military force. It’s not time to say goodbye to the American Dream: Keep the dream of opportunity, but now with less extra baggage.

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Private Life With Public Purpose

A New University Logo: NO TESTS

Originally featured in The Stetson Reporter, and can be read in its original format here!

Professors have lots of papers and tests to grade. For most, it’s the least-fun part of the job. When weighed down with a big stack of student work, this professor at Stetson University saw his university in a new light.  

Maybe it was all the grading that made me see things backward…. Maybe it was just mid-semester fatigue…. Or maybe it was a mental symptom of the novel coronavirus….

Staring up from the papers and books, the Stetson University logo caught my eye. We’ve all seen it: those familiar seven big green letters on the university seal, or with the word “University” holding them up and braced by a big elegant dot on each side, or next to one big S with a swoosh in the middle. I saw the word, “STETSON,” as I had seen it many times, but now, as if with a Rorschach test in reverse, I saw it with new eyes….

The green shapes floated and bobbed before my eyes. The letters in reverse seemed to grope toward a message, as if with words that were waiting to be spoken: NOSTETS. I rubbed my eyes…. No, what?

It didn’t make sense; maybe it was nothing. Back to grading…. But the letters kept calling out…. They danced around each other, and then it hit me like a ton of blue books: NO TESTS!

Was it wish fulfillment? What could be a greater wish when swamped in grading than to wish for … no tests—no essays to grade—no more answers to scrutinize—no more grading! And then I realized: The was no simple wish or idle dream. It was an inspiration that needed to be broadcast from the height of The Rock and beyond.

How can a mid-sized liberal arts college with a former denominational affiliation distinguish itself in a crowded educational marketplace? What can we do here that will so catch the eyes of prospective students that they will crave their studies here? What do students really want? These have been the questions of countless questionnaires and administrative meetings. The answer was simplicity itself: NO TESTS.

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Campaign 2020

Evangelicals, Donald J. Trump, and the Making of the Tribune in Chief

This piece was originally published with the History News Network on April 19, 2020, and can be read in its original format here: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175092

A look at the history of Evangelicalism helps to explain the appeal of Donald Trump as a leader outside any establishment, in his blunt speaking style, and in his lack of deference for high learning. For many voters, these count for more than questions about his own religious commitments. Critics of President Trump could learn from his appeal and speak out more plainly about the power of privilege in contemporary society. Schooling on his style could be done without the ridiculing, but with more connecting to average citizens.

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Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2019

Children’s Culture at Halloween: Be More Than You Can Be

Published in the Society for US Intellectual History Blog, November 30, 2019, https://s-usih.org/2019/11/childrens-culture-at-halloween-be-more-than-you-can-be/

In case you are wondering where kids get their ideas for Halloween costumes, I have a modest proposal.  Consider the large sample in the small town of DeLand, Florida.  With over two thousand children dressed up on Halloween night in my neighborhood, I invite friends and students to join in the fun with a purpose: where do kids get their ideas for being Themselves 2.0 for a night of Trick-or-Treating?

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Private Life With Public Purpose

How to set New Year’s resolutions that maximize happiness

Originally published on December 31, 2018 in the Washington Post, which can be found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/12/31/how-set-new-years-resolutions-that-maximize-happiness/ 

 

Millions of Americans will make New Year’s resolutions. Some will vow to make more money or new friends. Others will focus on exercising more or eating less. Each resolution represents the hope that changing one’s behavior or priorities will bring increased happiness.

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After Election Quake 2016: Republicans in the Driver’s Seat

A Less-Kind and Less-Gentle Grand Old Party

Originally published through History News Network on December 23, 2018, and can be read here: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170700

 

The death of George Herbert Walker Bush symbolizes the end of the Republicans as the GOP, the “Grand Old Party.” He dipped his toes into the new Republican Party that emerged during his leadership, but that new party was not his cultural home. He was in that party, but not of it.

George H. W. Bush as Federalist 

Despite the Republican Party nickname, the Democratic Party is far older. That old party began in opposition to the grandeur that the Federalists brought to American politics in the first years of constitutional democracy in the 1790s. The Federalists endorsed the constitution, ratified in 1789, as a structure to institutionalize power to the people—once duly refined and enlarged, as James Madison insisted. The Federalists presented themselves as the rightful custodians of governmental power, the best-educated citizenry, the new world equivalents of old world aristocrats. As the son of a Senator and raised with a spirit of public service, Bush could have been at home with the Federalists.

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Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2018

Choosing the Halloween Outfit: The Second Most Important Election of the Season

Published as “Time for Some ‘Funner’ Voting,” DeLand Beacon, November 9-25, 2018

Elections are important.  But they also wear us out.  All the ads and flyers and promises—and we can only hope that the winners actually do the stuff they promise.

Time for a funner election—that’s a fun word my children taught me.  For this election, can you guess the most popular outfit of the year at MegaHalloween on West Minnesota Avenue in DeLand?

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Private Life With Public Purpose, Uncategorized

Feeling Overwhelmed by What’s Happening?

Originally published on September 23, 2018 in the History News Network; full article can also be read here: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/169822

 

As a young man, William James studied a range of fields, from chemistry to literature. He focused especially on physiology, psychology, and philosophy. In the 1860s and 1870s, the future psychologist and philosopher was sorting out his own philosophy of life and sampling career paths. Each offered plausible insights, but none was decisive or beyond some criticism, especially as amplified by his temperamental indecisiveness. The swirl of choices, and the dramatically different ways of understanding the world, made him feel downright “dead and buried.” With these burdens, compounded by severe depression and poor physical health, he even vowed never to marry lest his problems descend to another generation. By his late twenties, he felt “rather precipitately old.”

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Private Life With Public Purpose

The Scripture in the Stone:Preparing for adulthood in the new old-fashioned way

Originally published on July 19, 2018 through Public Seminar; original can be found here: http://www.publicseminar.org/2018/07/the-sculpture-in-the-stone/

William James’s Hard-Won Development Between Childhood and Fame

How do we come of age? The Pew Research Center reports a steady increase over the last five decades in the number of young adults, aged 25 to 35, living with their parents. The percentage of young people “nesting” at home has almost doubled since 1964, up to 15 percent of this age group in 2016. Economic factors have encouraged these living arrangements, including the difficulties of breaking into the labor market, the high cost of independent living in many areas, and soaring debt obligations.

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Clues from the Past

Two Cheers for Pragmatic Democracy

Originally published by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History on March 16, 2018: https://s-usih.org/2018/03/two-cheers-for-pragmatic-democracy-guest-post-by-paul-croce/

With democracy pragmatic style, complete realization of ideals is always out of reach—and that means both constant self-correction and, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “agitate, agitate, agitate”

Once upon a time, marketplace thought and practice was associated with the work of accountants and the policies of cold-hearted politicians.  In 1978, Irving Kristol wrote Two Cheers for Capitalism to retrieve the reputation of free markets for their intimate role in democratic freedoms.  The rest is history, the history that is of the surge of marketplace conservatism.  From Ronald Reagan’s 1980 call to “get the government off the backs of the people,” to Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America in 1994, to the current president’s eagerness to deregulate business, marketplace thought and practices have moved from margin to mainstream.

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