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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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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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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Popular Thinking in Political Life

Waking From the Dream of Total Victory in the Contests for Public Truth

This essay first appeared in Civil American, Volume 3, Article 1 (January 19, 2018), https://www.philosophersinamerica.com/2018/01/19/waking-from-the-dream-of-total-victory/

Can academics support the democratic struggle not just to critique fake news, but also to engage the public in the stories that make those false facts appealing?

The Oxford English Dictionary named “Post-Truth” its Word of the Year for 2016.  The dictionary cites “appeals to emotion or personal belief,” which have gained more influence than “objective facts … in shaping public opinion.”  The sober scholars of the OED spotlighted this word not to glorify this way of thinking, but to call attention to a disturbing trend.  In 2005, Stephen Colbert had already identified “truthiness” as the posture of public figures who “feel the truth” even in the face of contrasting facts and reasons.  The particular items of recent history are new, such as the claim that Democrats have been managing a ring of pedophiles out of the Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria in Washington, DC, but fabricated news has always been the exaggerating cousin of political spin.  The multiplication of media outlets appealing to diverse clusters of people has made it particularly difficult to sort out corrupted truths from authentic stories.

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Popular Thinking in Political Life

What We Can Learn from Fake News

An earlier version of this article appeared in History News Network, July 23, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166400 , and in The Huffington Post, July 25, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-we-can-learn-from-fake-news_us_597764e7e4b0940189700cd0

FakeNews

Fake news has both producers and consumers. While it is important to make corrections, the political problem is not the untruths themselves, but the capacity for the fakery to seem likely. For that, it is important to check in on the consumers of fake news to figure out how the untruths appeal. What made them likely stories? Mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories and the reasons people believe them.

False facts provide clues about the stories that make the fakery seem true.

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Campaign 2016

1-2016 Election Quake I: Five Expected Surprises in Cultural Trends and the Media

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 22, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/2016-election-quake-i-fiv_b_13144442.html

Huh?—a year and half of campaigning, two leading candidates with the highest disapproval ratings in American history, a Republican Tsunami—how’d that happen?  Get ready, America, for four years of Donald J. Trump’s stern reverse smile. 

Few anticipated the results.  Even Republicans and Trump himself seemed surprised on election night.  Commentators have been wringing their hands for not anticipating the way voters actually voted, and observers from major media stars to people at diners and around water coolers were already calling the campaign unprecedented.  And yet, contemporary history and the current state of the media provide clues about how we have arrived at this surprising election.

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Campaign 2016

2-2016 Election Quake II: Five Lessons from Recent History

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 21, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/2016-election-quake-ii-fi_b_13126268.html

The Trump Phenom and Republican sweep have roots that go even deeper than the inaccurate polls.  The recent past tells the story of the rising strength of sentiments that would lead to this election quake. 

An air of shock and awe still hovers around the election results.  Donald J. Trump declared war on the federal government, on big business, on military and foreign policy leaders, on words that work in campaigning, even on his fellow Republicans, and of course on Democrats.  Few expected these results, from respected polling professionals to Republicans themselves—even as that party benefitted in Congress and state houses.  Recent history shows that these surprises have been building for years.

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Campaign 2016

2016 Election Quake: Ten Expected Surprises

Get ready, America, for four years of Donald J. Trump’s stern reverse smile….

Commentators have been wringing their hands for not anticipating the way voters actually voted, and observers from major media stars to people at diners and around water coolers were already calling the campaign unprecedented. 

See all Ten Expected Surprises as published in History News Network, November 20, 2016. Now that may just be too many surprises at once!  Here below, you can take these surprises in chunks, five at a time:

1-Election Quake I: Five Expected Surprises in Cultural Trends and the Media

2-Election Quake II: Five Lessons from Recent History

 

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Campaign 2016

Constant Growth: The Elephant (and the Donkey) in the Living Room

A shorter version of this essay was published as “An Economy That Grows Anger,” in the Huffington Post, September 24, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/an-economy-that-grows-ang_b_12173172.html

On this web page, scroll down to see a revised version of this essay, expanded with more economic data and historical examples, and published as  “Both Parties Back Economic Growth–But Are They Wrong?” in History News Network, October 2, 2016, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163991.

We’ve got a well-informed Democrat defending a crazy system and a crazy-sounding Republican brashly calling for undisclosed changes. The elephant (and the donkey) in the living room—the unasked question for both Republicans and Democrats—is whether constant growth can be sustained? In medicine, that’s called cancer….

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Campaign 2016

SATIRE: Trump, The Pop Musical; or, A Few Sugary Lyrics to Help Sell the Product

Originally published by the Huffington Post, July 16, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/satire-trump-the-pop-musi_b_11035142.html

Now that Trump has triumphed with his nomination by the Republican Party, how can this businessman seize the public imagination on a broader scale?  Consider the marketing that has been central to making “Trump” a household name on TV and at hotels.  Consider music to sell the product.  Get ready, and sing it now: “Love, Love Me!  Love, Love Me!”…

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