Past Present Podcast: Prince, America First, and the Degree Divide


On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Prince, Donald Trump’s America First foreign policy, and educational inequality.


The legendary musician Prince died last month at the age of 57. Niki noted his New York Times obituary described Prince as a “songwriter, singer, one-man studio band and consummate showman.” Neil described Prince’s growing up in Minneapolis as important for understanding his musical style and persona. Natalia discussed Prince’s gender-bending style and influence, as described by Dodai Stewart. Neil commented on Prince’s religious conversion to Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, an experience that pushed Prince in a more conservative direction musically and politically. Prince was noted for his humanitarian philanthropy, something Natalia mentioned Van Jones had movingly spoken about on CNN. Prince’s musical genius, Neil argued, was seen not only in his own songs, but also those he wrote for other performers like “Manic Monday” for the Bangles and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 You.”

America First Foreign Policy

Donald Trump recently delivered a speech outlining his foreign policy which he described as “America First.” Natalia disagreed with historians who tied Trump’s speech to the America First movement of the 1940s, arguing she didn’t believe Trump was historically literate enough to make such a connection. Niki remembered Pat Buchanan’s use of an America First foreign policy as a response to the end of the Cold War in his 1992 presidential campaign. Neil contrasted Trump’s isolationist vision with more dominant use of American foreign policy as a tool to open foreign markets to American goods, as argued by Andrew Bacevich in his book, American Empire.

Educational Inequality

A recent Pew Poll found more highly educated adults are far more likely to be liberal, while adults with less education are far more likely to be conservative. Natalia cited the historian Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life was responding in part to the broad American belief that pluck and craftiness were the keys to success rather than education. Niki mentioned several recent studies have found economic segregation may lead to greater educational inequality. Natalia argued anti-intellectualism was not only something on the right, but also displayed in leftist circles on college campuses today, something the scholar John McWhorter recently wrote about for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

What’s Making History

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *