Steve and Corey talk to Andrew about his new introduction to his book “The War for the Soul of America.”
Other topics: Was the left’s victory in the debate over the college curriculum pyrrhic? Is identity politics a necessary step in liberation or a problematic slide toward greater division or both? Are current students too sensitive, and easily triggered, to take the fight to the Billionaire class?
What is Manifold?
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Join him for wide-ranging conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.
Steve: Thanks for joining us. I’m Steve Hsu.
Corey: I’m Corey Washington and we’re your hosts for Manifold.
Corey: This week we interviewed Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America. Next week we’re going to be releasing bonus content, mine and Steve’s interview with the editors of two local blogs on campus, The Morning Watch, and The Evening Look, which take right-wing and left-wing perspectives respectively on campus and national issues.
Corey: Our guest today is Andrew Hartman, Professor of History at Illinois State University Normal where he teaches courses in US intellectual, cultural, and political history. He’s the author of two books: Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School, and The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars. His current project is a Marxist influence on US politics currently titled Marx in America. He’s co-founder of Society for US Intellectual History. Served as the society’s first president, and co-founded society’s blog, which has been in existence since 2007.
Corey: He is currently host of the Intellectual History Podcast, Trotsky and the Wild Orchids. Our topic today is The War for the Soul of America, and the new conclusion he has written for the 2019 edition to capture developments encompassing Trump’s election. Welcome to Manifold, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you so much for having me Corey and Steve. I’m happy to be here.
Corey: Andrew and I have known each other for 20 years now.
Andrew: That’s right.
Corey: We met in DC where we were neighbors in [inaudible 00:01:46]. Andrew, you were a grad student at GW.
Andrew: Yes. That’s correct.
Corey: I was a philosophy faculty at the University of Maryland, and this was a particularly formative time for me, as I hope we’ll get into as our discussion progresses. What I really… particularly like about your book on the culture wars is that it covers topics I think any politically conscious and intellectually curious person will be interested in, and for many of our listeners who I think are roughly in our age range, they would have lived through these times and be aware of these issues. Steve and I were talking about this beforehand. As we lived through them, I was never quite aware that I was in the midst of a culture war, or that it was something that people would look back 30 years on and write a book about, but it’s interesting to see that events that you’re aware of that just seemed vaguely normal are actually a pretty serious political and social history. So I want to begin with how you begin the book. That’s a [inaudible 00:02:42] speech at the 1992 Republican Convention. Take us back to that speech and tell us why it was important.
Andrew: Yes, and just if I could riff a bit on your reaction to the book. This is a reaction that I’ve gotten from a lot of people. That is that they lived through it. They couldn’t have made sense of it as history. I mean, that’s the point of history is sort of refuting memory. But that it really has helped people make sense of various events that were either in their lives or sort of in the ethos at the time and certainly, researching the book has done that for me as well.
Andrew: So in 1992, Patrick Buchanan ran in the primaries for the Republican nomination for president of that year challenging the sitting president, George H. W. Bush and of course, it’s pretty uncommon for a sitting president, an incumbent, to be challenged in the primary. Buchanan was challenging Bush because he believed that Bush was not fighting the culture wars. Bush was too lenient, too liberal on the issues that mattered most to Buchanan, a traditionalist, a conservative, a Catholic. Some might call it paleoconservative in that he’s really interested in the older traditionalist issues. Issues really related to sexuality above everything else.
Andrew: He thinks that Bush isn’t fighting them and so he challenges them, and he has some success. Particularly in the early primaries… or caucuses and primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. He of course, does not come close to the nomination but owing to the success that he had in these early primaries, the Republican Party and the Bush team reward him with a prime spot at the Republican Convention that year in Houston, and he gives this really notorious speech in which he declares a war for the soul of America and declares that all moral people must vote for Bush and the Republicans. Otherwise, they would be supporting the sort of nihilism and cultural relativism and moral repugnance of the Clintons. He always talked about Bill and Hillary as a couple because Hillary was notorious for many people as a sort of a feminist pushing for abortion rights and that type of thing.
Andrew: This was a notorious speech and it really was the most memorable speech of that convention. Some people argue that it helped secure his defeat because it was too negative. It was too conservative. It was unappealing to moderates. I think that it’s hard to know if that’s the case. There were so many other factors that led to Clinton’s election, namely Ross Perot, but it’s an interesting milestone that sort of serves as… it put a stamp on these divisions, these cultural conflicts, that had been ongoing for quite some time since the 60s. At least that’s my read on the history of it. It really is the climax of the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.
Corey: It’s interesting. You think back about the Clintons and in some sense Pat Buchanan captured what would later become mainstream view about Clinton on the right. That he was harboring in this era of loose morals, and culture relativism across the board. It wasn’t that common among the people, but that view became mainstream among his people. So you identify a range of issues that characterize the culture wars. Let me just go through them right now. Abortion, a prone of action, art censorship, evolution, family values, feminism, homosexuality, intelligence testing, media, multiculturalism, natural history standards, pornography, school prayer, sex ed. The western canon.
Corey: When you write about these things, would I… ask myself is I see strange issues that follow this through American history, and they lasted for varying amounts of time. So I want to do two things. I want to first ask you which of these things you think are really still relevant today, but to begin, I’d like to have to read from the 2019 conclusion that you wrote to the culture wars, because that frames the debate about which of these you think are still absolutely relevant. So could you begin with that passage?
Andrew: Sure. Make America Great Again. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan displayed on ball caps and t-shirts, or emblazoned on placards at boisterous rallies across the red state landscape. Evokes the fervent belief among many Americans that the nation is no longer theirs. Once upon a time, the slogan deftly implies things in America made sense. Right and wrong were distinguishable. Hard work was rewarded. People respected authority and love of country was widely shared, as was faith in god. But this familiar America, this normative America now seems upside down in the eyes of millions of the nation’s citizens.
Andrew: Of course, it is no coincidence that the rhetorical power of Make America Great Again peaked at the end of Barrack Hussein Obama’s eight years in the White House. Nothing quite signals decline for the Trump faithful like a Black president with a Muslim name. Beyond it’s present day appeal though, Make America Great Again speaks to the running narrative of decline that had defined conservative cultural attitude since the 1960s. It is at bottom a nostalgic call to revive and restore the orderly disciplined and authority respecting America that punitively held fast before the 60s social movements. Endowed people of color, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants and other seeming outsiders and fringe characters with the privilege to call themselves Americans. In this way, the multi-valent Trump slogan marks but the latest read out in the culture wars that have polarized the United States. Trump and his supporters are breathing new life into the venerable right-wing tradition of complaining that the nation went to hell during the age of Aquarius.
Andrew: So that’s the passage that introduces the new conclusion to the second edition of my book, which I wrote of course trying to bring the story up to the Trump election, because the first edition of the book, which was published in 2015. In which I, of course wrote in 2014 did not involve Trump. I think reader’s were interested in how this history that I had studied so carefully related to Trump’s election and the Trump presidency, and the movement, or the movements that gave rise to Trump.
Andrew: So you listed out the issues that I deal with in the book as a whole, and what really… I think I wanted to stress is that none of those issues necessarily define the culture wars. They were all just episodes in a larger struggle between those who really rejected a lot of the changes that were put into place in the 1960s and after, due to that decades liberation movements. Also due to changing attitudes about religion that really crystallized during that time period, and you can see this manifest for example, several Supreme Court decisions. There’s this challenge to what I call normative America.
