Unheralded

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 …


Unheralded

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 …

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 …