All posts by The Public Professor

About The Public Professor

The Public Professor is Akim Reinhardt, Associate Professor of History at Towson University in Baltimore.

My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

C-SPAN has a series of televised lectures on American history by college professors.  A colleague was kind enough to recommend me to them.  C-SPAN then asked for a list of potential lecture topics.  I submitted the list, and to my surprise, they asked to film my lecture on Victorian culture in America.   The producer said they she selected this lecture because it’s a bit different from the usual topics they get on the Revolution, the Civil War, and such.

I wrote this lecture a few years ago for the freshman introduction course on U.S. History since the Civil War.  The topic is pretty far from my research area, and nothing I actually specialize in, but I included it on the list because it’s gone over well in the past.  Maybe because it includes a discussion of sex.

So for those of you who have ever wondered just how boring it would be to sit and listen to me ramble on about history for an hour, here’s your chance.  Highlights include photos of dazzling Victorian fashions for men and women, some botched spelling and word history, and a nice cutaway shot of a student yawning.

The lecture was filmed on February 23, 2017 at Towson University.  It originally aired on C-SPAN 3 at 8pm, and then again at midnight opposite Saturday Night Live.  I haven’t checked the ratings, but I’m pretty sure I crushed them.

C-SPAN Lectures in History: Akim Reinhardt on Victorian Culture Continue reading My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

This Populist Moment

Last week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street firm Cantor and Fitzgerald.  It was the day’s major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that it simply wasn’t an issue.  Obama’s a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care.  When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible liberal or centrist (depending on the friend) outlooks.  But of course it wasn’t just the left.  The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left.  The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it.  Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis.  Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with.  Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black.  He was always subjected to intense racism.  And the racist backlash to his presidency, as much as anything else, helps explain Trump’s victory.  So was this just another example of that racial double standard?  It’s an important question to ask.

In the end, I don’t think it was.  Which is not to say that Obama is no longer subject to racism and double standards; he obviously is.  And those issues are still at play here, but I don’t believe they’re the driving force.  Because to mark race as the reason for a vast public outcry against his acceptance of money is to ignore the most salient point: where the money came from.

People are not upset that he made money.  Private citizen Obama collecting a $400,000 speaking fee doesn’t violate anyone’s principles, even racist assholes’.  Rather, the problem is that he very specifically took money from Wall Street.  The proof is clear: There wasn’t nearly as much griping when he signed a $20,000,000 book deal last month.

Why did that eight-figure windfall spark nowhere near the outrage this five-figure fee did?  Because no one’s worried that publishing money has corrupted Washington.  No one’s bitter about the book industry crippling the U.S. economy ten years ago, only to reap a massive bailout from taxpayers, and now running amok again.  And thus, virtually no criticism of twenty-million to publish what will probably be the kind of bland, self-serving memoir that every ex-president of late has authored.  But $400,000 from Wall Street is different, if for no other reason than the general public now views Wall Street differently than it used to.

Why did Obama take the speaking fee?  Should he have?  Should people be upset about it?  None of those questions interest me.   Rather, I believe the issue worth considering is: Why exactly did so many people get upset about it?

That question speaks to the current political moment, which Obama seems to have misread, much as the Democratic Party mainstream he represents has been doing for over a year now. Continue reading This Populist Moment

April Fools

Donald Trump’s first hundred days as president are nearly tallied.  Enough time has passed that we can now divide people who voted for him into two groups:

1. Those who: never liked Trump (but made a calculated decision to vote for him); have more  recently developed doubts; or will soon become disillusioned when Trump not only fails to deliver on his promises but actually does the opposite in many respects (eg., loses good paying blue collar jobs instead of creating them; contributes to a national healthcare scenario that’s worse than ObamaCare; doesn’t build a wall or at least doesn’t get Mexico to pay for it, etc.)

2. Suckers

Ahh, the sucker.

Most of us like to pretend we’re immune to crass charlatanism.  I’m not that gullible, you tell yourself, refusing to believe you could be seriously suckered.  Surely, someone as smart as you sees through the vulgar farces dangling before us.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that we all get taken for the proverbial ride now and again.  Continue reading April Fools

Coal Mining or Arby’s?

There’s a Washington Post article making the rounds on social media.  The shocking headline blares:

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People than Arby’s

People see that and think, Gosh, what’s all the fuss about then?

Obviously this is a dying industry that has already lost tens of thousands of jobs, which are not coming back because of market forces (fracking and OPEC oil dumps) and mechanization (strip mining).

As the article points out, even the head of the nation’s largest private coal company says Trump can’t bring these jobs back.  And anyway, that’s probably a good thing since coal is such a dirty energy source.

It’s all true, of course.  But that line of thinking, devoid of any larger context, overlooks an important point.

Once upon a time, miners fought and died to unionize, transforming themselves from debt peons paid in company scrip to middle class wages earners.

Meanwhile, most of today’s Arby’s workers are essentially modern wage peons.

Continue reading Coal Mining or Arby’s?

In Memoriam: Jimmy Breslin

Chuck Berry died yesterday.  That’s gobbling up a big chunk of the news cycle, as well it should.  Berry was not only a phenomenal talent, but a figure of singular importance in American cultural history.  However, I’ll leave others to sing his praises while I ponder the passing of another, lesser known giant.

Jimmy Breslin died yesterday at the age of 88.  And make no mistake about it.  That’s Jimmy, not James, no matter what his birth certificate said.

Largely unknown nowadays to most outside New York City, and even to those within the boroughs under the age of 50, Breslin was a longtime columnist for several city newspapers.  He was also a bestselling author of numerous books, most successfully with his 1969 novel The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a send up of the Mafia that was made into a forgettable film starring another iconic New Yorker, Jerry Orbach.

