• Show Notes
  • Transcript

Blame Today On the 70s (with Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer)

Guests:

Kevin Kruse is a Professor of History at Princeton University.

Julian Zelizer is a Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

*Interview taped on 1/21/19.

 

On this episode of Stay Tuned, Kevin and Julian discuss:

  • Their new book Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 that traces the history of today’s economic, political and social divisions
  • The legacy of civil rights movements and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The role of Twitter historians and their obligation to speak up and correct misinformation

 

References made in the episode:

  • Kruse and Zelizer’s Washington Post op-ed on The Fairness Doctrine
  • A 2000 poll asking people if they were in the top 1%; read David Brooks analysis of the results
  • Zelizer’s op-ed on Pence’s invocation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech
  • Kevin’s debut Twitter thread on Southern Democrats
  • Enes Kanter’s Stay Tuned video

 

Do you have a question for Preet? Tweet them to @PreetBharara with the hashtage #askpreet, email[email protected], or call 699-247-7338 and leave a voicemail.

Blame Today On the 70s (with Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer)

Air date: 1/24/19

Preet Bharara:

Professor Kevin Kruse, Professor Julian Zelizer, thanks for being on the show.

Julian Zelizer:

Thanks for having us.

Kevin Kruse:

Great being here.

Preet Bharara:

So congratulations on A, surviving the cold this morning. We’re taping on Monday morning and I think it’s like four degrees.

Julian Zelizer:

Basically.

Preet Bharara:

You seem warm now.

Julian Zelizer:

Okay. We’re doing okay.

Kevin Kruse:

We’re filled with the podcast spirit.

Preet Bharara:

That’s what heats me up. So congratulations on your book. It’s called Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974. I just wrote a book and I found it very hard. You guys between the two of you have written like 300 books, how many books?

Kevin Kruse:

But 290 of them are Julian’s so. So [crosstalk 00:09:15] rests on him.

Julian Zelizer:

We’ve written a lot. We’ve written a lot of books, and I think we both enjoy it and we both really enjoyed doing this one. This was our first collaboration writing, which is a different process than writing on your own.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Can I ask you about that? Maybe it’s a dumb question. So do each of you write a sentence and then the other guy writes the next sentence, and then you get a chapter?

Kevin Kruse:

We started out that way, where we each kind of, we divvied up and we’re like you’re going to be the starting point for this chapter, I’ll start this chapter, but the more and more we went, they went back and forth between us and just kind of rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. So all of our hands are on all of this book.

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, we started as a class at Princeton and we wanted to teach this class about the period you don’t study in most history classes.

Preet Bharara:

Because it’s very recent.

Julian Zelizer:

That’s exactly right. Initially it was lectures, and we each kind of would divvy the lectures up, but as we wrote the book we would each go back and forth on a chapter to the point, like Kevin says, where at least for me, and I think for him, when you read it I’m not sure who is who at this point, which is for us an achievement.

Preet Bharara:

Did you have disagreements?

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, no.

Kevin Kruse:

Not really, no.

Julian Zelizer:

Not really. It was actually-

Preet Bharara:

You agree completely on everything?

Kevin Kruse:

We had a couple fist fights, as coauthors do.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Kevin Kruse:

No, we had-

Preet Bharara:

You historians [crosstalk 00:10:28].

Kevin Kruse:

You know how historians rumbles are.

Preet Bharara:

[crosstalk 00:10:29] Crazy you guys are.

Kevin Kruse:

Yeah. No, we had a couple, but I don’t think anything probably got past the stage of yeah, okay, fine.

Julian Zelizer:

Yeah. I mean, we each specialize on different things. So Kevin does a lot on the grassroots, and kind of social history of politics, I do more in Washington, Congress and the presidents.

Preet Bharara:

When did you start teaching the class?

Kevin Kruse:

2012.

Preet Bharara:

And why did you pick 1974 as a starting point?

Kevin Kruse:

It started, I had class I inherited when I started teaching at Princeton in 2000. It was a class called the United States Since 1920, and I’m pretty sure it was created about 1960, because all the other courses in the series were these little 40 year chunks. So by 2000 when I started it was about twice the size of these other classes, and more and more interesting things had actually happened after 1960 that needed to be talked about. So I was looking for a way to break it in two. There was a breaking point in ’74, which is primarily Nixon and Watergate, and his resignation there, but there’s also a whole bunch of stuff that happens in ’73, ’74, ’75. You got Roe v. Wade, and the busing riots. You’ve got the oil embargo and really kind of the buckling of the American economy. You’ve got withdrawal from Vietnam and kind of the shattering of American foreign policy. So in this two year span around 1974 an incredible amount happens. It really does kind of bring the old post-war order to its knees.

Preet Bharara:

I had Michael Beschloss on the show not too long ago. We discussed the difference between journalism and history and how much time has to pass before we can really assess a presidency, but I guess the same can be true about an era. How long it has to pass in your guys’ view as historians before you can adequately sort of judge the period or the leader?

Julian Zelizer:

I think there’s no hard and fast rule to this, meaning every historian, whatever period you’re doing, usually you’re constantly debating how to interpret a period. So the Civil War was a long time ago in the US, but still the debates about it are vigorous, and I think for recent history there’s a lot of space to take the first cut. There’s always historians who are the first movers, and we’re trying to take a little bit of that role. So we’re laying it out, we’re offering a first interpretation, we know they’ll be more down the line. The other thing we always remembered, because we started as a class, is for younger people, certainly millennials, this is not modern history.

Preet Bharara:

It’s ancient history.

