Past Present Podcast: Baton Rouge, Christian Intellectuals, and Teaching Trump


In this week’s episode, Niki, Neil, and Natalia debate flood relief in Louisiana, the disappearance of Christian intellectuals, and teaching Trump in the classroom.

Baton Rouge Flood Relief

More than two feet of rain brought death and destruction to southern Louisiana recently. Natalia addressed the political dimensions of the Louisiana flood, including Donald Trump’s visit to the state and blaming President Obama for not going there. Niki argued the memory of George W. Bush’s bungling of Hurricane Katrina provided important context for the political meaning of the Louisiana flood. Neil situated the flood in a long history of flooding in Louisiana, including the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 as chronicled in John M. Barry’s classic book Rising Tide. Neil also commented on the history of federal relief for natural disaster, including the Federal Disaster Relief Act of 1950. Niki observed that suburban sprawl in Louisiana had worsened the destruction there as neighborhoods had expanded into the area’s 100-year floodplain.

Christian Intellectuals

What became of the Christian intellectuals? This is the question of a provocative new essay in Harper’s from Alan Jacobs, a professor at Baylor University. Neil commented that Jacobs’ essay focused on the lack of prominent Christian public intellectuals, but wondered if any public intellectuals remained in our current moment. Niki observed that Jacobs’ references to Reinhold Niebuhr as a model Christian intellectual of an earlier age made sense as Niebuhr’s works, such as The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, had highlighted the moral struggle of global events, like the Cold War. Natalia compared Jacobs’ thesis of Christian intellectuals’ retreat from public life with the argument of Christian marginalization made by other evangelical scholars such as Owen Strachan.

Teaching Trump

On college campuses and in the nation’s primary and secondary schools, many educators are wondering how to teach Donald Trump. Niki worried this was a partisan question in itself. Natalia cited Jonathan Zimmerman’s essay in the Atlantic that argued classrooms needed to engage controversial and diverse opinions brought out by the Trump campaign, but she also shared Michael Gerson’s Washington Post editorial that noted the word Trump has come to be seen as a racial slur. Neil discussed the controversy over the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Trump Syllabus and the response by the African American Intellectual History Society to create the Trump 2.0 Syllabus published by Public Books.

What’s Making History

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