Unheralded

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 …


Unheralded

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 …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Breaking Ice: What Happens When A Branch Of The Armed Forces Opens To Women

Long before Admiral Sandy Stosz retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2018, she knew that she wanted to write a book on leadership. With nearly 40 years of experience to draw on, from her early days as an ensign on polar icebreakers to her final assignment as the first female to serve as deputy commandant for Mission Support, Stosz had gained …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America’s Constitution In 2021: What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

In an earlier article, Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson described America’s Three Constitutions: The Capital C Constitution drafted in 1787, 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 second in a series, Jenkinson looks at the Constitution circa 2021. “Some men look at constitutions with …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Revolutionary Lives Of Malcolm X And MLK In The Time of George Floyd

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X rose from markedly different backgrounds to assume leading roles in the civil rights movement, and though each died violently while playing his respective part, neither man fully exited the stage. Both remain to this day celebrated figures in the fight for racial and economic justice. Their much-publicized differences, most notably violence versus nonviolence, have …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Grab A Dictionary, Save The Republic

Distressed at the dearth of civic understanding in the United States, Ed Hagenstein worked for over two decades to create “The Language of Liberty: A Citizen’s Vocabulary.” Its purpose is simple: The constitution demands consensus and our form of government requires discourse, which depends in turn on a precise and nuanced vocabulary of its own. Hagenstein has set out to …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — How America’s Three Constitutions Define The Nation

The past few years have raised constitutional questions at an unusually fast clip. After years, even decades, of slumber, the emoluments clause (Article 1, Section 9) suddenly flared up, as well as the pardon clause (Article 2, Section 2), and, of course, the impeachment clause (Article 1, Section 3), among others. From the narrow perspective of civics (not politics), the …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Supreme Court Packing: A Bad Way To Get Even (Or Ahead)

Recent talk among some Democrats about expanding the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices has caused enormous consternation among Republicans but also among many mainstream Democrats and conservative political commentators. The impulse to increase the number of justices is a partisan Democrat response to the refusal by Mitch McConnell and Republican senators to confirm (or even vet) President Obama’s Supreme …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Afghanistan 20 Years Later: Another Costly Quagmire

What can you buy with a trillion dollars, let alone four or five trillion? It’s not that government expenditure is a zero-sum game (guns or butter), and we all understand that national security and national defense are among the most essential expenditures of any sovereign nation. Still, had the United States not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq or prolonged our incursions …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Ken Burns, Lynn Novick Create Perfect Hemingway Documentary

Ernest Hemingway is one of our greatest writers, and Ken Burns is our greatest documentary filmmaker, so it is fitting that the latest film by Burns and his creative partner, Lynn Novick, is about the most influential American writer of the 20th century, who committed suicide on July 2, 1961. Hemingway wrote seven novels during his lifetime, six collections of short …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Can The Left Reclaim Populism With Biden As The Modern FDR?

Author Thomas Frank is an unapologetic liberal and populist. Those characteristics shape his writing and worldview. He finds promise in the country’s original populists, who adopted the term in 1891 and who were protesting “unbearable debt, monopoly and corruption … forcing the country to acknowledge that ordinary Americans who were just as worthy as bankers or railroad barons were being …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — North Dakota’s Gold Rush: A Memoir About The Fracking Boom

Michael Patrick F. Smith would not seem to fit the profile of an oil field worker. He’s an actor, a musician and a playwright who sublet his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment to head out west to Williston, N.D., during the height of the Bakken Oil Boom in 2013. As he admits, “It’s a weird resume for a man applying to work …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Promises And Pitfalls Of A Modern-Day Boomtown

When the price of a barrel of oil peaked at $145 amid the 2008 economic meltdown, thousands of unsettled men from all over the country descended on the fracking boomtown of Williston, N.D. Centered atop the estimated 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil contained within the Bakken Formation, Williston witnessed over the next six years what writer Michael Patrick F. …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — From Wounded Knee To Pipeline Access, The Lakota’s Enduring Power

Most histories of the “Indian Wars” in the American West end with the Wounded Knee Massacre on Dec. 29, 1890, when U.S. troops of the Seventh Cavalry killed between 200 and 300 Lakota (Sioux) people, the majority of them women and children, most of whom had been disarmed, at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, just one year into its …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Nicholas Christakis And Understanding Our Year With COVID-19

Nicholas Christakis’ “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live“ is an outstanding book. I agree with the eminent historian of ideas Niall Ferguson, who called it “magisterial” in his review in the Times Literary Supplement. I could not recommend it more highly. It’s not only the most readable of the books published on …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Living Through The Pandemic: A Review One Year Later

A year into the modern pandemic era, it seems reasonable to ask, what have we learned? And what should we have learned? I found answers to those questions in a wide-ranging interview with Nicholas Christakis, the author of “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.” Christakis is the Sterling Professor of Social and …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Guy Fawkes And The Plot To Blow Up The U.S. Capitol

We live in head-shaking times. In a congressional hearing Feb. 25, acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman reported that heightened security around the Capitol will continue at least through President Biden’s upcoming State of the Union appearance, the date for which has not been set in part to prevent domestic terrorists from being able to prepare a coordinated attack …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Donald Trump Has Earned Membership In The President’s Club, The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity; What Does It Mean?