Julian Zelizer:

It’s ancient history, and they don’t have a memory even of 9/11 in terms of seeing it and feeling it. So when we’re writing about the ’70s, when we were in our class taking courses on the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, it was the same thing.

Kevin Kruse:

I mean, so think about a student today sitting in a course like ours, 45 years ago, 1974, when I was a freshman in college in 1990, 45 years ago was the end of World War II, right? That’s the level of looking back we’ve got now. So it really is time to start talking about this period as a discrete period.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think young people are underserved with respect to history?

Kevin Kruse:

How do you mean?

Preet Bharara:

Well, I don’t think classes like yours are that plentiful.

Kevin Kruse:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

Right, so you have people come … I hadn’t thought about it this way. When we have people coming into schools like yours, Princeton, or any other school in the country, if there’s an absence of classes like yours, people are reading like I did when I was a government major in college about the Peloponnesian War.

Kevin Kruse:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

And you’re reading Thucydides, and I don’t remember there being a class talking about things from a serious historical perspective, events that happened in the prior 30 years because maybe people thought that was too recent, but maybe that’s a failing.

Julian Zelizer:

Well, I mean, I think so, yes, and certainly that’s our intention with the book and with our course. Students need to have some historical perspective on what’s going on now. If we talk about boy, we need to train the next generation to deal with these civic issues, part of it isn’t simply understanding ancient history of even 19th century history, it’s giving some chronology and framework for understanding what the last 40, 50 years are about. So on an issue like polarization, you can’t start with what happens when President Trump is elected and how does he tear things apart, you have understand what was the aftermath of Watergate and how did our entire political system take a new form back then?

Preet Bharara:

So one of the points of the book is that there are, from the title, I’m pretty quick, Fault Lines, and there’s a lot of division in the country. I think you guys say and suggest that there’s more division now than any other time, going back to when?

Kevin Kruse:

Well, we go to the Peloponnesian War, how about that?

Julian Zelizer:

We like to start [crosstalk 00:14:57].

Preet Bharara:

I think America was pretty united during the Peloponnesian War.

Kevin Kruse:

Yeah, probably, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Actually.

Kevin Kruse:

I would stake my reputation on that. It is to some degree it feels more divided now than ever, but there have always been fault lines in American history. What’s really novel about this period as opposed to say the post-war period that preceded it is that in that period, in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, we had these fault lines. Obviously you look at, it’s Martin Luther King Day right now when we’re recording this, look at the racial divisions of that period, a huge fault line. But what you also had at that period were social forces and institutional forces that were pushing against those fault lines to kind of push the country back together in kind of a centripetal way, right? The parties weren’t ideologically diverse. So you had to have some kind of necessary bipartisanship to get anything done, whether you were a liberal or a conservative, you had to go to the other party to find like-minded people to get the votes. The economy is booming at this period, the post-war industrial economy is taking off. You got a strong union movement, which really helps lift people in the middle class, paper over some of those racial, and ethic, and religious divisions.

Kevin Kruse:

You’ve got a mainstream media which really is almost monolithic. If you think about the big three networks, a couple of big city newspapers, really kind of setting out the same set of information for all Americans to start with, and also advancing the general narrative to hold them together. So all that is there. In this period we’ve got a new set of fault lines that came about after those old institutions crumbled. The thing is that nothing is really pushing the country together. In fact, there are increasingly incentives we’ve seen, and this is what I think maybe makes the fault lines worse than ever, increasingly incentives in the recent decades that are leading Americans to be pushed apart.

Kevin Kruse:

So think about politics, right? The way in which gerrymandering has increasingly led to people to go to the ideological extremes, or the way in which the media has reinforced this with partisan media. First Fox News is really on the right and now to some degree MSNBC and groups like that on the left really encouraging people to go to their corners, right? There’s not a push to the center anymore.

Preet Bharara:

Can we pause on that for a second? Because I was fascinated by issues that you have discussed relating to the fairness doctrine, and I had never really thought about it in these terms and how the repeal of a fairness doctrine has caused the media to sort of become tribal in the same way that politics has over time become more tribal. Discuss how big a deal that was, and maybe for the listeners first describe what the fairness doctrine means.

Julian Zelizer:

So it was a very important moment in this period. So the fairness doctrine was a rule that the FCC stuck to since 1949, and basically if a radio station or TV station wanted space, air space, in exchange they had to promise if dealing with a political view they would present both sides, they wouldn’t just present one side or the other. It was constantly challenged, but it could be legally enforced. People could sue if only one side of a political issue was presented, and by the 1980s there is a lot of opposition to keeping the rule. Ronald Reagan opposes it. He says, “There’s no need for many regulations, and that’s one that should go.” He also thought that the mainstream media tended to privilege liberal ideas over conservative ideas, and there were a lot of business people in the media who also wanted to get rid of it because cable is starting to take form in the 1980s and they’re arguing the justification no longer holds, meaning there’s endless amount of space, unlike in the network era.

Julian Zelizer:

So there’s a big push, 1987 the FCC says, “We’re just not going to do it anymore.” Congress, the Democrats try to legislate a fairness doctrine, and vetoes Reagan the bill and it’s done. Right after that happens, and this is an important story, you have the proliferation of conservative talk radio. This is the era of the Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grants, and this new approach to news where you can be openly partisan, you could totally present one side, and there are no more restrictions. 10 years later, just about, Fox would go on the air and this becomes the model of how to do business.

