Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Yet another federal attempt to gut libraries, museums, and humanities

It’s becoming an annual ritual.  This is the fourth time the Trump administration has proposed a budget that would eviscerate the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

As I’ve said on previous occasions when this idiotic idea has been put forward, if you think you don’t benefit from these programs, think again.  Ever been to a history museum?  Researched your genealogy?  Read a biography?  Listened to a talk by a prominent historian?  If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve made use of programs or institutions that depend on NEH and/or IMLS support.

What’s really obscene about this is the fact that cutting NEH and IMLS wouldn’t even make a dent in the federal budget.  Sure, the money allocated to NEH last year might sound like a lot—but it’s barely a blip when you’re talking about the trillions of dollars that make up expenditures on the federal level.

Fortunately, these guys are 0-4 in trying to kill NEH and IMLS.  Contact your representatives and let’s make sure that track record holds up.

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Manifest destiny and the frontier in Trump’s State of the Union

Looks like the phrase “manifest destiny” still has legs, 175 years after John L. O’Sullivan coined it.  Trump went full-on frontier in his State of the Union Address:

In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation. Now we must embrace the next frontier, America’s manifest destiny in the stars. I am asking Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and the first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars.

It’s not the first time a president has invoked “manifest destiny” in the SOTU.  Woodrow Wilson did it in 1920:

The Old World is just now suffering from a wanton rejection of the principle of democracy and a substitution of the principle of autocracy as asserted in the name, but without the authority and sanction, of the multitude. This is the time of all others when Democracy should prove its purity and its spiritual power to prevail. It is surely the manifest destiny of the United States to lead in the attempt to make this spirit prevail.

Two speeches, a century apart, both invoking the same notion grounded in America’s frontier ideal—a notion made visible in Emanuel Leutze’s painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, which hangs in the very building where both speeches were delivered.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

O’Sullivan’s idea of manifest destiny was both territorial and ideological.  The U.S., he claimed, was ordained to “overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”  America was destined both to expand geographically and to carry democratic government with it.  It’s interesting that Wilson and Trump’s uses of the term each reflect a different aspects of O’Sullivan’s phrase.  Whereas Wilson used it to encourage the proliferation of American political institutions and ideals, Trump’s use reflects the territorial aspect.  If frontier expansion has always been intrinsic to America, as Trump claims, then planting more flags on moons and planets seems as logical as the annexation of the continent seemed to O’Sullivan.

Where Wilson and Trump’s speeches overlap is in a third aspect of O’Sullivan’s idea of manifest destiny—the notion of American exceptionalism.  For O’Sullivan, it was a matter of “Providence.”  For Wilson, it meant a responsibility serve as an exemplar of democracy for the Old World.  For Trump, it seems to be a matter of historical precedent, and those precedents are explicitly tied to the frontier ideal:

This is the country where children learn names like Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett, and Annie Oakley. This is the place where the pilgrims landed at Plymouth and where Texas patriots made their last stand at the Alamo — the beautiful, beautiful Alamo.

The American nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest, and most determined men and women ever to walk on the face of the Earth. Our ancestors braved the unknown; tamed the wilderness; settled the Wild West; lifted millions from poverty, disease, and hunger; vanquished tyranny and fascism; ushered the world to new heights of science and medicine; laid down the railroads, dug out the canals, raised up the skyscrapers. And, ladies and gentlemen, our ancestors built the most exceptional republic ever to exist in all of human history, and we are making it greater than ever before.

This is a sort of Turnerian notion of history, in which the taming of a wilderness defined the American character.  As one of my former graduate profs, Julie Reed, noted, this rhetoric that’s meant to inspire and create a sense of national unity and destiny must also leave quite a few Americans wondering where they stand, since this process of expansion and colonization happened at their ancestors’ expense.