Andrew: In terms of a cultural conception of what it meant to be an American prior to the 1960s, that really was experienced as liberation for millions of Americans. But it’s those movements and this new definition of America, or what it means to be in America that was seen as threatening to many more millions of Americans, conservative religious Americans in particular. White Americans in particular, and this is this cultural divide that coalesced, and these were the issues that this divide saw… fought on. This was the… when there were debates about multiculturalism in public school curriculum, it was about this larger divide that had come to fruition in the 1960s.
Corey: So Steve and I were just talking about before the meeting about… whether this is really a divide so much between White normative America, or whether it’s a much more messy divide. Whether it’s a divide in fact, that has many Black people and other people of color on the side of conservatives. So Steve, I didn’t know this, but grew up Christian.
Steve: Yes, my mother is a devout Christian actually and so I went to Sunday school and read the bible until probably about until I was about 12 years old.
Corey: And my relatives were… not my parents, but my grandparents were extremely religious and in many ways, they probably would view the world as… at least to some extent, similar to many of the conservatives you write about, you know? They supported traditional families. They went to church. They probably… I know this from having discussed this often with my relatives, many were very uncomfortable with gay people. So I guess we can get into this later on, but part of the thing I want to talk about is it’s my sense… the reality in the ground is much… it’s very complicated as far as people’s views and we think of as the culture wars often things that actually… they’re just not that clean. When you talk about the lives of regular people. So I’d just like to get your initial reaction to that.
Andrew: Yeah. So I’m not going to disagree with anything you just said, because it’s of course true. So on the one hand, this can be chalked up to the… type of historian I am. There was a famous historian who once said there are two types of historians, lumpers and splitters. Those who are really interested in looking at the past and lumping people together, and those who are interested in splitting people up. I’ve always been a lumper. I find it more interesting to think about patterns of human behavior that coalesce. But then, I would push back against this characterization. Of course it’s messy, but the logic of the culture wars has pushed people to coalesce around two camps.
Andrew: Now, a lot of people might not recognize it as such, but we see it manifested in cultural behavior, but even more so in political behavior. So for example, let me just give you a few examples. So of course, the growing Hispanic population in the United States is pretty much as divided culturally as White Americans, if not more so. Or they might even tilt more so towards a traditionalist, religious perspective in relation to family and sexuality. In fact, so we start to see this born out for example, in the 2004 election when George W. Bush wins reelection against John Kerry. 45% of the Hispanic vote voted for George Bush, and so a lot of people were prognosticating at the time that, “Well, this is indicative that Hispanic voters are just becoming like White voters.” They’re following a pattern that previous Southern and Eastern European voters followed, in terms of becoming homogenized into the larger American population in terms of voting patterns, and ethnicity was counting far less than say religion, or attitudes toward the family, various other things.
Andrew: But then we saw the Republican Party very shortly thereafter… not at the high leadership, not within the Bush Administration, but at the Congressional level, at the base level make immigration their main issue. Ever since then, Republican voting patterns have fallen away from… I mean Hispanic voting patterns have become much more polarized in terms of most of them are voting Democratic. A much higher percentage than the 40… the 56% or whatever that voted for Kerry in 2004, and you see this played out in a number of different ways that coalitions are formed around the very essence of what I’m talking about in terms of the White normative America.
Andrew: So your religious conservative grandmother, when it comes to making really important decisions probably about who she’s going to live around, or… and I’m not speaking specifically of her, but just as a sort of generic sense, general sense, but more importantly, who she’s going to vote for because she’s Black and because the other America, the Republican America, the conservative America has made Whiteness an issue. Has made the defense of American identity around race an issue. She’s going to coalesce with-
Corey: Yeah, they never vote Republican and they would never consider it. What you say is very… is also true of Muslim voters. I don’t know if you remember this, but I think the majority voted for Bush in 2000 and then after the reaction of 9/11, you had a really, really different perspective. People moved toward-
Andrew: Yeah, and so these issues are… you might say, “Oh, this is just about electoral politics. It’s not about these more existential, identity based definitions, but I think the same thing has played out in terms of just the polarization. It’s not like one issue you can point to. There has been since the 60s, even earlier, a large… anywhere from 25 to 40% of Americans identity as White, conservative and religious and they tend to coalesce into a cultural and political group that tends to vote Republican, and that tends to fight the conservative side of the culture wars. So people with whom they’re opposed to have coalesced to the opposite side.
Andrew: You can see this more recently for example in the fact that… people who have historically been religious but liberal, have quit religion because they have come to identify religion as a conservative thing and visa versa. People whose families are historically less religious, or non-religious, or maybe have belonged to a mainline liberal church have become much more religious and much more evangelical, Protestant, or conservative Catholic based on the fact that they identify as politically conservative. So you’re seeing just polarization that operates around this culture wars divided that I’m isolating as emerging from the social movements of the 1960s, and what that did to how we define America.
Steve: So Andrew, I wanted to pin you down a little bit more in terms of what you mean by culture wars. So in any society at any time, there are a bunch of issues that people disagree on. You can say at any moment, there’s a culture war if you define it broadly enough. My experience having been in high school and college in the 80s is that… and actually having been on the left, I would say center left voting almost entirely Democrat during… well during my whole life basically. It seems to me that the progressive causes that I championed in the 80s basically all won. They’ve all won now and no one even questions the issues like… equal rights for men and women, different ethnicities, etc.
Steve: In fact, the pendulum swung way beyond what I though was ever going to be possible in the progressive direction in the 1980s. So now what I find is that in America today, and this is related to the election of Donald Trump, there are people desperately fighting a rear guard action to stop the extreme excesses of progressivism that have gone way beyond what would have been considered mainstream progressivism 30 years ago. So it’s a very different culture war than what we would have talked about in the 80s and 90s.
Corey: What do you have in mind as far as what do you take to the extreme on the progressive side right now?
Steve: So we went from a time when we would have been very happy if the legal system awarded say equal rights to men and women, and to Whites and other ethnicities in America, and that people got a little bit nicer and more sensitive to each other about gender or ethnicity. Instead, we’re in a situation now on campus where there’s an ever increasing set of genders, which we’re forced to use. We might be forced to use different pronouns that people choose. It seems like we’re teaching our undergraduates to be… to act like victims if they can come up with any reason that they, or they’re distant ancestors might have been victimized over.
Steve: So it seems like that’s where we’ve ended up and you may smile and think I sound like some crazy right-wing guy, but I just want to remind you, I’m a left-wing guy. It’s just that the system swung way beyond what I thought was an achievable level of progressivism 30 years ago. So I’m curious, do you agree that the front of the culture war has moved dramatically in the last 30 years?
Andrew: I do agree with that premise and in fact, in the book I argue that the left cultural liberalism, however you want to characterize it has won most of the issues from the 80s and 90s. But it’s a shifting terrain I think as you accurately characterize, and I think the… because of the… Trump is not a popular president by any standard, by any message, but because of the weirdness of our electoral college, somebody who represents what you described as a rear guard and it really is a rear guard, can get elected and will represent a nostalgic view of what America was prior. But yeah, I think that the left has won most of these culture wars. There’s just deep ironies in those victories that I think make the victories seem increasingly puric, and thus make it such that even people on the left don’t feel like anything has been won. In fact, I think maybe this contributes to how you characterize it as this increasing sense of victim hood. [crosstalk 00:21:46]
Steve: Sorry to interrupt, but it seems to me that the more the left wins, the more it tries to come up with more things that it absolutely needs to win. You see what I mean?
Andrew: Yeah. I don’t know if I would characterize it as that, but what I see is the very logic of the liberation movements, which I think was extremely necessary in the context of the… say post 1950s was based upon identity, and identity emerged in that context as… I think truly emancipatory. I mean, others would argue that it was never emancipatory, but I think there are emancipatory elements there that were necessary in a culture that was extremely conservative, relative to women’s liberation relative to Black freedom, relative to gay rights. But movements that are based upon the logic of identity, it’s really hard. Where does that end? It’s like the logical conclusion is I guess where we’re at now. Is you keep dividing up more and more identities, and my problem with that is not that it’s angering conservatives. I don’t really give a shit about that.
Andrew: But my problem with that is that it makes solidarity less possible around issues that I think are… that the left is losing on. Like social equality, and so that’s my larger problem with it is there… all the energy, all the focus has been in dividing us up into smaller and smaller categories and you might say based on a sense of victim hood. My problem with it is there’s… it’s almost like this afro-pessimism. A sense that America can never be redeemed because it’s always racism and White people are always racists. That leaves us nowhere. It certainly doesn’t leave us with any hope of forming a multiracial coalition to defeat the forces that I think are making life extremely difficult for most people.
Andrew: I mean, I agree that things are alarming. Maybe my sense of what’s alarming is a little different than yours.
Steve: So, would you agree with the statement that the left has more or less totally won the culture wars, marched through all the institutions, not just higher education, but McDonald’s, Starbucks, IBM, Apple, etc. But perhaps on the economic front, more free market, more regressive policies may still hold sway. Is that… do you think that’s fair?
Andrew: Yeah. I totally agree with that, and also, I would add to the economic side of things. Just politics in general, Republicans still have a great amount of power and this gets manifested in… for example, the Supreme Court as it currently stands, people on the left would point to the Supreme Court and say that we’re losing the culture wars. So yes, we on the left have marched through all the cultural institutions, but the White House not always, or not necessarily. Certainly not Congress, certainly not state legislatures, governors mansions and thus, the Supreme Court. I think there’s a certain historical logic to this. The thing that really won out in the 60s is just rights and liberty. You see this played out.
Andrew: So if you want to characterize the generation of the baby boomers in terms of the politics that they put into play, it’s liberation for people from a scripted identities. Or liberation from this normative America as I describe it, but also liberation from the state to behave economically as people might want to behave, but that gets played out in terms of immense corporate power. So libertarianism, whether it be cultural or economic really won out from the 60s, and that’s part of the paradox I think.
Steve: So I would agree with you that the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, these are still sites of conflict between left and right, but the people that you characterize as being on the right of that battle themselves spout politically correct language that would have been shocking to people in the 1980s. In fact, that’s why Buchanan is called a paleoconservative, because even to the right today, he’s a dinosaur, right? The other day in preparation for this episode, Corey brought in two conservative bloggers from Michigan State University, who I think are considered… at least as far as the left goes, they’re considered reactionary… not completely far-right, but very right figures.
Corey: I’d say one of them is probably considered very right-
Corey: You have to make it lumped in with the more prominent guy.
Steve: But then I was shocked and maybe we’ll use, we’ll get some of this audio onto the episode, but I was shocked when we were asking them questions. They spoke in perfect politically correct anti-colonialist speak to us, and I was joking to Corey that if I spoke to you in 1990, you’d think I was trying to pull something on you. Trying to imitate Noam Chomsky or something like this. So even the people that you consider you’re fighting against on the right have themselves been marched through. Their own brains have been marched through by the left.
Corey: Well I let… [inaudible 00:27:09] audio for Andrew actually to listen to it. I wouldn’t describe them as sounding [inaudible 00:27:12] I think they sounded humanistic. I think they sounded… we have to have a need to respect people, and one of them was openly critical of colonialism. There’s not doubt about that.
Steve: But the vocabulary was… for 1980 or 1990, that vocabulary was very-
Corey: Of course, but-
Corey: Language changes.
Steve: But that language took over, right? The language that was coming from the far-left progressive-
Corey: Well no, no, they won’t using them for individuals. They weren’t using-
Steve: That’s even farther, but they would be familiar with that terminology.
Corey: That’s probably right. That’s probably right. Yeah. What’s fascinating about reading your book Andrew, there’s a lot of things that exist in the current [inaudible 00:27:47] that I actually no idea where they came from. So I didn’t realize that Stokely Carmichael actually is the guy who coined the term structural racism, and-
Andrew: Institutional racism.
Corey: Institutional racism.
Corey: Yeah. I didn’t realize other things, right? Let me step back, I think we’re all fairly critical of identity politics for different reasons. I agree with that, I think it divides us. I think it makes… I agree with Steve, I think it makes people focus on victim hood. I personally had a problem with it because it… if you’re in one of these groups, it imposed a group thing that’s extremely unpleasant. So I think I grew up in probably the most radical possible context you could. Amherst, Massachusetts was effectively Berkeley east, and all the ideas, all this far-left views the culture war were just normal in Amherst, Massachusetts. Radical feminism, Black Africa nationalism, you know? Radical views about the family and it was more puritanical. Sexuality quite wasn’t there, but you actually couldn’t express dissenting views and that clearly continued for a while.
Corey: As a Black person, I think it was… I could [inaudible 00:28:47] tell my friends, if you’re Jewish, you could have a wide range of political views from the far-left to the far-right. No one questions your Jewishness, but if you’re Black, you start expressing these views that are conservative. Views that actually don’t hold, you’re really shamed for doing that. So it was partly that that got me, but I did see there was a core. Your book partly came out with this, I think identity politics helped the beginning of a social movement to unify people so they can work to give them a sense of pride.
Corey: My dad once said about Malcolm X, he said he didn’t really change the world, but he changed how Black people viewed themselves. I think that’s a value, but I think the problem is it lasted beyond it’s usefulness and now it’s actually kind of constraining.
Andrew: That’s basically my view. So there are scholars, someone like Adolf Reid Jr., who from a left social Democratic, or even maybe a Marxist perspective is I would argue that there was never value in identity politics, and so he would have argued that for example, A. Phillip Randolph and Baird Rustin were right in being highly critical of the Stokely Carmichael’s of the world in the 60s for siphoning off the energy from the labor movement. There’s value in that, but I think there’s also merit in arguing that in that moment, it was important and useful especially in the context of what I think was a highly repressive culture if you didn’t fit this normative America as I’m describing it.
Andrew: But I agree with you, it’s outlived it’s usefulness and it’s become in many ways, a farce and parody that it… honestly, from my perspective, it drives me crazy.
Steve: So I’m not steeped in what the current Marxist dialogues are all about, but I got to imagine there was some crusty Marxist revolutionaries who are just shocked at their successors, these tiny snowflakes who certainly aren’t vigorous enough to mount the class warfare that they would have thought necessary to achieve the Marxist utopia.
Andrew: Yeah, there’s some of that. It’s pretty interestingly, most of the discourse between what I would consider a universalist Marxist left and this identitarian identity politics left, boils down often to electoral politics, because for the first time in American history, at least since the socialist party of Eugene Debbs. But actually, I would argue for the first time in American history, there is a viable left-wing candidate, and… but the fact that he is an old White man has served… I’m talking about Bernie Sanders of course, has just… this is served as a catalyzing event in terms of dividing people who are these two sets of lefts.
Andrew: To me, it’s been highly instructive. For example, what if I were to say, “I just really think it’s time for us to finally have a Jewish president?” Nobody makes that argument ever.
Steve: Yeah, that’s a very sensitive line. I think it could work for you. It could work very strongly against you actually I think. I agree, that’s an extremely interesting aspect of the Sanders candidacy is that people avoid that like a landmine.
Corey: Has anyone actually been discussing that, that you’re familiar with, even on the down low? I mean…
Steve: I’ve heard lots of people saying… if they emphasize Sanders’ Jewishness too much, it will preclude him from winning the election. I’ve heard many people say that. Yeah.