Julian Zelizer:

So it removed a really important restraint that existed, a counterpoint to more polarized kinds of information, and that’s the framework in which many people then would understand and hear about what’s going on in Washington.

Preet Bharara:

But for the removal of the fairness doctrine there’s no Rush Limbaugh, you think?

Julian Zelizer:

Well, he would’ve been there, but it would’ve been hard for the radio networks to put on the show that they put on, meaning-

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, and give three hours of equal time to someone else in the afternoon on the other side.

Julian Zelizer:

Exactly right. They would’ve been facing pressure, they could’ve been facing potential legal action, and that was gone. So that’s why you have this happen.

Preet Bharara:

Did the liberals, progressives, Democrats, whatever you want to call that side, want to put the fairness doctrine back into place because they had a pure view of balanced discussion on the air or because they liked the status quo, and was there in fact some truth to what Reagan perhaps said, that there was some kind of bias and more opportunities for liberals to have their points of view broadcast on air than conservatives? Is that completely unfair?

Kevin Kruse:

No. I think that’s probably a plausible explanation. I think there was a comfort with the status quo. I think there was also an awareness, this is purely a conjecture in my part, but I think there was probably an awareness that there are certain things about the talk radio format that don’t really work for liberals. There’s a way in which the format really does thrive on railing against the establishment and sparking outrage, and this is a period even with Reagan in charge there was a lot of sense that liberalism was still doing fine.

Preet Bharara:

Wait, liberals do outrage too, no?

Julian Zelizer:

They do. I mean, one thing that’s-

Preet Bharara:

I mean, I don’t, I’m very [crosstalk 00:20:34].

Julian Zelizer:

Yeah, but even in the pre fairness doctrine, even though there was this critique, journalists did still stick to, they were still striving to be objective. They still checked their impulses so say what they were thinking politically. There are moments like Walter Cronkite criticizing the war in Vietnam, but that was not the professional norm. So there was the criticism that buried in that commentary was a liberal perspective. That’s very different than what you see post fairness doctrine. It’s not very, it was very, very explicit. Liberals had outrage. They tried to replicate this, never as successful. You had [crosstalk 00:21:10].

Kevin Kruse:

Look at the Air America network, right? In the Bush administration, which was really an effort to copy the conservative talk radio format that had worked so well for conservatives like Limbaugh when they were in the opposition on the 1990s. Now it’s the liberals’ turn and we’re going to do this. What happens though, you really had some high powered folks there, you had Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo, Al Franken was there for a while. If you look at the reviews of the time as we did, A, it tanks as a business model. They just, they don’t have the listeners, and I think it might be because many liberals thought, “Oh, our version of liberal radio is NPR.” Right? Which I think is a misreading, but think about how many people thought it at the time. You see in the reports about Air America in 2003, 2004, is this format just doesn’t quite work for liberals. Liberals are trying to give nuance, they result more to sarcasm, that doesn’t really play on the radio. It played on TV, we saw with The Daily Show and later The Colbert Report, that really takes off. TV is a format where that sort of critique works. Didn’t quite catch on the radio.

Preet Bharara:

It’s interesting that different mediums maybe are more hospitable to different kinds of ideologies. I’m not aware of many successful late night conservative bent talk shows.

Kevin Kruse:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

Why is that?

Kevin Kruse:

And why? I mean, liberals will be very successful in the blogosphere, especially during the Bush administration. That becomes an arena where they’re much better. Doesn’t have the scale or scope of Fox News.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think it was a mistake and bad for … I mean, I guess this is the implication? But I want to hear if you actually want to say this.

Kevin Kruse:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

That the revocation of the fairness doctrine was a bad thing.

Kevin Kruse:

I think it was a bad thing. It broke down one of the last remaining kind of public commons in the media in terms of the way in which information was processed. That said, I think had it not been struck down and had it remained in place for radio and broadcast television, I think the pace at which cable was going would’ve easily eclipsed it. So maybe Limbaugh doesn’t take off as a talk radio host, maybe it takes off as a cable news host instead. This craving for kind of a partisan media was out there, and it was going to come about one way or another.

Preet Bharara:

Right. I mean, it’s a little weird from my perspective, having not studied it at any length at all, so I’m just mouth off. There was an argument that there’s something kind of illiberal about the idea of saying that points of view have to be legislated to be broadcast equally. That’s the one area in which liberals often say government should not be involved and maybe they shouldn’t have been, but the status quo was good.

Preet Bharara:

So there are lots of reasons you say in the book about why we are divided. You talk about the economic reasons, the racial reasons, political reasons, gender, sexuality reasons. How do you rank those?

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, we don’t, so that’s-

Preet Bharara:

But that’s why you do it.

Julian Zelizer:

That’s why I’m a historian.

Preet Bharara:

I’m asking you.

Julian Zelizer:

No, and same, but actually it is a point, meaning.

Preet Bharara:

You have to put some weight. To say there are 19 causes of something, you kind of rank them a little bit.

Julian Zelizer:

[crosstalk 00:23:56] We love to say that, and it’s all of them. But look, if the ones we rank are the way our political process is remade in the 1970s is really important. The way primary systems become elevated to select presidential candidates, the way in which congress is reorganized from gerrymandering, to the rules of the House of Representatives. There are really fundamental reforms that take place and they are in the top four division, because they create-

Preet Bharara:

You call them reforms.

Julian Zelizer:

Yeah, and they are reforms.

Preet Bharara:

Right. But it’s interesting linguistically to say these reforms were enacted, and they are one of the principal reasons we have division.