But I think there’s another sense in which both Trump’s SOTU and his presidency as a whole reflect America’s frontier past.  In one of my favorite works of historical scholarship from the last few years, Patrick Spero has argued that many eighteenth-century Americans did indeed see themselves as a frontier people.  But when they used the word “frontier,” they meant not the leading edge of expansion, but rather “a vulnerable, militarized boundary.”

Despite Trump’s invocation of an optimistic, expansionist, and inspirational frontier ideal, much of his rhetoric seems closer to this eighteenth-century sense of America as a “frontier country.”  Trump’s America is a place where boundaries—geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural—are liable to incursion from dangerous, alien elements.  The impulse is thus to shore up these vulnerable boundaries and militarize them.  Indeed, with the creation of the “Space Force,” even the “next frontier” of the stars becomes militarized.

Spaceward the course of empire, I suppose.

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Filed under Frontier History, History and Memory

GDP: An eruption of paleonews

Fossil resources under threat, a volcanic trailer, two new theropods, and a tweeting tyrannosaur.  It’s all in today’s Gratuitous Dinosaur Post.

Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument. By US Bureau of Land Management (http://mypubliclands.tumblr.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

ITEM THE FIRST: You’ve probably heard about the Trump administration’s move to slash land away from Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-National Monument.  What you may not know is that the two sites are paleontological treasure troves.  In fact, their spectacular fossil resources helped get them established as national monuments in the first place.

Trump’s decision puts a lot of scientific data in jeopardy, so the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is taking the administration to court to try and stop it.  SVP President P. David Polly explains why this lawsuit is necessary:

When Grand Staircase-Escalante was set aside, there were very few areas anywhere in the world where we had a mammal fossil record right at the late Cretaceous period, when different mammal groups were diverging. Those fossils really filled a gap in mammal paleontology and put Grand Staircase on the map from a paleontological point of view. We now have the most extraordinary Late Cretaceous ecosystem documented anywhere. After the monument was established, a lot of the dinosaur material was discovered.

In Bears Ears, the very oldest and the very youngest fossils have been excluded, including one area that documents the transition from amphibians to true reptiles. In Grand Staircase, they’ve hacked off most of the very southern edge of the monument and the very eastern edge. That cuts out a really important interval in time, including the world’s greatest mass extinction, and the Triassic period, which is really when life started re-evolving again. Some of the mammal-bearing units I just described are out in their entirety. One of the great ironies is that the original localities where all the great discoveries were made in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to the founding of the monument, are now out of the monument.

[But on BLM lands managed for multiple uses,] if there’s another competing use the paleontology does not necessarily hold sway. An extreme example would be mining—if mining wins out, then the fossils can be destroyed. Second, the monument is better staffed, so it’s harder for someone to sneak in illegally and take things, whereas on ordinary BLM land it’s much less well policed.

Third, in national monuments where paleontology is one of the designated resources, there’s a whole special funding stream for research. A lot of the work that has been done at Grand Staircase has essentially been a public-private partnership. The funding through the monument has really made the science there blossom; we would not have seen the level or number of finds there over the last 20 years had that not existed.

ITEM THE SECOND: Now, how ’bout that Fallen Kingdom trailer?

As far as first trailers go, I like this one a lot better than Jurassic World‘s.  JW‘s trailer, I think, gave away a bit too much.  Revealing the helicopter crash in the aviary was especially unfortunate.  It undercut a lot of the shock we should’ve felt at Masrani’s death.

One thing the trailer does reveal is a ginormous volcanic eruption that triggers a dinosaur stampede.  This prehistoric plot trope dates back to the very dawn of dino movies, having been depicted in the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.  But I don’t think it’s ever been done as impressively as this.

The Baryonyx at 00:58 has been generating most of the buzz on the Interwebs, but I’m especially glad to see Carnotaurus finally making its debut in the film series.  Crichton featured this genus in the second novel, so it’s high time it showed up in the movies.