For only the third time in history, there are a record six living presidents in the United States, including the current White House occupant Joseph R. Biden Jr., along with Barack Obama, who he served as vice president. The list also includes George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and now Donald J. Trump. All went into the White House …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Gutenberg To Zuckerberg: A Tale Of Two Revolutions

To put it in a nutshell. No Gutenberg, no Luther. No Luther, no Reformation. At one point, Luther (1483-1546) was publishing a book (more like a pamphlet) every three or four weeks. The advent of moveable type and the printing press (ca. 1440) made it possible for an obscure monk’s critique of late medieval Catholicism to travel all over Europe. The …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Double Edge Of Our Digital Revolution

The holidays just past made me reflect on the digital revolution. It’s hard for us to see it whole because we find ourselves in the heart of that revolution, but I believe those historians are right who say this one will be more disruptive, significant and impactful than even the Gutenberg Revolution of 1436-1455. Our COVID Odyssey It started on …

CLAY JENKINSON: It’s Time For National Majority Rule

The time has come for us to reconsider the U.S. Senate. It is easy enough to understand how the Senate wound up in 1787 with two senators per state irrespective of size and population, but how can it be just and democratic now when Wyoming has about half a million people and California 40 million and they both have the …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Year Another Capitol Siege Almost Took Place On The Hill

The election of 1800 keeps coming back to inform, console and trouble us. John Adams was the incumbent. Thomas Jefferson was the challenger. After one of the most vituperative elections in American history, Jefferson emerged the winner. He had 73 electoral votes, Adams just 65. Thus, Adams became America’s first one-term president. There have been nine, depending a bit on …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Bill Of Rights, Federalism And The Struggles Of A United America

David French is a senior editor of The Dispatch, a conservative online political magazine. A graduate of Harvard Law School, an Iraq War veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star, French’s most recent book, “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation,” was reviewed by Governing in October. In the book, French warns how hardening ideological …

CLAY JENKINSON: This Is Not Bush V. Gore

Elections matter. The pathetic political stunt a dozen U.S. senators and more than 100 U.S. representatives are planning for today is a direct attack on democracy. We have a system. Primaries, general election, followed by state certification, followed by the vote of the Electoral College, followed by the tallying of the Electoral College vote by the U.S. Congress, followed by …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Thomas Jefferson, Epidemics And His Vision For American Cities

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia changed Thomas Jefferson’s thinking. Always anti-urban in his social outlook, the future president now began to formulate a radical plan for the development of new states and new communities west of the Appalachian mountains. In an age before antibiotics and systematic vaccination, Jefferson sought to design healthier communities on the tabula rasa, …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Presidential Transitions And The Vagaries Of America’s History

The Nov. 3, 2020, election is seven weeks behind us. After more than 50 legal challenges to the fairness and legality of the election have been exhausted, and now that the Electoral College has performed its constitutional duty in certifying the election, it is a matter of real constitutional significance that the current President of the United States continues to …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America, Rome And The Slow Erosion of Republics

Dr. Edward Watts is a professor of history at the University of California at San Diego. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale and is the author of five books, most recently, “Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny.” The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Governing: We’re suddenly in this situation where the wear and tear on …

CLAY JENKINSON: Trump Is A LOSER!

December 14, 2020 — a great day for American democracy. The Electoral College confirmed the election of Joe Biden on Monday. But it is not about Joe Biden or about the Democrats. It is about the capacity of our Constitution to withstand the dishonorable attempt by a dis-elected president to overturn the results of a national election. And so this …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Why Did John Adams Skip Thomas Jefferson’s Inauguration?

The election of 1800 was the first time power was transferred from one political party to another. The first president, George Washington, and the second, John Adams, were both Federalists, so there was not much to transfer in the spring of 1797 when Washington retired to Mount Vernon for the last time. As the first U.S. vice president, Adams considered …

CLAY JENKINSON: John Adams’ Words Ring Hollow

John Adams wrote, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” Adams was speaking of the White House, where his words are enshrined in a plaque. The current president cannot be called honest by any honest human being, and wise eludes him, too. If “wisdom is calling things by the right name,” President Trump fails the …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — When Alexander Hamilton Tried To Steal The Election Of 1800

Some Trump supporters and advisers have suggested that if the certification of the 2020 election can be delayed beyond Dec. 8, Republican-controlled state legislatures could step in to name their own set of presidential electors who would cast their Electoral College votes for Donald Trump, not the individual who appears to have won the election in those swing states. Others …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Electoral College Explained: Its History And The Tensions of Democracy

The Electoral College is back at the center of our national political conversation. The fact that Hillary Clinton received 2.7 million more popular votes in 2016 than Donald Trump and still lost the presidential election, and that it was possible that Donald Trump might win the 2020 election while losing by more than 5 million popular votes, has led to …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Presidency: From Rocky Transitions To Electoral Delays

At the time I write this, the day before the 2020 presidential election, we don’t know whether Donald Trump will be a one-term president or whether he will be elected to a second term. Trump has repeatedly declared that he may not accept the election results if he is defeated. If he loses, it is hard to imagine a smooth …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Amy Coney Barrett Is In An Impossible Position; So Are We

In 1958, President Dwight David Eisenhower is reported to have said, “I made two mistakes and both of them are sitting on the Supreme Court.” The story may be apocryphal, but it continues to be widely quoted because it so perfectly expresses presidential exasperation with the behavior of U.S. Supreme Court appointees once they are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Is it Time For Texas And California To Leave the Union?

David French begins his book about the disintegration of America along what is by now a well-worn path: “We increasingly loathe our political opponents.” “A person belongs to their political party not so much because they like their own party but because they hate and fear the other side.” “The number of Americans who live in so-called landslide counties— counties …