Julian Zelizer:

Well, the goal of the reform was to make things more partisan. I mean, reformers in the ’70s said bipartisanship is bad because for them bipartisanship meant these backroom deals with Southern Democrats and Republicans who worked in secrecy, who stifled party leaders on issues like civil rights and didn’t allow the parties to have coherent clear points of view. So a lot of the reforms are literally that. They say we need a more partisan political system, and they are in fact trying to heighten the divisions, which they believe will make the political process better.

Kevin Kruse:

And it happens in media too. One of my favorite things we found, we found this quote of Jann Wenner, who was the head of Rolling Stone. In ’76 he’s talking about the need for a fourth broadcast network that will broadcast the news in a different way, because we need more than four, we need dozens of these. We need ones that’ll broadcast to old people, and young people, we need ones to African American, we need a conservative news network, he’s pining for in the time, and that’s going to make everything great and better, because everyone will have a voice, right? I don’t think he really thought through what that would mean, but there’s this real desire in the ’70s to go this way. It’s not that we stumbled into this by accident. There really is a desire to fracture into kind of a 100 or a 1,000 pieces, whether it be politics, whether it be economics, whether it be race and embrace of diversity, and distinctiveness, and cultural nationalism, and everyone kind of celebrates their own past. There’s a real shift here in the ’70s, and it goes across the board.

Julian Zelizer:

The conservative movements, and know that I’m not going to rank them still, but it’s still out there, it’s a big part of our story, and it takes today for people to think of the conservative movement as new is difficult, but in the ’70s it really was new. The religious right, preachers and grassroots supporters who wanted to put all kinds of cultural questions on the table. The new right, which was a more organized form of conservatism. There’s various factions to this movement. Neoconservative Democrats who want a tough reform policy. They’re really shifting public debate in a conservative direction, and by 1980 when Reagan is elected, their impact is pretty clear. So they are a big force of division, only in that they really open up the conversation about what the nation’s basic priorities and policy should be.

Preet Bharara:

Talk about economic forces. How were those bringing us apart more than before?

Kevin Kruse:

I mean, the economy in a lot of ways really does impact this because you start to see one of the big things that undergirded the optimism of the post-war period was the sense that America works for everybody, even when you’re kind of winking at it as the affluent society and wondering who is left out, or Johnson with the Great Society tries to lift people up out of poverty into it. There’s an optimism about the American economy, that it’s going to thrive. It really gets brought to its knees in the ’70s through a lot of things. There’s the oil crisis, which reminds Americans how dependent they are on foreign sources of energy. There is the real decline of the industrial sector. You start to see more and more companies struggle in America as they’re facing new competition from abroad. Think about the auto industry and the challenges from West Germany and Japan, and as these jobs start to dwindle, as these jobs start to pay less, there are ripple effects here. So you can’t simply say, oh let’s just look at the economy, because think about the impact the economy has in those changes.

Kevin Kruse:

By 1976 only 40% of jobs in the United States paid enough to support a family. So it used to be you had a model you could have a breadwinner, usually male who then provided for the family. The mother stayed at home, took care of the kids, right? That was for decades in the post-war period, better or worse, that’s the norm. By 1976 that’s a minority position to be able to have. So more and more women have to go to work. The traditional story that I think a lot of people misunderstand about feminism is that feminism happened, women decided to go to work, and then ran into problems at work.

Preet Bharara:

It was of necessity.

Kevin Kruse:

It was of necessity. They go to work, they run into, they get paid less, they’re facing sexual harassment, widespread discrimination on a job, and then they decide feminism is something they need for their own lives, to make their own ends meet.

Preet Bharara:

But economic cycles do just that, they work in cycles, but I guess I’m not understanding fully. There are these issues in the ’70s, but then you have exuberant times later. The ’90s were kind of roaring. Did that undo some of these factors that caused division or not? In other words, why is it static, if you think this is true, a static trendline that economic forces are bringing us apart?

Kevin Kruse:

Well, the two static trend lines that survive or outlived the booms, or bust, or the cycle. One is the jobs that most or many middle class Americans had from the ’40s to ’50s, which were often in the manufacturing sector. They tended to be unionized, they tended to be pretty secure in terms of a seniority ladder and benefits. Those are not replaced after the ’70s with comparable jobs. The shift of the economy is toward service sector jobs, high tech jobs, where those kind of benefits are not granted. So you do have changes. It’s not always bad. We get out of the ’70s. 1984 Reagan is running on a campaign ad that it’s morning in America again. But the middle class jobs that are doing well are very different, and they don’t leave many families with the same kind of long-term sense of how they or their families would be doing.

Kevin Kruse:

The other trend, which we talk about all the time today, the growing divide between very wealthy Americans and poor Americans. That’s taking off by the ’70s, and that too, in periods of boom it gets a little better. We saw this during the Obama administration, but it doesn’t-

Preet Bharara:

Everyone is doing well enough.

Kevin Kruse:

Everyone is doing well enough but it doesn’t really alleviate this division that keeps growing. So those are two structural changes that are rooted in the 1970s that I think undercut some of the good feeling that might come actually from economic recovery.

Preet Bharara:

What do you think the role of concern about economic equality is right now in the country? Can I ask you about today, even though you’re historians?

Julian Zelizer:

Yeah.

Kevin Kruse:

Sure, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t want to wait 30 years.

