Past Present Podcast: Brexit, Camps for Grownups, and Trump’s Missing Campaign


On this week’s episode, Natalia, Neil, and Niki discuss Brexit, Adult Camps, and Trump’s faltering campaign.



Voters in Britain passed a referendum supporting the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Neil explained that although Brexit was supported by the minority party UKIP, it was able to bring the referendum to a vote because Prime Minister David Cameron promised he’d allow it if reelected in 2015 and because, as Niki pointed out, deep divisions in Cameron’s own Conservative Party. Natalia and Neil situated the Brexit vote in other historical questions about British unity, including the Irish Home Rule movement and the recent Scottish independence movement. Neil observed the British “leave” voters reminded him of white ethnic voters in Jonathan Reider’s history of Canarsie who left the Democratic Party as it moved away from labor rights to civil rights.

Adult Camps

More than a million Americans attended adult sleep-away camp last year. But why are they going? Natalia put these camps in the context of other popular childlike activities for adults, like adult coloring books and adult pre-school. Neil noted recent sociological arguments about the “extended adolescence” of adult urban-dwellers might help explain the adult camp phenomenon. Natalia shared that the summer camp consultant Jessica Borstein had also explained that changing economic circumstances, including children attending for shorter sessions, meant camps were looking to adult campers for additional revenue. Niki outlined the history of summer camps that originated in the 1880s as a way for boys living in cities to develop masculine traits. Neil noted the history of religious camps, particularly popular among Jewish Americans. Natalia connected that history to the rise of the Esalen Institute in the 1960s, as detailed in Jeffrey Kripal’s history of the California New Age retreat. Neil traced the desire to retreat to nature to find one’s “authentic self” back to Henry David Thoreau’s escape to Walden Pond. Natalia commented that the adult sleepaway camp Soul Camp focused on tapping into one’s authentic self and using camp as a time for personal growth.

Trump’s Faltering Campaign

Donald Trump’s campaign barely exists. In a recent column for U.S. News and World Report, Niki argued Trump’s lack of campaign had consequences not only for his November prospects but also for the GOP’s long-term. Neil observed Past Present’s early episode on Trump served as a cautionary tale about making predictions of Trump’s political future. Natalia noted recent articles have argued Trump has really carried out this presidential campaign to launch his own national news network. Niki remarked that political scientists have long argued campaigns don’t matter in determining election results, but she also contended Trump’s campaign has overturned most conventional wisdom about politics.

What’s Making History

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