Andrew: The universalist left that is all about into Sanders and I’m talking about Democratic Socialists of America, which is seen this… huge growth. They use it as a joke when they hear from people that, “Well all things being equal, I want to vote for a woman.” They just use it as a joke like, “Well why do you hate Jews?” Sort of thing. It’s a joke. That sort of plays into the identitarian logic.
Steve: Right. By the identitarian logic, you could just say “It’s the Jews turn to have the White House.” Right? I mean… or it’s Andrew Yang’s turn to have the White House. But back to this Marxist thing, I just think if we want to defeat billionaires and repossess the country from the oligarchs and all this stuff, how can we depend on some snowflakes that are triggered by the wrong use of a pronoun to actually get in the streets and overcome those forces of plutocracy? It just doesn’t seem very plausible to me.
Andrew: I agree with your political logic. The whole snowflake thing I think is overblown. I don’t know. I don’t experience it on my campus to the same degree that perhaps you seem to be experiencing it on your campus. I don’t know. I’m against the use of identity as a primary force in politics, and I think it’s been extremely damaging. But I don’t feel like my students are snowflakes. I don’t know. What do you all think? Your students… have [inaudible 00:33:46]
Steve: Yeah, we’re not in the classroom anymore. We… part of the reason for inviting those bloggers into the studio was to try to get a sense of what’s going on on campus. We did learn that in the resident’s halls, there are guidelines for… I guess pronoun usage, and Halloween costumes and stuff like that. So that would have been a little shocking to us in the 80s I think to have heard about that.
Andrew: Well you can think about this in a number of different ways. One of the reasons why political correctness emerged as a controversy in the late 80s was because universities began to enact speech codes. Which maybe was… whether you agree with those or not, it was a typical university administration response to changing dynamics, changing demographics on campus. I think we’re in a similar moment. University administrations are going to not be seen as discriminating. No matter… if they can help it, and so they’re going to enable this type of logic if they can help it. If they must, and for example, on the Illinois State University campus right now, for the first time since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here 14 years, we have a very vibrant Black student union that has been protesting in the last few weeks. The sense that they’re not accepted on campus.
Andrew: The main reason for this to me, is that for the… the number of Black students in the 14 years that I’ve been here has grown from about 4% on campus to about 13% on campus. There’s been active recruitment of Black students, particularly from Chicago and… it just makes sense to me that historically and politically and culturally that a group that… comes to this traditionally, historically White institution is going to feel discomfort to some degree, and is going to fight back against it.
Andrew: I personally don’t understand what exactly it is that they feel is discriminating against them. It doesn’t make sense to me, but from a bird’s eye view, historically, it could have been predicted. This is what has always happened.
Steve: I think you’re saying that even though there’s no particular animist against this group. If they come and they discover how isolated they are, they’re going to assume something’s wrong and then feel like they have to protest against it.
Andrew: Yeah, and there’s usually something that sets them off, and I don’t mean that in a sort of-
Corey: Someone gets called… maybe they feel uncomfortable in class, during discussions of race perhaps, or maybe someone gets called the N word somewhere, or maybe there’s some uncomfortable event at a party.
Steve: Yeah, there’s bound to be friction when groups rub up against each other.
Andrew: Or often, and I think has been true at ISU, there’s tension between Black students when they’re out socializing together and campus security, that’s a real thing. Yeah, and a legitimate grievous I would argue.
Corey: There’s protests at Amherst a few years ago and I actually remember talking to the head of the library, because students took over the library during those protests and he was listening to the complaints and there actually weren’t many complaints about events on campus. Students felt that they… they often felt that they were… I guess, unprepared for college in some sense. So it was a cry for certain kind of help. The N word was used, but it was used actually by someone driving through campus when the thoroughfares probably… almost certainly not an Amherst person. So it was an expression I think of discomfort, and once you have a threshold, when you say 13%, I think that’s actually the proportion of Black people in the population in the US. So once you get the threshold, people feel strong enough actually.
Andrew: And we always as those of us who are… who like to think of ourselves as politically engaged professors, we want students… the thing we hate, or say we hate is apathy. But when our students are engaged in this fashion, and students when they engage on campus, it’s often about things outside of campus. The larger world that they’re protesting, but campus is their place and we don’t like the results. I just think we… as campus professors and administrators should just be a little patient, even if we don’t like the trajectory of their politics necessarily.
Andrew: I mean, I see it as my role to help them if I can, and if they’re willing. Understand the larger context of what’s going on and maybe they can have a more effective politics. But of course, that’s tricky because identitarian politics would lead itself to the logic that me as a White man would have trouble explaining… or teaching them anything with regards to why they should be mad or protesting or that type of thing.
Steve: When I see students here protesting, even if disagree with what they’re pushing for, I always feel like these are young people, they have energy, they’re trying to make society better. So I always try to look at it from that perspective even if I disagree with what they’re pushing for. I wanted to ask, just broadening our discussion out from campus a little bit to the whole country. It seems to me that you’ve got one political party saying, “Yay, White people are soon going to be a minority in this country and we’re every day working as hard as we can to reach that promise land.” It seems to me crazy to think that a very large fraction of White people aren’t going to find that a little bit disturbing.
Steve: So do you think that in the future, we’re inevitably going to end up with culture wars that are more and more polarized by race in this country? With the Republican Party becoming the party of White people?
Andrew: Well I feel like we’re already there. Is it going to more polarized by race?
Steve: I mean, right now there’s still a fair number of White voters who vote for Hillary or [inaudible 00:39:50] I think that could change.
Andrew: I think that it could become even more debased. I recently read Naomi Kline’s new book. Agree or disagree with her politics, she makes I think a really interesting point and it’s about… it’s a defense of the new green deal. Her argument is that as we begin to experience the effects of climate change, we have to… we can’t try to deal with climate change through policies that are external to social policies, because the main thing that we’re going to experience at a political and social level is predominantly White populations. Whether it be North America, or Europe, or Australia, setting up barriers to people from elsewhere. I feel like we’re already there at a micro level compared to what it might be, and that this creates a racial animist that can be extremely dangerous, and that I think will dominate our politics for many years coming, going forward.
Andrew: But where that leaves Black Americans, or where that leaves minorities who are already in the United States is an open question. Or where that leaves good White liberals is an open question as well.
Steve: I think… and Corey’s made this point as well. I think where it leaves at individual Black person or an individual Asian American person, it’s not clear, right? They could come out on either side of this as my… rabidly pro-Trump cousins from Los Angeles are evidence of. But as far as the White population, it just seems very plausible to me that they’re going to concentrate more and more heavily in the Republican Party if the Democratic Party keeps going in the direction that it’s currently going in. Do you agree or disagree with that?
Corey: Well the data doesn’t look like that actually at the generational level, right? The problem is that social issues are pretty important to people’s voting, and the young people bought into the left social program basically. They’re not religious. They want a multicultural society. They want sex ed. Since the climate change is a social issue, they’re pro… taking steps toward mitigating climate change. So that I think is a force which is actually working strong against Republicans, and of course, this is a… you basically have a series of force of vectors, like pushing parties in different ways. There’s a race component, but there’s a social component, and at this point, it looks like the social one is actually winning. As far as the choice for Democrat or Republicans-
Corey: [crosstalk 00:42:23]
Steve: So one alternative hypothesis would be the Republican Parties going to become increasingly the party of old White people, but not White people. I think that’s possible. I also think it’s very possible that younger White Americans are going to end up in the Republican Party if the Democratic Party continues in the trajectory that it’s in. I mean, I’m not saying that we know the answer, but I think they’re both possible.