Kevin Kruse:

Well, I mean, I think it’s an important issue across the board, it just it matters how people interpret it, right? So if you think about the two people who are probably zeroing in on this issue the most of the 2016 cycle, it was Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, right? They came at it from very different perspectives. Both had their hands on this fundamental problem, they just they spun it in wildly different directions. So for Trump it becomes a populous message, a protectionist message, and kind of going to shut down the American economy and we’re going to save the American worker that way. Sanders a rather different set of policy prescriptions there, right? But they both understood this was kind of powerful issue in the moment, and I don’t think it’s going away.

Preet Bharara:

There’s a lot of talk about income inequality and it’s a huge issue and a problem, but typically in the country from my old recollection of history books I’ve read and classes I’ve taken, everyone had this optimism, as you’re describing, and people who were on the lower end of the economic spectrum didn’t so much begrudge the people who were very wealthy because they had open optimism and said, “Well, I can be like that guy one day because American society is so mobile.” Was that a bad way to be thinking, and were they just being duped by wealthy people because there’s not as much mobility as you might think, or was it good for people to have that view because it maybe made them work hard to try to pull themselves up into higher socioeconomic status?

Kevin Kruse:

I think you could see either perspective. I mean, I do think there’s something good about the optimistic part of believing that this is still a country in which anyone can make it to the top, even though the results of that I think are becoming less and less likely as we go on. But I think there’s largely a negative side of this, and the figure that always comes up to me is when you talk about the 1%, who are we talking about? Who do people imagine we’re talking about? So in the 2000 campaign, Al Gore insisted that his tax proposal was only going to raise taxes on I think on the top 1%. The problem was is that pollsters went out and asked Americans if they were in the top 1%. 19% of the people I think thought they were in the top 1%. 20% thought they would be in the top 1% within five years, right? So he’s talking about the top 1% and this policy is only going to affect those people, and yet the American people almost 40% think that he’s talking about them, right?

Kevin Kruse:

So then they resist this issue because hey, Al Gore is talking about me or me in five years. So you find real resistance to this policy proposal, which would’ve actually made their lives I think a little bit better. But because they bought into this mythology that they’re going to be the 1% if not already then soon, it undercuts that.

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, it’s not totally static in that. So the period before this book has two things that are really important to giving that optimism some bones. Union jobs were very significant in the economy, and they’re growing during that period from the ’30s till the ’70s in places like Michigan, and they are providing jobs where you really can, you and your children, have some kind of decent wage and decent benefits and pathway to success, and you had a social safety net created by the federal government, which wasn’t simply poverty programs, it was Medicare. So you understood your parents and grandparents would have healthcare, and you would, Social Security. So we created these mechanisms that certainly didn’t, it wasn’t real that everyone was going to be rich, but there was a pathway to middle class life, and both of those have eroded since the ’70s. Union jobs have eroded and the social safety net has also eroded. So I think that’s an important story of the in between.

Preet Bharara:

You think the perception has increased that those things have eroded as well? Because the perception is part of all of this.

Kevin Kruse:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

So talk about how race and gender have played a role in connection with your thesis?

Kevin Kruse:

Okay. I’ll start with race, and this is one where again, we talked about there where had been fault lines in the previous period, and this was a fault line that many Americans at the end of the period are thrilled to see come down. There’s concern about political polarization, there’s definitely concern about the economic crisis, there’s a lot of fighting over gender and sexuality, but on race at first everyone is really thrilled, or most people are really thrilled. That the old walls of segregation and institutionalized discrimination have crumbled in the country thanks to the changes of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of ’64, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act. These are landmark revolutionary laws which really transform the country. What happens though is that in the ’70s Americans quickly discover that desegregation is not the same thing as integration, right? Just because you’ve broken down the laws that keep people apart doesn’t mean they’re going to naturally flow together.

Kevin Kruse:

So there’s a movement in the ’70s, and a movement that is then soon reflected in the law and politics, which really does celebrate a diversity, cultural nationalism, and this is across the board. If you look at whites, this is the period when they’re discovering their own ethnic heritage. So what does it mean to be an Italian American or Polish American, or German American, or whatever, an Irish American, but it’s being felt across the board. What happens is you’ve got the American society in terms of race and ethnicity increasingly becoming much more fragmented, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of communities are kind of happy to be, to have their own space, to thrive on their own, but what it means is that we don’t have the kind of common ground that civil rights activists had imagined when they were talking about integration in the ’60s. It’s rather different in the ’70s, and it only continues to fragment across the decades that come.

Julian Zelizer:

And you have, I mean, the shift in the ’70s as you’re moving away from issues such as can we have laws that allow for segregation, or can we have laws that disenfranchise voters to what’s called institutional racism. How does racism work when no one might intentionally be racist, but the structure of how our criminal justice system works, the structure of how residential zoning works? All of these are at play and continuing to create a segregated society, and those are tougher questions in some ways to quickly resolve, and they start to open up pretty big divisions. You see this when you have government policies for school busing in the 1970s, and to essentially move a body of children into another school, and you have fierce violent responses in places like Boston, not in the South, to these kinds of changes. You have legal battles over affirmative action, which is also another variant of dealing with these kinds of institutional racism, and now with Black Lives Matter, we write a lot about that, we’re really tackling how does this work in policing, in the prison system, and these have become incredibly, incredibly divisive without the turning point of the ’64 civil rights legislation or the Voting Rights Act. We haven’t reached that yet.

Preet Bharara:

People think you pass a law that solves the problem. Laws are really hard to change, particularly those kinds of laws, and they were, as I know you folks have documented time and time again, but culture is even harder to change, and minds are very hard to change. What do you make of, I know Julian you’ve written about this I think just this past weekend, of the way in which certain politicians will co-opt the ideas of people with whom they probably would’ve disagreed in the time. As Kevin already mentioned, we’re recording this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States said a couple of things this past weekend essentially justifying the building of a wall upon the vision of Martin Luther King. Julian, do you have a response?

Julian Zelizer:

Well yeah. So I wrote a piece about that for my CNN column, and I found it to be really ridiculous, meaning …

Preet Bharara:

That’s a historian-

Julian Zelizer:

That’s a historian.

Preet Bharara:

Historian term.

Julian Zelizer:

I could use different terms, but I will be civil, because a lot of, it’s not simply the wall. This administration has stood for many policies that are a 100% antithetical to what King and the civil rights movement were about. So whether you’re talking about voting rights, the administration has moved against those, building a wall instead of tearing walls down, or the humane treatment of people trying to seek access to our country, to Charlottesville. I mean, this is a president who as we all know literally wouldn’t take a stand, a strong stand against a new generation of white nationalist Nazi power.

Julian Zelizer:

So I think there’s no space for someone from the administration to invoke King, and I do believe people from different perspectives. There were conservatives for example in the ’70s who took elements of what the anti-war and civil rights activists in the ’60s we’re talking about, such as direct participation in politics, and I thought that was okay, they had different objectives. But this is an administration that’s almost trying to dismantle what King stood for, so that’s why I wrote a strong article and I stick with.

Preet Bharara:

Amen professor. So why does a politician like Pence do that? Because there are lots of bases on which you could attempt to justify building a wall or having all sorts of other policies. Why invoke King? Is it because King has become so much a part of American, the fabric of America and how we think about America that you gain some points with some community because you invoke Martin Luther King and you give the appearance that you embrace other aspects of King’s legacy?

Kevin Kruse:

You invoke a very narrow vision of Martin Luther King Jr. For a lot of America, Martin Luther King is frozen in time, August 28th, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the I Have a Dream speech. They can quote the two minutes of it, which they saw on the eighth grade in the civics class or social studies class, and that’s all they’ve seen, right? What we have to remember is A, that speech itself was incredibly controversial at the time, and conservatives were outspoken about King being an agitator who was standing against the law and order, and that speech itself, we’ve made it seem really anodyne, but it really was radical at the time. It drew a lot of criticism at the time. It has since become acceptable, and it’s become acceptable largely because conservatives have embraced what they’ve advanced as colorblind conservatism.

Kevin Kruse:

This speaks to Julian’s point, which once you’ve moved beyond identifying actual living and breathing racist, and instead you’re trying to dismantle institutionalized racism, these people will say well look, we’re supposed to be a society who doesn’t see color anymore, and how come we have color conscious policies, right? In terms of affirmative action or things like that. That’s a sin against King. That’s A, a perversion of what King said. King was alive when affirmative action began, and is incredibly outspoken in favor of it, but it’s become fashionable, Gingrich started to do this in the ’90s and it’s picked up speed since then. It’s become fashionable for conservatives to seize on that one speech in order to co-opt King to their point of view.

Kevin Kruse:

The problem is that King had five more years of his life in which he was increasingly more and more outspoken, more and more moving to the left, more and more willing to take on the institutions of America. King before his death is an outspoken opponent of American militarism, of the military industrial complex, of what it does, of how it saps American priorities, of the violence it does abroad. He is outspoken in condemning capitalism. He is advocating a form of socialism by the end of his life. He is calling for radical challenges. He is calling on his followers in 1967 saying, “Let us be dissatisfied. Let’s be filled with the divine dissatisfaction.” His final address at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Is really what would be regarded at the time certainly as a rebel arousing speech, and today if we were to read it in full, it’s not something I think Mike Pence would really agree with in any way, shape, or form.

Preet Bharara:

Right.

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, part of what’s happened if you have this debate with the conservative movement since the ’70s in terms of what’s the relationship of conservatism and race, and you’ve had controversial moments like Reagan’s speech in Mississippi which takes place close to where civil rights activists were killed in the 1960s, or you have Lee Atwater in 1988 playing on the Willie Horton ad to play on racial animosity. But you have seen a shift in the last few years where the ambiguity on a lot of racial issues for many Americans has flown away, and conservatism has more closely aligned squarely with the reactionary forces to the civil right agenda. So I think with Vice President Pence it’s just a purely and pretty simplistic symbolic effort to say there’s more to us than that, but it runs right against the whole administration’s agenda.

Preet Bharara:

So obviously you spend a lot of time talking about the forces that divide us and have made us a lot of Americans at odds with each other. I want to talk about what some things are that unite us. Politicians get up all the time, and Barack Obama did it and he rode himself to the White House in part on this idea, that he and others say on a fairly regular basis there’s more that brings us together than divides us. Is that true or is that nonsense?

Kevin Kruse:

I think it’s largely nonsense.

Preet Bharara:

Whoa.

Kevin Kruse:

It’s a perennial that a politician.

Preet Bharara:

It’s very depressing.

Kevin Kruse:

Look, I get that a lot. My first book was about the Klan and neo-Nazis. My second book was about religious nationalist. I get this a lot. You’ve depressed me. I’m not really selling the book here, but here we got. But I do think it is, it can be a bit of a lie that we tell ourselves. I think Obama meant it sincerely, he certainly worked hard to bring about what he called a post partisan politics.

Preet Bharara:

Well, it’s sort of aspirational, I mean.

Kevin Kruse:

It’s aspirational, sure.

Preet Bharara:

Just before you get yourself in a lot of trouble for being very cynical and negative. You do agree that it’s a thing to work for?

