Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine: A European Perspective

With the war in Ukraine entering its fourth month, the 27-nation European Union is working toward what would be its sixth round of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia since Feb. 24. While outside of Governing’s usual coverage areas, the war in Ukraine has impacted domestic policy discussions here in the United States. To better understand the ongoing struggle, Governing Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson recently …


Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Teddy Roosevelt And The Surprising Roots Of The National Governors Association

We take annual conferences of the National Governors Association for granted, but nobody had ever thought of bringing America’s governors together until Theodore Roosevelt galloped onto the national stage in 1901, ascending to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 14 of that year. It’s not hard to imagine Roosevelt, a strong Hamiltonian nationalist who essentially invented the modern presidency, calling the …


CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Why We Don’t Trust Government

Chief Justice John Roberts’ characterization of the leaking of the draft decision on abortion as a “singular and egregious breach” of trust puts a fine point on the tenor of our times. In March, Senate hearings that confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the nation’s highest court in anticipation of shaping such decisions underscored the fact that, whatever the intentions of the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The Dangers Of Settling For Truthiness

Systematic attacks on the truth, supercharged through social media, trolling and cancel culture, have Americans angry, frustrated and unsure as to where to turn for knowledge. It’s a crisis of historic proportions, but author Jonathan Rauch argues we already have in place a structure from which to repel these assaults of disinformation. He locates it within the global network of …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Watergate: A Fresh Look At The Most Influential Political Event Of The Past Half Century

Growing up in the 1980s in a family of journalists, Garrett Graff’s sense of Watergate was shaped by the on-screen exploits of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in “All the President’s Men,” in which they portray Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively. But when the recent impeachment of Donald Trump prompted him to take a fresh look back at the Nixon administration, Graff stumbled …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Why A Seat on The Supreme Court Matters

This is a bonus installment in a Governing series on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, following the U.S. Senate’s historic confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson on April 7. The first four essays in the series examined “Myths of the U.S. Supreme Court,” “Why Supreme Court Nominations Sometimes Fail,” “Dangerous Trends on the Supreme Court” and “Life Tenure on the Supreme Court: …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — ‘Sivilizing’ Mark Twain: One Scholar’s Effort To Make Huck Finn Safe For School Again

“All modern American literature,” Ernest Hemingway once proclaimed, “comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’” Despite such accolades, this masterwork from Twain — the pen name used by Samuel Clemens — has been slowly disappearing from American classrooms, a development primarily driven by the novel’s repeated use — 219 times in all — of that uniquely offensive term that …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Why Supreme Court Nominations Sometimes Fail

This is the fourth and final installment in a Governing series in a historical look at the U.S. Supreme Court to coincide with nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which continues this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of Associate Justice Stephen Breyer seems likely to win confirmation this spring by the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Life Tenure On The Supreme Court: Appointments and Disappointments

This is the third in a Governing series on a historical look at the Supreme Court to coincide with nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which continued this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. With hearings under way to fill an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court, it may be useful to look back on the history of court appointments. “Appointments,” Thomas Jefferson said, “and disappointments.” Since 1789, 115 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Dangerous Trends On The U.S. Supreme Court

This is second in a series in a historical look at the U.S. Supreme Court to coincide with nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which continues this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Three dangerous trends appear to be jeopardizing the independence and credibility of the third branch of the federal government. Court decisions are increasingly falling out along what appear to be purely partisan lines. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Myths Of The U.S. Supreme Court

This is the first in an occasional Governing series on the Supreme Court in preparation for nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which enters its next phase on March 21 when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to publicly make her case for why she should win approval to sit on the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court has been more than usually visible in …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Brief History Of Violence In The Capitol: The Foreshadowing Of Disunion

The Jan. 6, 2021, mob attack on the U.S. Capitol stands as a prevailing symbol of the country’s present-day polarization. But while the brutality of that day sits in the minds of many Americans as unprecedented, historian Joanne Freeman reminds us that violence within the Capitol has a long history. In “The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War,” Joanne …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Centuries-Old Travel Guide Unlocks Clues To Our Future

When Thomas Jefferson left the United States in 1784 to serve as his fledgling country’s ambassador to France, he was still reeling from the death of his wife, Martha, and the remnants of political scandal in Virginia. Looking for a new beginning, Jefferson traveled in and beyond France whenever his job allowed, collecting items and ideas he would bring home …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The Dammed Rivers That Shaped America’s West

The evolution of the sprawling cities of the American West is inextricably bound to America’s 20th-century fascination with dam-building. But that decades-long story, rife with dammed and diverted rivers as well as political intrigue, is being reshaped by climate change, drought and overuse into a tale of ecologic and economic misadventure. Despite the problematic history of the big dam projects, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Dose of Liberty After Death For Patrick Henry

