Cultural Life, Popular Culture and Cultural Politics

Two Cheers For Steve Levitsky

On Tuesday, February 19, students, professors, and community citizens filled the better part of the Stetson Room to hear Steven Levitsky. He is Professor of Government at Harvard University and coauthor with department colleague Daniel Ziblatt of the best seller, How Democracies Die (2018).  Levitsky’s presentation lived up the dramatic intensity of his book.  He provided a keen analysis of our present political weirdness: in the words of Stephen Stills, “somethin’ happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear” (Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth,” 1967, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY).  Levitsky provided a lot of clarity.  

Levitsky is worried about the erosion of democracy. Having studied democracies around the world, in health and in decline, he sees erosion in American “democratic norms” (100). The central agent of democratic decline, he suggests, is the sharpening polarization of political views.

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Campaign Watching

The Outsiders Within: Obama, Romney, and the Tradition of Defying Tradition

Before You Vote, consider this likely pitch from the next popular politician: Vote for me!—I’m an outsider!

Americans have a tradition of defying tradition.

Dear Once and Future Voter: Who are the insiders you are hoping to overturn? Consider the case of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, two candidates for president in 2012 who are members of groups traditionally considered outside the American mainstream….  Read whole essay here….

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What's DAT?

Attention, Our Effective Intelligence

Everyone has their own particular brain capacity.  From an early age, we are good at some things rather than others, and attracted to particular fields.  Do you like detail work or big pictures?  Are you good with numbers or with words?  You probably had a favorite subject in school; and if you are lucky, when a first job did not suit you, you found one that did—one that well suited your native capacities.  Psychologists measure our brain capacities with numbers, our IQ or intelligence quotient, which puts a big emphasis on logical reasoning abilities.  But our full capacities are a whole congress of talents for figuring things out, from mathematical puzzles and chess moves to basketball plays and social interaction.  In the whole theater of life, some steps are smarter than others.

Education is the widely recognized setting for upping our intelligence game, with more knowledge and more skills; classrooms are important for learning all kinds of things from better writing to the subtleties of mitosis or financial accounting.  Education is a great social step for sharpening our native intellectual capacities.  But there is another personal step that anyone can take without spending a dime on tuition.  Pay attention.  Yes, paying attention is like pressing the power button on our brains.  Imagine a powerful computer that’s turned off; now imagine a powerful brain with great capacities but no attention: powered off.  Attention is effective intelligence.  No matter your native endowments, add the sharp focus of attention to any project large or small, with interests fired up and mind drilling down on every implication and detail, and you’ve got intelligence to the max.  Find what captures your attention, and you’ll find yourself capturing more of the world.

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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

Trump: In the Tall Shadow of Andrew Jackson

Originally published in the Huffington Post, July 1, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/trump-in-the-tall-shadow_b_10777918.html

The Trump Phenom—how’d that happen?  Take a look at history…. “Indian Fighter,” general, and slaveholder President Andrew Jackson has been bumped to the back of the $20 bill, but his leadership style and outlook on the world lives.  His contemporary is Donald J. Trump.

Businessman-turned-politician Trump thrives despite the type of comments that have ended many campaigns. Trump’s style on the stump, and his call to “make America great again,” have roots in the American tradition represented by Jackson. Both “Old Hickory” and “The Donald” have inspired deep commitment among their followers for being tough and for saying out what they believe with ideas that have defied the conventional wisdom of their time.

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Back in the Classroom

Marketclysm at the Classroom Door

An earlier version published as “Should We Really Turn College Education Over to the Free Market?” History News Network (March 8, 2016), http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/161910

Should We Really Turn College Education Over to the Free Market?

In an era when the number of words on Twitter in only two years will exceed the number of words ever published, academic scholars should pay heed to changes in writing and teaching swiftly taking place outside their offices and classrooms.  There are powerful forces calling for briefer expositions and for teaching to appeal to a market that expects and demands such brevity.  While paying attention to those calls, academics should remember that beyond appealing to their audiences, their deeper purpose is to inspire and provoke.  Read more… Continue reading

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