Kevin Kruse:

Oh, sure.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a thing to work towards. That’s part of the reason you wrote the book.

Kevin Kruse:

It’s absolutely a thing to work for. But I think what we show in the book is that there is just so much working against that in the current moment that it’s a naïve hope that I think Obama had that he was going to suddenly reach across the aisle, Republicans were going to clasp his hand and make things work because they cared about the country. What we saw instead were that Republicans under Cantor in the House really and Mitch McConnell in the Senate realized that their own personal gain would come from denying any sort of bipartisan outreach, right? Again, if you look across the board, it’s in politics, it’s certainly in our media. These incentives to not reach across the aisle but instead to move to the corners.

Julian Zelizer:

I mean, there are ways to look back and say, and we do, that there are more similarities in certain parts of our lives. So you look at the world of commerce and how we consume things, and what the watch. The country is more alike today than it was in 1961 or 1960, we shop on Amazon, or we literally watch the same forms of entertainment, and that’s actually not trivial. I do think there’s something that binds together a person living in rural Iowa and suburban New Jersey.

Preet Bharara:

It’s still depressing to me that the example you give of what binds us together is Amazon.

Julian Zelizer:

I got it, but the second part is part of our book is it’s not all bubbly, not pretension. Some of this is created by the way we do business in different parts of our life. The way the media does business, the way politicians do business. So implicit in our story is if we had a moment to really think through how our institutions work, like we did in the 1970s. Think of real reforms, whether through government or the private sector, there is a possibility to create different kinds of incentives that don’t play to the most divisive parts of our culture.

Preet Bharara:

But the interesting thing about all this is as a political message it works, and it works in part because people to want to believe, whether or not it’s true fully, and whether or not it’s fully realized at this moment, I think most Americans want to believe in the idea that there’s something that binds us together and that is stronger than what divides us.

Kevin Kruse:

Well, absolutely. The problem is that in their imagination what binds us together it looks something quite like their own personal politics, right? So they imagine that their own point of view really does capture a majority of the country and if we can all just agree in things I already believe in, we’ll be fine. They live in a world in which increasingly their own communities are increasingly homogenous, their media they consume is increasingly homogenous. They don’t get exposed to other perspectives, so they come to believe this.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how you two, esteemed professors at Princeton who have written a 1,000 books, conduct yourselves in the public square? Both of you are on Twitter. Kevin, you’re very prolific on Twitter. Why do you do that?

Kevin Kruse:

The short story is I started in Twitter because my last publisher made me. First it was just kind of a, on this day in history this happened. It was kind of very boring stuff. But that coincided with a couple things. One was the summer of 2015, right after I started was the flap over Confederate monuments, and I saw a lot of nonsense on Twitter that was just presenting some wrong history. So it led me to sort of weight in and start to push back on that. That was something I had some expertise in. Then the political campaign for 2016 really heated up and there were a lot of this nonsense being thrown out there by the candidates and by others. So that really led me to really engage on Twitter in a way I hadn’t before. Again, I’m not the only one who does it. Julian does it too. Lots of other historians are out there doing this. We’ve got a duty out there, as much as a doctor has a duty I think to speak, to push back against the anti vaccine nonsense, or scientists to push back against the climate change denialists. Historians have a special level of expertise, and if we don’t speak up against this stuff no one else will, and worse, if we don’t speak up it’ll often be assumed that well, it must be okay, no historian has debunked this.

Julian Zelizer:

I, like Kevin, really believe that if you want to do it, there’s an obligation for some people in the academy to join this ruckus public square and to try to connect what you’re doing in your writing and in your scholarly thinking to the real world problems that we face. It’s a long tradition. I’ve always been proud to be part of it. I must say for all the critics though, there’ve been many scholars who will say, “Love reading your op-eds.” Or, “I love seeing you and thanks for doing this.” Not because it’s one side or the other, but just to providing that kind of analysis instead of the just two screaming heads next to each other.

Preet Bharara:

Can I put in my two cents? Because I think it’s great, I think we need more of it, to the extent to you can encourage others of your colleagues in various fields to educate the public on things. Look, I didn’t expect when I was overseeing the US Attorney’s Office that I would be on Twitter talking about legal issues or going on CNN, or having a podcast, but there is I think in multiple areas, my own area, the law, there’s a huge hunger on the part of thoughtful people who want to be good citizens who have not paid enough attention to how the law works, how Congress works, how law enforcement in particular works, and now when they see those things sort of entering a period of crisis, they want to learn about those things and they don’t go to Princeton, and they can’t walk into a classroom, and the same is true about history. When they see people, particularly now when you have administration officials and politicians I think who are capable of saying things that are not true, historically not true, literally documented, able to be documented, and then other things that are sort of more of a question of opinion, and whether their analysis and characterization is correct.

Preet Bharara:

People want to know and they look to folks like you to say well, what’s the truth? One example, which I guess we can get to now, is there seems to be this interest in the part of some conservatives, or “conservatives” to lay claim to a great civil rights track record. Going back from Lincoln, but into almost the present day, and certainly during the ’60s, and for some reason they historically like to say well, all the bad things that happened with respect to race were done by Democrats. Let me ask Kevin this question. When you were writing your PhD thesis, did you think that you were going to end up one day dunking on Dinesh D’Souza on Twitter?