Andrew: I mean, I think Corey’s right that generational trends would lean against this thesis that the Republican Party, more and more White people will move into the Republican Party. But I wouldn’t hang my hat on generational trends lasting. There’s a famous line by Khrushchev some party apparatchik told him that, “Oh, it’s hard to make these changes because of all the old ladies, but eventually they’ll be dead.” And Khrushchev said, “No, there’ll just be more old ladies.” So I think it’s really difficult to hang our hat if we want this progressive social change. Hang our hats on generational change. It may or may not happen, but people have been waiting for that since the 60s, and it’s long been the case that, “Oh, well…” People argue once a certain demographic dies off, things will be dramatically different and in some cases it’s happened like with these cultural changes you’ve talked about. That you have seen that have been rather alarming in terms of the shift, but in other ways, especially when it comes to… I don’t know, racial animosity. Maybe we haven’t seen as much transformation generationally speaking as we would hope.
Corey: I would actually disagree with that. I think… [inaudible 00:44:05]
Andrew: Which part?
Corey: I think there’s been a serious reduction racial animosity actually. I think coming to the Midwest has been extremely enlightening for me. I spent 10 years in the West Coast, part of it in Seattle in the 90s. I lived in D.C., New York. I lived in probably the most conservatively social part of the country that I’ve ever been in, and I’m shocked at the racial comfort you experience walking around here.
Steve: Being a member of the bi-coastal elite, Corey thought that Michigan was part of Appalachia or the Deep South before he moved here. So he’s shocked that there’s actually a different part of the country with different characters.
Corey: And even when you get outside of the core part of east Lansing I’m surprised. So I’m just saying as a Black person, I walk into places right now to have breakfast that they’re all White and not like you type White guys Andrew, you know what I mean? People who look honestly like people who would call rednecks, and they’re perfectly nice. There’s no discomfort. There’s no… they play with my kid. They’re smiling. They’re being currently nice. I took my father into these places and I point out to him that this would have been a very uncomfortable experience 20 years ago, all right?
Corey: I think I’ve told all you about the experience being in Seattle and walking into the IHOP with a lesbian friend I was traveling with, and having the place go silent, right? In Bellingham, Washington in the mid 90s, it’s totally different here, right? You go into many, many context here where I’m the only Black person and there’s just no response. The reaction is very, very different and I think it’s… there’s been significant racial change among the young. I think it’s actually captured in polls, but I think these high profile clashes you see like Charlottesville and so forth are very different.
Corey: I’m going to give you an example, I think it’s actually worldwide. I was in Munich about two years ago and in spring they have a small version of Oktoberfest and I walk into this massive beer hall, and people drinking and I’m a little bracing myself, right? I’m walking in there to this… I think large numbers of potentially drunk young Germans. I’m thinking, “Oh god. Am I getting looked at? Am I getting something said to me?” And I walk in and nobody notice me except for these three interracial Black girls who looked up and kind of smiled. Other than that, I was completely invisible. That’s a generational change, right? It was not like that when I was in Germany frequently in the late 80s and 90s.
Steve: Well, I have to agree with your social logical observation Corey. I think the level of tension between ethnic groups in the country has gone down since 30 years ago. Meanwhile, the shrillness of people screaming about their victim hood and identity has gone up by several orders of magnitude. So I find it very strange.
Andrew: People who are shrill and screaming about their victim hood and identity include White men, some White people. It’s not just a-
Corey: Yeah, this is an issue that actually came up a little bit with our discussion of our conservatives where we’re trying to discuss benefits to being White and Pence’s detriment and he was not down with acknowledging there was many benefits. So I want to get into a couple of the modern… what you think are the really modern issues with the culture wars. So the obvious one again is the current version of race exemplified by Black Lives Matter and issues of… debate over police brutality. Trump calling NFL players took the knee, sons of bitches, Trump’s birtherism, you kind of compare Trump to Reagan in your conclusion and recall the speech that Reagan gave in Neshoba County, Mississippi which is where the three civil rights workers: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 64. He talks about states rights giving a… dog whistle basically about racial animas being okay. You say that Trump’s kind of dispensed the dog whistle. He’s just picked up a blow horn.
Andrew: That seems to be the case, and I think this is consistent with Steve describing this rearguard action. Trump delights his audiences in not being PC. In fact, in being as anti-PC as possible and part of this has been dispensing with coded race talk. In the ways… like the coded language of somebody like Nixon, when he made law and order a massive issue in 1972. People knew what he was talking about to some degree, or the right people knew what he was talking about. He’s trying to win over southern White voters. Or with Reagan in that instance, this does not seem to be the case with Trump.
Andrew: I mean, it’s not like he’s speaking necessarily like Bill Connor, but there’s… he’s pushed buttons that I don’t think have been pushed by a major national figure in quite some time. And to me, that’s a little bit different. Maybe it has to do with… this aggrieved sense amongst a small minority of people, but it’s a large enough minority that can still, if it coalesces correctly, bring electoral victory.
Corey: It’s quite shocking to me actually that this works. I would never have thought that this polarization would… keep someone a viable candidate. I thought you’d solidify a certain base and you’d drive enough people, and that would lead you to be… to have too few voters to actually vibe to compete in an election.
Andrew: Well if you think about the context of the electoral college, and if you think about the advantages Democrats have demographically and we’ve spoken to these, right? Especially growing urbanization and cosmopolitanism, etc. It’s really the only viable option the Republicans have right now and he just did it really well I think, and did it in a… but I don’t think even then it could usually work. I don’t expect it necessarily to work in 2020. I think that the Democrat candidate in 2016 ran a really incompetent campaign and was the wrong candidate.
Andrew: I mean, maybe I’m being a little bit hopeful for 2020, but I don’t think it’s at a national level can often work, but in the context of an electoral college that really is just about five states, it can work.
Steve: I don’t know about your optimism about Trump being defeated. I think there’s a very good chance he’s going to win in 2020.
Andrew: I mean, I would put odds that… I mean, I think he could for the very reasons we’re talking about.
Corey: Terrible candidates on the Democratic side?
Steve: Yeah, that’s the real issue.
Andrew: Well it’s hard to know. I mean, the idea that… of what makes somebody a good candidate doesn’t really emerge until they get in the general election. There’s always handering about candidates up until the general election. 2016, amongst many Democrats being different because they thought Hillary Clinton was the perfect candidate and it turns out, she was not a good candidate whatsoever.
Corey: Of course, it is hard to predict and there’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. I personally am shocked at the weakness of the candidates that are running right now. All of them have obvious problems that I think everyone can see going to this election. I’m not sure that’s always true when you identify… Biden looks like he’s too old, maybe cognitively impaired. Bernie looks too far left, and he just had a heart attack. Warren looks like she’s from Massachusetts, she’s hyper left-wing. She has a main policy proposal that most people don’t like, and she’s a Harvard professor, right?
Corey: I think Buttigieg is a mayor, right? We never elected a mayor before and he’s gay. We never elect a gay person before, right? I think it’s rare to find… to be able to sit back and identify a set of people who are leaders in a campaign who like like they can’t… may not be able to beat a very weak candidate on the other side.
Andrew: Well, I mean and you’re focusing on the particularities of the candidates, but I would say that the larger issue and the why so many Democrats are uneasy going into 2020 is because there’s a massive divide in the Democratic Party itself. Between a left and center that hasn’t been this animated since the 60s, or early 70s. So a party that divided, and the Democratic Party is divided. The only that unifies it is it’s desire to defeat Trump and that might be enough, but a party that divided, it’s going to seem as if the candidates are weak because they’re having trouble gathering anywhere near a majority of Democrats.
Corey: I think it’s an independent reason to be concerned, right?
Steve: Yeah, I think Corey’s reason were independent.
Corey: I think the weakness of the candidates seems to be objective, and there’s other problem hanging out there too, which is the division.
Steve: I’m curious what you think of my heterodox view on Trump as somebody who is old enough… I think Corey and I are older than you to remember when Art of the Deal came out, and could be purchased at Waldenbooks during the Christmas season. This guy has been a Manhattan Democrat really. Social progressive, donate a lot of money to Democratic candidates. I think that Clinton’s attended… or he attended Chelsea’s wedding, etc. etc. So it’s a guy whose mainly been on the left actually, or at least progressive, even though on the right maybe on economic issues, because he’s a business guy. Just realized that no one’s willing to talk about immigration, which a lot of Americans care about, and he was willing to touch that third rail and then also to be un-PC and being a very, very gifted sales and marketing conman guy basically won the election. But he’s not actually intrinsically a disciple of Adolf Hitler despite the way the left wants to portray him.
Corey: Well his main rise to power clearly racist trope of calling Obama… questioning Obama’s citizenship, right?
Andrew: Yeah. Birtherism.
Steve: It is weird that during the Obama presidency, bought into this birther theory and was involved into that kind of thing.
Corey: Bought into it? He basically created it.
Steve: Okay, I don’t know if he actually created it.
Corey: Not created it, but he took it from a marginal phenomenon-
Steve: Sure. He was involved in that, which I think is a little bit strange.
Andrew: He lead it. I mean-
Andrew: It wouldn’t have been a thing without Trump, yeah.
Steve: But if you look at… if you just ask… for somebody who’s been watching him for over 30 years, I never had in my mind that he was a racist.
Corey: Even after the Central Park Five? Even after Central Park Five-
Steve: I think you got to go back and look at the facts on the Central Park Five. Don’t judge it on the Netflix documentary. I think… I remember following that in real time. The situation was quite different than people currently remember it.
Corey: But the guy that confessed… I mean, another guy confessed and-
Steve: Well, even his confession is not reliable.
Andrew: But Trump’s reaction to it I think is indicative. When I think of Trump, I mean I agree with you in many respects. He sort of became a cipher, but on the other hand, he and his father especially have this long history of being these asshole slum lords, like the biggest slum lords in the entire city of New York and there’s a harsh crude politics of class and race there that I think fits his current persona as a president. But he’s basically the asshole that the right was looking for, and it’s worked really well for him and he knows how to be the right kind of asshole.
Steve: I would say the right was not looking for him. The right has tried to destroy him from the very beginning, because he’s not an establishment Republican. He’s in some ways too progressive for them-
Corey: [crosstalk 00:55:50] the right, the Fox News populace right. Not the right establishment.
Steve: Oh sure, the populace right he won over, because he set out to win over. But the Republican establishment has been very anti-Trump from the beginning.
Andrew: Yeah, so I had in mind the base, the voters who are looking for somebody-
Steve: I agree with that.
Andrew: And the Fox News pundits, I mean-
Steve: Most of them, but not all of them.
Andrew: Most of them.
Andrew: But Trump I think is also… he’s the type of person, once he finds people who love him, he’s going to adopt whatever ideology is required to continue to gain their love. So he… I think he’s fully bought into his policies now, or his rhetoric now. Fully bought in.
Steve: Yeah, I think you might be right about that. I think these aren’t… were not deeply held beliefs for most of his adult life, but maybe now he’s heavily attached to them. But yeah, even though it’s not entirely clear. I mean-
Andrew: It doesn’t matter though. It doesn’t really matter what he believes.
Corey: This is something that… I mean, a couple things don’t matter, right? May not matter what he believes, his actual behavior doesn’t matter beyond the policy he pushes. The people support him, want him and this is a sign of political maturity to some extent. They just want certain policies enacted. They don’t care who the vehicle is, how that vehicle behaves, what that vehicle believes. It’s something very different from the left, who I think requires a virtue test for their politicians. I think that is a sign of real politic that the left should probably learn from.
Andrew: I mean, you can see this in the different response to the Me Too movements. Trump… what Trump has done, and admitted to is far worse than anything Al Franken’s ever done. But one is still the president and the other was kicked out of the Senate.
Corey: Without investigation.
Steve: That was tactful mistake on Franken’s…
Corey: Well that’s on the Democrats part also-
Corey: For hounding about the Senate.
Steve: Yes exactly.
Corey: So this brings us to another one of the current issues, which is Me Too and you discussed this as next generation feminist movement that merged into your book. How do you view this in context of the previous culture wars?
Andrew: So there’s a lot of continuity because one of the main… premises of the feminist movement, women’s liberation that emerged in the 60s and 70s was to sort consciousness raising about the issues that seem to matter to them, especially related to being a woman in a man dominated world. Part of it was finding ways to… female solidarity as a way to break entrenched power, and to me that seems like what… that’s been part of the logic of Me Too is… it’s like being public about the things happening to you and finding allies amongst other women, in particular in order to shame and criminalize behavior towards women.
Andrew: I mean, there’s a lot of continuity there, and… I think as with the 1980s, 1990s feminism, it’s been taken to some weird extremes and there’s been strange bedfellows. I probably should use that term, but… like for example, when some feminist theorists like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin formed alliances with the Christian rights in the 1980s and anti-pornography politics. I see this manifesting in some strange ways with Me Too and there’s a moral puritanicalism that it gets tied to it. So there’s the impetus of Move too I think is powerful and necessary in many respects, but it just plays out in weird ways. So in my conclusion, I write briefly about how there’s one woman who was trying to get a 1936 painting pulled from the Metropolitan Museum in New York based upon some sort of depiction of a teen, a woman… or a girl teenager. It’s a 1936 painting, so-
Corey: I think it’s 38 actually in your-
Andrew: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for the factual correction.
Steve: There doesn’t seem to be any allowances made for the fact that norms were different just 20, 30 years ago. Let alone 100 years ago-
Steve: So everything from the past is being judged by the correct zeitgeist, right?
Steve: So Andrew, I wanted to ask you, I think you occasional write for Jacobin?
Steve: And I listen to their… I think they have a podcast which I listen to. So I’m curious, what is the view of… I don’t know if you guys get together, the Jacobin… the social [inaudible 01:00:51] what’s your view of how things are going to go with neoliberalism and… incoming equality, all these things. All these things which you guys must be heavily opposed to.
Andrew: Yeah. Oh I can’t speak necessarily for Jacobin, buy my sense is that although most of them I think are pretty realistic. There’s more optimism amongst them than there probably is amongst… probably is on my part, and they look around at their milieu and they see the popularity of Bernie Sanders. They see the rise of Democratic Socialists of America to 60,000 members, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but actually for a left-wing organization in the United States, it’s pretty significant. They see these things and they see the crumbling popularity of centrists positions in the Democratic Party, and they tend to be pretty optimistic.
Andrew: My view is that I think neoliberalism as a valid ideology is crumbling, but it’s practice will persist for many, many years going forward and the ideologies that will come to replace it are more likely to be right-wing than left-wing, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for the left-wing version.
Steve: Yeah, I sort of agree with you. It seems like it’s maybe more going to be a left… I mean a right-wing response to dissatisfaction among say working class people.
Andrew: Yeah, but I think that’s one of the larger indictments of neoliberalism is that it really has paved the way. The destruction of the basic social Democratic consensus of the post-war era across the developed world, neoliberalism has destroyed that and it, and the most common response to it has been a right-wing populism. To me, that’s an indictment on neoliberalism much more so even that it’s own policies.