But at mid-century, when newspapers were central to American life, Breslin was among the best known writers in the nation.  And the whole time he was quintessentially New York. Continue reading In Memoriam: Jimmy Breslin

God Bless the #Millennials

According to a new poll, Donald Trump’s approval rating among voters age 18-30 is a measly 22%.

For those of you who really dig fractions, that’s less than a quarter.  Barely a fifth.

But wait.  It gets better.

A clear majority of these voters (57%) don’t just disapprove of the orange hair pie; they think his presidency is downright illegitimate.

Plain old disapproval?  That would be the 70% who don’t like his demeanor, and the whopping 80% who disapprove of his policies.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: God Bless the Millennials.

I don’t care if they can’t tie their own shoes.  Lord knows they’re the only thing standing between us and Ronald McDonald totalitarianism (that last line works on a couple of levels; think about it). Continue reading God Bless the #Millennials

American Regicide

Donald Trump is going down.   His house of cards will collapse at some point.   The leaks will keep flowing and eventually his position will become untenable.   Conflicts of interest.   Connections to Russia.   All of it will become too great a weight to carry, especially since The Donald has very few genuine allies in Washington.

The Democrats want him gone.  So too do most of the Republicans.  Hell, they never wanted him to begin with.  The GOP did everything it could to derail his candidacy, and only climbed aboard after Trump’s runaway train was the last red line careening towards the White House.  So for now they’re playing nice with the former Democrat who eschews Conservative dogma in a variety of ways and is loyal to absolutely no one save himself.  But when the moment comes, they’ll gladly trade Trump in for Mike Pence, a Conservative’s wet dream.

For all of these reasons, Trump may not make it to the finish line.  But there’s at least one more factor to consider: the precedent of regicide.  And to understand that, we should begin by briefly recounting the demise of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Young Osman II ascended the Ottoman throne in 1618 at the tender age of 14.  Wishing to assert himself, in 1621 he personally led an invasion of Poland, which ended with a failed siege of Chota (aka Khotyn, now in western Ukraine).  In a rather unwise move, Osman blamed the defeat on his elite fighting force, the Janissaries.  Afterwards, he ordered the shuttering of Janissary coffee shops, which he saw as a hotbed of conspiracies against him.  The Janissaries responded with a palace uprising.  In 1622 they imprisoned the 17 year old monarch and soon after killed him.  Because it was strictly forbidden to spill royal blood, they strangled him to death. Continue reading American Regicide

A Call to Arms

I recently heard from a mutual acquaintance that an old friend whom I’ve lost touch with plans to leave the country.  This soon-to-be emigrant is an immigrant with brown skin, and has quite understandably decided that he does not want to live in Donald Trump’s America.    He is also a British  citizen with a way out.

I don’t begrudge my old friend for wanting to move back to Great Britain now that Trump and his cavalcade of cronies have infested the White House.  For at least the next two years, the United States, and sadly much of the rest of the world given the United States’ size, power, and influence, will endure a stunning string of short and long term setbacks that, while difficult to predict the specifics of, will almost certainly range from the ridiculous to the serious and even the frightful.

Why sit in the center of the storm when you can reasonably take shelter elsewhere?  Especially as a person of color with a British passport, why endure the absurdities and horrors of America’s Trumpist turn?

No, I don’t blame him one bit for wanting to get out.

But me?  I’m gong to stay here and fight.  And this is not a decision I have reached recently.  It’s a conclusion I drew 25 years ago. Continue reading A Call to Arms

Outraged? Get Outrageous!

I was reading a friend’s FB post earlier today.  I respect this person immensely, although I disagreed with him on one point.  Which is good.  He’s the kind of dedicated and genuine intellectual who encourages honest exchanges.

My friend is thoroughly appalled by the American political situation at the moment, as am I.  But he is also not given to public displays of emotion.  And so perhaps it made sense that, with regards to politics, he warned us that,
“the satisfactions of flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right can make it less, rather than more, likely we are going to turn this thing around as soon as it can be turned around.”

This is where I disagreed with him.  I wrote a short response on his page as to why, but I would like to expand upon it here.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there are many things we can do to effectively oppose Trump.  We need a broad palette.  But one important thing we can do, I believe, is engage in occasional public displays of moral outrage.  Even flamboyant ones.

Public displays of moral outrage against the lunacy and mendacity of Donald Trump specifically, against his core of executive cronies, and against the GOP more generally, are actually a good and productive thing right now.  There are several reasons why, but before I list them, let me clarify what I mean by “flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right,” to borrow my friend’s words.

I am not advocating that we join the GOP in its filthy pit of lies and “alternative facts.”  While I’m going to advocate a fight fire with fire approach, I don’t think we should extend that to the Right’s immolation of the factual truth, lest we lose sight of the forest from the trees.   We should not sacrifice core principles of democracy to win the immediate battle.  Indeed, in many ways the fight must be fore those core principles.

So, for example, we should not counter their science denialism; (climate change, evolution) with politically convenient science denialism of our own; for example, let’s not start wooing the anti-vaxer vote by spurring that movement on.  And let’s not sink to the level of fabricating lies to smear Republicans.  For starters, it’s so unnecessary; given their horrible actions and hateful ideology, it’s easy enough to smear them with the plain truth.

Rather,  I am championing the notion that we become morally outraged at Trump’s and the GOP’s fabrications and falsehoods, their lies and lunacy, their brazen assaults on honesty and democracy.  Furthermore, I think we should feel free to publicly display our moral outrage.  Why?  For several reasons.

For starters, it is important to recognize that we are clearly past normal. Continue reading Outraged? Get Outrageous!