Kevin Kruse:

God no, no. I didn’t even assume a lot of this was controversial. I talk about a lot of these Southern segregationists, and know that they’re Democrats because that’s what they were. It’s not, some of these people try to claim that it’s something that historians are hiding, we’re trying to bury the past. We write about Southern Democrats being segregationists all the time. What is amazing to me is that we have to then spend time on Twitter pushing back against that nonsense, or what was the Civil War about. We’ve kind of hashed this one out by now. We know it’s about slavery, it’s not a big secret, but yet we still have to go back and push back against people who are claiming it’s about anything but.

Preet Bharara:

For some people who are not familiar, I have some passing familiarity with Dinesh D’Souza, who my office prosecuted for a crime that he committed and he admitted he committed it, and his lawyers said in open court there’s no defense to the crime. He got pardoned by the president. He says a lot of things about me. I choose not to engage him, but what was the thing that caused you to engage?

Kevin Kruse:

What cased me to engage was that I’d seen his threads, and at first I just kind of laughed them off because they were literally things like, “Did you know that segregationists were Southern Democrats?” And he kind of told it with this breathless revelation, and it was the most obvious thing. Did you know George Wallace was a Democrat? Yes, it’s a standard part of the story, right? We all know this. So I used to just laugh it off, and then I realized that he was not only, had a lot of people who weren’t laughing them off and were taking them seriously, but then when people would challenge him he would say, “No historian has ever challenged my fact.” I thought okay, well then this is on us, right?

Kevin Kruse:

So to engage with him I decided, I’m never going to convince him. I mean, either he is a true believer in this or I think it’s a very successful con. Either way, he’s not going to swerve off this. But there are a lot of people out there in the middle who don’t know one way or the other, who are confronted with these arguments in the wild. Maybe they see the Tweets, maybe someone is throwing them at them at a cocktail party or a barbecue or whatever. They don’t have the ammunition to respond. So what I and other historians on Twitter like to do is to not only offer the rebuttal to this to give the standard historical interpretation, but also this is where Twitter I think is even more useful than some of these other forms we use like op-eds, is that we can provide the actual evidence. In today’s climate, which on Twitter is increasingly he said, she said, who knows, it’s easy for me to say not just, I’m a historian, trust me, but rather I’m a historian, here is how it is, and here are the documents, you read them yourself.

Julian Zelizer:

I had a moment, before I was with CNN I did all the networks. If Fox asked me to come on, a producer calls me he says, “Would you come in and do a segment on why the Great Society didn’t work?” So I said, “Well, I’ll come on, but I actually think a lot of it worked, and I’ve argued that, so I’m happy to talk about that.” So the producer is like, “Fine.” I go and it’s live TV. I go in the studio, host says, “So professor Zelizer, you don’t think the Great Society worked.” So you have the moments live TV, but a little like, well where do I go with this? And then I kind of laid out my argument, knowing he would never be swayed of why a lot of these programs really have lasted and have a huge effect. For me it was look, I don’t want to remove myself from a place like this where at least for a few minutes I can contribute this other perspective based on the facts. I think, like you said, like Kevin said, even if it’s very difficult and contentious, you can’t remove all these voices. They’re needed.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I think a lot of people appreciate it, and I wish people would do more of it. Among your students, is there something you think they get wrong about history more than other things?

Kevin Kruse:

Not like a specific issue, but I think they come into a history course with a belief that the period they’re living through is the more fractious and divided the country’s ever been, and that there used to be some golden age in which everyone got along. This is the nostalgia of their parents maybe glossing them. So I think to some degree actually they like knowing that America has long been a conflict, has long been a series of debates, and struggles, and that it hasn’t always been as placid as I think they’ve been led to believe by their parents.

Julian Zelizer:

For me it’s just that individuals, they come into the classroom, like many of us, and they look to individuals as the cause of every problem that we have in a given moment. What you can really open them up with history is to take them back four decades, three decades, or hundreds of years and really start to gain a sense of the roots of the issues that we are dealing with in 2018 and ’19. When you give a long-term perspective, you really have a flavor for why this is happening and why we haven’t resolved certain issues, and it’s great to open up a student that way. We wrote this whole book before President Donald Trump was even a candidate. It wasn’t part of our thinking, and we added at the end a chapter on it, and an epilogue on it, but I remember very clearly when President Trump, when Donald Trump was elected, some student Tweeted, you were probably barely on Twitter.

Kevin Kruse:

Yeah.

Julian Zelizer:

Which is funny. “Thank you for the course because I kind of get how we’re at this place and why this just happened.” And that’s really what we aimed to do, and I hope students in any classroom, or readers of a book, or listeners of a podcast can start seeing problems that way.

Preet Bharara:

So as you have written this book, and it’s sort of backward looking, obviously the implications are for the future and you want people to think about the future and we live going forward into the future, I’m told. What’s your sense of where we’re going and how we can make the future better based on the findings you’ve made?

Julian Zelizer:

One of the most positive parts of the book, which is nonpartisan, is that social movements have really mattered in this period. The conservative movement had a huge impact on how we think about issues, and presidential politics. More recently Black Lives Matter, the Parkland student movement have put issues on the table, and we see throughout this book how average people can really shape national debate. Our Reagan chapter it’s about how the Nuclear Freeze movement really caused problems for the administration and pushed them in a different direction. So in terms of the future, that’s a lesson I always talk about, that the sense of paralysis doesn’t actually match the history of how these movements can change our country.

Preet Bharara:

Professors, I would rather talk to you for another few hours than go back out into the cold.

Kevin Kruse:

As would we.

Preet Bharara:

But our time has come to an end. Thanks very much.

Kevin Kruse:

Thanks for having us.

Julian Zelizer:

Thank you.