Steve: I think the one thing where there’s pretty strong bipartisan support in Washington is the idea that China is an existential threat, and that the United States has to react in a strong way to China. That might be the strongest threat to neoliberalism that-
Steve: Rather than, “Oh we’re grinding our own people into dust.” It’s more that, “Oh, if we keep allowing free trade, etc. The Chinese are eventually going to own America.” It seems like that second issue has more traction in Washington than the other one.
Andrew: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. Yeah. I mean, let me ask you both this. I tend to think that historically speaking, and this speaks to the larger issue of neoliberalism and what replaces it, if anything. But I tend to think in the grand scheme of things, 50 years from now, Obama will not be looked on favorably for a whole host of reasons, his eight years of presidency, but one of the main indictments of him is that Donald Trump became president after him.
Corey: You know, it’s… again, I don’t have a view of this. I guess my general sense is he would be looked at positively. But I think a lot of the reaction again to Trump… from Trump was in part the economic consequence, but I think that was partly the financial crises and perhaps Obama didn’t do as much. But look, Trump was also a racial reaction to Obama and you can’t hold the guy responsible for a [crosstalk 01:04:02]
Corey: Racial Backlash.
Andrew: No, no, no. That’s blaming the victim and we don’t do that.
Corey: But in a weird way, not as the victim, but like a… it’s not in the victim’s behavior, right? Maybe it was the wrong time to elect a Black president, right? You could say, and one could argue that it was a bit too early and America was just not ready for it. I argued strenuously before Obama was elected that America was not ready for a Black president. There’s no way America will elect a Black president. Let’s be realistic about this. Of course, proved totally wrong on the electoral outcome, but again, it’s very hard to see how this will play out. I would be surprised if he’s viewed very badly, but I think many people close to him acknowledge he did not do enough in the aftermath of financial crisis. He did not hold the banks accountable. He did not do enough to shore up people who lost their homes and lost their businesses through it. He’s just way too easy on Wall Street.
Steve: Yeah, I think that if you’re on the right, then you were… you might say, “Hey, Obama wasn’t that bad.” Because he basically bailed out Wall Street. He was pretty friendly with the financiers, no problem. He was a big support of neoliberalism. If you’re on the left, the criticism of him will be just that as well, right? I don’t think that blaming him for Trump is really very fair.
Andrew: No. Well I mean, okay. It’s an overstatement, but it’s a productive one. Obama, if you’re just a Democratic functionary, Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party did very little to build the Democratic Party.
Corey: That’s definitely true, yeah. He built his own organization to the nines.
Steve: Hey Andrew, I’m curious what you think of these… this recent… I think it’s a recent phenomenon of people who were just recently president like less than a decade ago, or five years ago suddenly having net worth of $100 million, or in the Clinton’s case, $500 million. I think it’s a new level of corruption. It seems to me that in the past, rich people would fund your campaign and the deal would be, “We will make you the most powerful person in the world for four years, or eight years, but you’re not going to become a centimillionaire as part of the bargain on the backend.” Yet now, I think it’s especially with the Clinton’s and now Obama, I think if you check Obama’s net worth, rather mysterious to me. These guys are all phenomenally wealthy, and that seems to be a relatively new phenomenon.
Andrew: Yeah. I think it’s… people, critics would say this is the neoliberal grift.
Steve: Yes. No, that’s exactly how I would characterize it. Yeah.
Andrew: And that’s why the Ukraine thing is really tricky for Democrats in particular Biden, because it’s very clear that his son got rich off of his name, and off of nothing else.
Andrew: And maybe it might be a legal form of corruption, but it’s still a grift and people are going to see it for what it is. So I don’t think… the more attention drawn to Ukraine, the less Biden comes out looking well, which is one of the reasons why he’s been very quiet on the whole thing.
Steve: I think Pelosi at all were ready to burn Biden in order to proceed with what they’re currently doing, right? They just probably concluded like, “He’s too old. Cognitive decline. Someone else will be our candidate so we can burn this guy to attack Trump again.”
Andrew: Yeah, maybe so. Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Yeah. Yeah.
Corey: You make an interesting argument linking neoliberalism to the debate over the canon. So if you could just read the passage where you really argue that yeah, the left won the culture wars, but it was… in the end, it was all made irrelevant by neoliberalism.
Andrew: Yes, and this is an argument that I don’t know if it’s pleasing anybody, but I make it anyways. Here it goes. American universities are currently more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. Women form the majority of college students nationwide. Aligned with these new demographics, the humanities are taught in much more inclusive ways. The canon is livelier than ever. The left won those culture wars, but the victories have proven puric. These days, not enough students want to study the humanities and justify their existence to cost conscious administrators, and few public voices are heard defending them, especially conservative voices.
Andrew: In the dog eat dog world of neoliberal capitalism, a humanities education of the type that inculcates intellectual curiosity and humanistic empathy serves no purpose, compared to such real world pursuits as vocational and managerial training. The neoliberal outlook which pervades politicians from right-wingers like Wisconsin governor, now ex-governor Scott Walker. To liberals like Obama is fine with revised canons with more inclusive multicultural understandings of the world, but not with public money supporting something so seemingly useless as the humanities.
Andrew: In the age of neoliberalism, people who call themselves conservatives have abandoned their traditionalist defense of the western canon in favor of no canon at all. Culture warriors have been over taking by events. A bipartisan neoliberal consensus that emphasizes job training as education [inaudible 01:09:12] now dominates the landscape.
Corey: Now I think some of that I agree with and some of that I disagree with. Generally, I find the term neoliberal a little bit squishy, because I think anything that encompasses Obama, Scott Walker to Pinochet… is not a very…
Steve: It’s definitely a squishy term.
Andrew: I think it’s easily definable as the idea that markets best serves society. Serves society better than government.
Corey: I don’t think Obama believes that.
Andrew: He often acted as he did. But see, I’m not describing Obama necessarily as neoliberal, but his attitude toward education was often neoliberal.
Corey: Well I think… look, I think he did a few, pretty salient things, right? One point he makes fun of art history majors, and at another point, he does joke that vocational training is bound to make more money than history majors. I don’t know if the guy… he may be right in fact, in saying that, but he did not try to cut NEH, or NEA. He didn’t go out of his way to increase their funding, but he was a mainstream Democrat when it came to supporting the arts and humanities. He may be more realistic about the fact. It’s a really challenging job environment out there.
Corey: My sense of the real change in what students study is it really comes from the students themselves. Kids are worried about getting jobs, and they’re making a calculation, which I think in fact, may be wrong. That not something humanities at all is the best way to get them there. I think there’s actually pretty good evidence of having some technical training, and having critical thinking skills, which you get from courses like philosophy are actually incredibly useful, right? I mean, studies have shown that philosophy increases critical thinking skills and not much else does.
Andrew: Not much else? Other than-
Corey: Well I guess the evidence is part of the largest uptake. Where I think 20… [inaudible 01:11:07] people’s critical thinking skills, right? When they come into the school… what the book Left Behind found, you have to basically write approximately 40 pages a semester, 20 pages a semester, or 40 pages a semester and then read a certain number of pages a week. That’s what they found increased your score on this, but people in engineering do remarkably badly on critical thinking skills. You can just look at the book, it’s kind of a shocking surprise.
Andrew: Well I mean, it conforms to my expectations. I just thought the isolation of philosophy as the discipline that… I found that peculiar.
Steve: I disagree with what Corey just said, but I don’t think we have enough time to get into it. So I’m just going to put a marker in that.
Corey: We can invite the left… academically drift guys on to come talk about their findings.