We lose a lot in our understanding of the Founding Fathers, says John Ragosta, a historian at the Robert H. Smith Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, when we see them only as marble statues. They were real people who made mistakes and who got mad at one another. Patrick Henry so angered fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson in 1781, Ragosta maintains, that …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The Early Republic Was Stress Tested For Times Like Ours

America’s consciousness is indelibly shaped by the competing legacies of three distinct personalities: a fast-talking New Yorker, a quintessential Yankee and a Virginia squire. In his book, “Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding,” historian Darren Staloff explores the social, intellectual and personal dynamics that shaped these men and helped define the nation. Staloff teaches courses …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Unanswered Questions And Challenges Of Jan. 6, 2021, Remain

More than a year after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, there are still uncertainties and perplexities about just what happened and what might have happened. The House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Attack on the U.S. Capitol intends to issue its report to the nation sometime later in 2022. Thanks to the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — AG Jason Miyares: A New Sheriff In Virginia

As a 6-year-old, Jason Miyares helped his mother to learn the Pledge of Allegiance for her upcoming naturalization ceremony, an event that deeply affected both of their lives. More than a half-century later, on Jan. 15 of this year, he became the first Hispanic American to hold statewide office in the commonwealth of Virginia when he was sworn in as attorney general. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Trillion Here, A Trillion There: Omnibus Legislation In American History

President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better plan (originally pegged at $3 trillion) may be dead, but Democrats say key provisions of the bill are still likely to be approved — especially those addressing inflation, education, child care and workforce training. It is worth remembering that in November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion precursor infrastructure bill. Between these …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Greener Acres: A Journey From San Francisco To Iowa

Three years ago, Beth Hoffman left her career as a college professor and journalist in San Francisco for the life of farming. She and her husband, John Hogeland, headed to Iowa with $19,000 of savings and a vague and ambiguous plan to take over as the fifth generation on his family’s 530-acre farm. The simple life, however, turned out to be not …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — An Essential Detour To Wounded Knee, South Dakota

My young adult daughter and I were driving from Bismarck to a village in far western Kansas on Dec. 30, a distance of 753 miles. It is a journey we have made together a dozen times over the years. We were in something of a hurry on this occasion. When we stopped for gas and sodas, I found in my …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Rescuing Great Books From The Elites

It was in May 1985 that young Roosevelt Montás emigrated from the Dominican Republic to Queens, N.Y. He arrived in America in time to celebrate his 12th birthday. The plane trip, the first of the boy’s life, took only 3½ hours, but the figurative distance he traveled was immeasurable. The boy landed in the United States poor and disoriented and …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The Tricky Politics Of America’s War For Independence

It’s the tendency of Americans, suggests historian and best-selling author H. W. Brands, to simplify the past, when in truth our history is every bit as complicated and divisive as the present. Working to shine light on overlooked complexities, Brands probes the intersections of individual lives and narratives — what he calls “little history” — with the overarching accounts of …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Can Political Parties Reform Themselves To Guide The Country Forward?

Party politics have always been controversial, but they have evolved into an unattractive piece of American democracy in recent decades. They have helped fuel fires of polarization and choked down legislative efforts at all levels of government. As a result, political parties themselves are under assault. Conservative journalist and historian Jay Cost, however, believes these efforts are misguided. He argues …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Tussling With An Urban Tumbleweed Invasion

In the past three weeks, North Dakota has been invaded by millions of tumbleweeds. I do not exaggerate. I live well within the capital city of Bismarck, in a peaceful and thoroughly manicured subdivision. We’ve had a prolonged drought and unusually high winds this fall, in a land that is semi-arid in a good year, and the wind routinely blows more …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — On Big Problems: Expect More From States, Less From Supreme Court

In today’s polarized political climate, Americans nervously anticipate U.S. Supreme Court rulings with the same fervor with that they enjoy sports, and with the same goal in mind: namely, to win. But American government is not a game, cautions U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton. By forcing the Supreme Court to make notably divisive, winner-take-all decisions, he argues, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Reflections On A Year Of Reading About Race In America

Since I woke up a little after the killing of George Floyd on May 20, 2020, I have done a good deal of what I regard as required reading about race in America. I started with Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.” Then I read Carol Anderson’s “White Rage: The Unspoken …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Can The White American Church Find Its Way from Its Segregationist Past To A Diverse Future?