Fans have also been speculating about the identity of that carnivore at 1:51.  It looks a lot like an Allosaurus.  As a longtime allo fan, I’d love to see it in a JP movie, but it does seem a little odd to add such a standard carnosaur to a film franchise that already has quite a few big meat-eaters.  With so many weird theropods out there, you’d think they’d want to showcase some of the more offbeat ones.  Then again, since Allosaurus fossils are plentiful, I suppose it’s as likely to turn up in a dinosaur theme park as any other big predator.

ITEM THE THIRD: Halszkaraptor, the newly christened, semi-aquatic theropod from Mongolia, had a goose’s neck, a raptor’s claws, and a snout full of sensors like a crocodile’s.  Convergent evolution is a heck of a thing.

ITEM THE FOURTH: One of the most famous fossils in Haarlem’s Teylers Museum is getting a new name…again.  In 1970, while examining the museum’s pterosaur collection, John Ostrom determined that its type specimen of Pterodactylus crassipes wasn’t a pterodactyl at all, but an Archaeopteryx.  Now a team of researchers has identified the Teylers fossil as a new genus of dinosaur, which they’ve named Ostromia crassipes.

ITEM THE FIFTH: Chicago magazine caught up with Sue, the Field Museum’s resident T. rex, to talk about social media and how she’ll be spending her downtime as she awaits her move to a new gallery:

There may be some behind-the-scenes hijinks while I’m off display getting ready to be remounted. As a (temporarily) disembodied rage emu, I can roam the halls and maybe check in on the new 122-foot-long sauropod playing door greeter. That is, if it can ever shut up about “going vegan.” WE GET IT YOU EAT KALE [leaf emoji].

Also, did you know less than 1 percent of The Field Museum’s collections are on public display? With some free time on my tiny, but powerful, hands I will finally be able to see EVERY rove beetle we have. And buddy…DEMS A LOT OF ROVE BEETLES.

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Filed under Gratuitous Dinosaur Posts, Museums and Historic Sites, Uncategorized

Monday Night Massacre?

UPDATE: Check out this HNN piece by David Shorten, who notes the problems inherent in interpreting current events with simple historical analogies.  He urges us to “give up on historical comparisons and replace them with historicism—to quit analogizing and start contextualizing.”

Well, look on the bright side.  This administration is going to be a freaking bonanza for historians looking to get on the talking head circuit.  The Lincoln folks had all the fun for eight years, but now we’re less than two weeks into the new regime and the Jacksonian scholars are already passing the mic to the Nixon experts.

U.S. President Donald Trump fired the federal government’s top lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and saying the Justice Department would not defend his new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.

The White House said on Twitter that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would replace Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, as acting U.S. attorney general.

…There have been only a handful of instances in U.S. history of top Justice Department officials publicly breaking with the White House. The most famous example was in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

And it looks like things are only gonna keep spiraling down from here.  If society totally breaks down, maybe us backcountry Rev War guys will get our fifteen minutes on C-SPAN.

NSFW but apropos and amusing:

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UTK historians on the 2016 election

Pundits like to toss around the word “historic” when referring to presidential elections, and the last election in particular stirred up a lot of talk about historical parallels.  But if you’re in the Knoxville area and you’d like to hear some actual historians weigh in, the University of Tennessee is hosting an Inauguration Eve symposium that might be of interest.  On Thursday, Jan. 19 these folks from UT’s Department of History will discuss the significance of the 2016 election, provide some historical perspective, and use the past to shed light on its implications:

  • Joshua Hodge, doctoral student specializing in nineteenth-century land use in the South
  • Bob Hutton, senior lecturer and authority on Appalachia
  • Max Matherne, doctoral student specializing in Jacksonian political thought
  • Brad Nichols, lecturer and specialist in Nazism and genocide
  • Tore Olsson, assistant professor and expert on the history of food, agriculture, the environment, and politics in the U.S. and Latin America
  • Julie Reed, assistant professor and authority on Cherokee social policy and education

This event will be in the Lindsay Young Auditorium of Hodges Library, 5:00-6:30 p.m.  It’s free and open to the public.  (And the panelists are some of my favorite people!)

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Filed under History and Memory