Steve: But I do want to say that in your… this piece that you read, yeah. So I feel that right-wing defense or lack of defense of the humanities, there’s a little bit of a counter factual that you have to explore here, because if you the humanities had stayed in support of the Western canon, I think there would be stronger conservative support for it. So there’s two independent factors here. Is the knowledge that you’re gaining economically useful and that plays more along these neoliberal lines, and the second issue is, did they just the gut the humanities and turn it into some multicultural grievance studies discipline? And now they don’t even learn, they don’t read Plato, or Socrates, or Shakespeare and so why should I defend that? So there’s two axis here that are going on.
Andrew: Well yeah, there’s no doubt and these aren’t mutually exclusive actually. But I find it historically conservative. I mean, historically interesting, historically peculiar that within 30 years, the mainstream conservative line on the humanities as stated by people like Alan Bloom, or William Bennett. William Bennet, Secretary of Education at the time, was that all Americans should be reading these core humanities texts, and we would be a better nation, a better citizenry for it. You don’t hear arguments like that made very often, at least not in the mainstream by conservatives anymore. Rather, the more likely argument is… for example, recently in Florida, they purposed legislation such that it would be more expensive at state universities if you majored in the humanities, because they consider it a luxury.
Andrew: I mean, this is a shift and I’m not saying that these two different… these two things are mutually exclusive. If conservatives had won the canon wars, maybe they would be much more onboard with it, but I tend to think of it as a larger shift away from a humanistic… even to some degree, paleo right to a much more libertarian right.
Corey: Well if you look at… I think there is division on the right as far as these adages go. You read some of this… I guess we call highfalutin conservative publications, there’s still very much supportive of the canon, right? If you go back and look at magazines like National Review and I don’t know Commentary’s still around, but National Review definitely has regular reviews of great books and books about great books and so forth. What you’re seeing at the cost cutting at the state level is really Republicans who are just not fundamentally intellectual probably, or maybe just much more vocationally oriented, right? And just don’t see value in it.
Corey: But I think in the same way, in the left, you find the same division. I think Steve’s entirely right. It’s not just that… look, academic departments have to realize they need constituency outside of themselves to survive. You can’t be really focused and navel gazing, or alienate yourself from public funding and you can go in the crazy direction like a lot of people have gone as far as these identity studies, but philosophy that made exactly the same problem, right? Analytic philosophy tried to imitate science and got so narrow that nobody else outside of analytic philosophy, even inside philosophy, other people just stopped caring about it and it’s begun to dwindle just for that reason.
Corey: So unless you can show some value to society, and philosophy can argue that look, they do incredibly well in the LSATs, right? I think they get the best score in the LSAT, that was their selling point for years. Students would take if you wanted to become pre-law.
Andrew: But I feel like the philosophy history, some of the major disciplines of the humanities have shifted gears in the way that you would advise them to. Certainly history has, maybe not English yet, but… there are a lot of prominent, prominent historians who are making the very case that you’re making. Somebody like Joe Lepore and who are trying to write for broader audiences and also trying to advocate for a history that could connect with nonacademic constituencies.
Corey: That’s happened a little bit in philosophy, right? But a lot of philosophy has gone in a very different way towards critical race studies, again, identity politic. Some people have begun to write for more public policy type audiences, but it requires a very different skillset though what most philosophers have. You actually have to be able to do research on empirical topics.
Corey: Yeah, it’s… for a guy like you, it may not seem unusual, but philosophers used to putting a good argument in the absence of evidence. That’s much easier. Again, I’m not sure that neoliberal has killed, I think students are much more practical now. Just fundamentally, right? I have friends who kid’s graduate from Amherst College one of the top schools, who have a really hard time finding jobs.
Steve: But I think Andrew’s point would be the triumph of neoliberalism has forced families and individual kids to be thinking mainly about their economic prospects and there in that way driven this direction of decline of the humanities.
Corey: Has neoliberalism forced Amherst College graduates? Is there economic chain? Does it maybe independent of it, but maybe it’s all neoliberalism, but it’s just-
Andrew: Well I don’t know the numbers at Amherst, but an elite like Ivy League institutions… many of the humanities disciplines, especially history are still thriving. It’s been at the lower level. State institutions, places like my school where we’ve been hurt. We’re actually doing fairly well, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we train teachers and for whatever reason, people still want to be history teachers.
Corey: Yeah, I’m not honestly sure about the enrollment of these places, but I do know that humanities majors at some of these elite schools have had trouble finding jobs coming out.
Steve: Yeah. I think that’s true.
Steve: I think that’s true. But I guess just to repeat myself, I think the issue is if you think of neoliberalism as this system that forces people to be really focused on economic outcomes and secondly creates pretty strong wealth, and income and equality then basically as a family, you have to be very, very focused on not missing your chance to have a lucrative career, and not incur a lot of debt and all those pressures. I think probably are problematic for the humanities.
Andrew: Yes, especially for first generation college students, which we’re getting an increasing, higher percentage of at places like Illinois State University. You’re the first person in your family to go to college, your parents are making a lot of sacrifices for you in a tough job market. I get it, they’re not going to… they don’t want their kids to major in something as esoteric as philosophy.
Steve: But getting back to this definition of neoliberalism, you could say, “Well I don’t know what you mean by neoliberalism,” but when a billion Indians and a billion Chinese-
Steve: Enter the labor market, you are going to be driven to harder times and more pragmatic times.
Corey: It’s just more [inaudible 01:18:49] in the world, and the US is no longer of the universe economically.
Steve: But then, this gets back to now the definition of neoliberalism, because somebody might say, “Well, why did we have to have free trade with those guys? Why don’t we just lock them out of our market and then we would be fine?” Maybe that’s an anti-neoliberalists stance, I don’t know but… these things are very complicated.
Andrew: There’s no… it wasn’t necessary by the fact of increasing international competition. There was no necessary by product that we had to cut our own social spending. There’s… the logic there… it gave people an opportunity for sure.
Steve: Yeah, we didn’t… I don’t know that we… whether or not we had to cut our own social spending, but the pressure on an individual American worker to go more upstream in terms of skills, in order to get ahead of these masses of Indians and Chinese. I think that pressure was real.
Corey: Yeah. I think that’s independent of the social spending actually. I think that was inevitable, right? I think it’s part of the premise of your book, the culture wars were in some sense a luxury of a time in which America was preeminent economically.
Steve: I agree with that.
Corey: Has begin to decline.
Steve: Certainly the flavor of the culture wars that we had in the 80s and 90s, like Robert Mapplethorpe, but that’s all a luxury. You can’t have that problem when some Chinese and Indians are threatening to hollow out all of your industries all at once, you know?
Corey: Exactly, yeah. Or [inaudible 01:20:06] actually don’t have to eat at home, right?
Steve: Yeah like, “Oh, can we depict that in a museum or not Corey? I don’t know.” Well I actually just want to have food for dinner tonight.
Andrew: Well I think that’s why Trump is such a much more visceral culture warrior. He’s fighting to keep Mexicans and other what he would call rapists out, because they’re coming here to take our jobs and it’s a much different sense than Mapplethorpe.
Corey: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I was at the very beginning of this discussion, I was questioning really has really what you are calling the culture wars shifted tremendously? Because I think it’s reasonable for Americans to have a process where they decide, “Should we let one million new Americans into this country per year? Should it be twice that? Should it be half that? Oh, we can’t have a national discussion because if I take one side of the discussion, I’m a racist and a Nazi?” That is just not right, and that is the current culture war, and it’s very different from can Robert Mapplethorpe take a photo of somebody peeing on a cross. I mean, those are very different issues.
Andrew: I agree.
Corey: We’re about at the end of our time with you Andrew, but thank you very much. This has been a really interesting discussion.
Steve: Thanks a lot.
Andrew: Yeah, thanks for having me on.