America’s racial reckoning — seen in protests in the streets and at school board meetings and even shaping this past Tuesday’s election results — comes as the nation continues to shift rapidly. The latest data — from the U.S. Census and the Pew Research Center, respectively — shows 40 percent of Americans now identify with a race other than white …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Save The Planet, Raise A Kid; It’s A Job For Science Moms

Global climate talks among government leaders are underway in Scotland for the next two weeks under the auspices of the UN’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26). Here at home, there is a small group of climate scientists whose focus is more domestic. They call themselves Science Moms. They came together to help other “everyday moms” who may not be confident in …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Muhammad Ali: Reviewing The Life Of An Extraordinary American

A lexicographer once said, “a dictionary is the history of a people from a certain point of view.” Ken and Sarah Burns’ latest documentary film, “Muhammad Ali: Bigger than Boxing, Larger than Life,” is the history of the 1960s and ’70s in America through the life and career of one of the most colorful, entertaining, talented, provocative and compelling individuals. At the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Further Reflections On America’s Path Forward

The reader feedback of the essay I wrote last week has been voluminous and gratifying. The reason for this, I think, is that we are all a little shell-shocked by the chaotic state of the world. So much anger and aggression, so many apocalyptic pronouncements and books. Most people look at the past 20 years, and particularly the past six, and ask, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Living A Good Life In A Broken Republic

As I reflect on the purposes of the retreat I attended this past weekend in the Little Missouri Badlands of western North Dakota, I have been asking myself hard questions about my approach to what the retreat hosts have called “the situation.” I inquired. Turns out they mean the whole enchilada: borders and immigrants, health care, global warming, the 1 percent and the 99 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Seven States In Jeopardy As Prolonged Drought Threatens Power Generation

Colorado River’s Glen Canyon Dam is at risk of reaching dead pool — that is, the water level at which a dam’s turbines are no longer able to generate power. A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation puts the risk at 3 percent next year, escalating to 34 percent in 2023, and up to 66 percent in 2025. As Lake …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Looking For Leverage: Moving America Forward

In a week’s time, I will be attending a retreat in the Badlands to talk about the future. The organizer, a close friend of mine, invited me to participate, along with several dozen others, perhaps because I have a new book on North Dakota and the Great Plains, “The Language of Cottonwoods.” He called to talk logistics Saturday. As the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The High-Stakes Dilemma Of America’s Everyday Infrastructure

President Trump promised a big infrastructure bill many times, but nothing came of his repeated declarations that he was about to launch “infrastructure week.” Now the Biden administration, in cooperation with the Democrats of Congress, is hoping to make its $3.5 trillion infrastructure investment its most important legislative accomplishment before the 2022 and 2024 elections. Two giant pieces of legislation have been working their …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — An Origin Story that America Needs

If you don’t have an agreed-upon national narrative, you cannot accomplish great things in a democracy. One indication of America’s current confusion and disillusionment is that we no longer agree on our national identity, our origin story or our mission. We can chart how we got to this abyss, but it is much harder to imagine how we can lift …

CLAY JENKINSON: Listening To America — Losing Faith: America’s Standing In The World After 20 Years In Afghanistan

I’m a mere citizen, in no way connected with the levers of American foreign policy, but I can explain how this looks to an incessant reader of history. As a citizen, I feel deep pain for the fiasco of Afghanistan. And shame. “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it,” says Malcolm of another soldier in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” but for …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Is “All Men Are Created Equal” A Declaration, Promise Or Question?

Thomas Jefferson, speaking for the Second Continental Congress, wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He either meant this to be a universal proposition (self-evident) and therefore was a contemptible hypocrite since he owned as many as 600 slaves in the course of his life, or he meant the statement to serve as what …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Palestine’s Struggle To Create Its Unique Narrative

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, an endowed chair named for Said, a professor, public intellectual and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. Khalidi has written a number of books on the history of Palestine and the Middle East. With his latest effort — “The Hundred Years War on Palestine: …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America’s Declaration Of Independence On Its 245th Anniversary*

With the 245th Independence Day and the first national Juneteenth commemoration now behind us, here is the question: If we could only keep one document from American history, and one only, which would it need to be? Opinions will vary. Some might say the Emancipation Proclamation, others the Bill of Rights, still others the U.S. Constitution itself. Or perhaps Lincoln’s magnificent Second Inaugural Address, delivered …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Story Of Black Motherhood And How It Shaped America

On Friday, federal government employees had the day off to commemorate Juneteenth, a new federal holiday formally created the day before — some 156 years after it was first celebrated by newly emancipated Black people in Galveston, Texas. Millions of White Americans became aware of Juneteenth for the first time this past year only after the racial-justice protests that followed the death of George …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Voting In America: The Urgency Of Legitimacy

“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken.” That from then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Jan. 6, 2021, in remarks intended to push back against those who were attempting to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. “If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.” Here we are, six months …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — FUTURE IN CONTEXT America’s New Gilded Age: The Cycles Of Constitutional Time

In “The Cycles of Constitutional Time,” Jack Balkin takes an overarching look at the dynamics of constitutional government over the history of the United States. To understand what is happening today, he argues, “we have to think in terms of political cycles that interact with each other and create remarkable — and dark — times.” Single-term presidents, Balkin notes, often …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America’s Constitution: Its Surprising Evolution From 1788 To The 21st Century

In an earlier article, Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson described America’s three constitutions: The capital-c Constitution drafted in 1787; and the small-c constitution of norms and traditions not specified in the written Constitution and the ways the American people actually constitute themselves. In this third in a series, Jenkinson suggests that even — or especially — in our norm-busting times, a president’s bully …