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WORLD FOCUS: From Taft to Trump

July 6, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

After attending a presentation by professor Nicole Hemmer at the New School in New York City, Mara Jayne Miller, one of the founders and board member of the Lake Placid Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and the Adirondack Roundtable public affairs program, made a decision.

She consulted the board of directors of her organization and, without delay, invited Hemmer to be a guest speaker at the 2017 Adirondack Roundtable forum on July 15 at the Lake Placid Convention Center. It is a program that brings major figures from the fields of business, finance, government, politics, arts and the media to Lake Placid.

Past Roundtable presenters have included John C. Bogle, founder and CEO of Vanguard Funds, the world's largest mutual fund; Ellen Stofan, NASA's chief scientist; Madeline Kunin, former governor of Vermont; David Sloan Wilson, biologist and evolutionist; and Eileen Rockefeller, philanthropist and author.

Hemmer is a nationally recognized political historian. She was awarded the highest honor for teaching excellence. Currently, she serves as assistant professor in presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, and visiting professor at the University of Miami. She is also a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Her work on conservative politics has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times, to U. S. News & World Report, to "Vox."

She is the author of the ground-breaking work, "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics."

I asked Hemmer, what is the message she would like to convey to her audience at the Adirondack Roundtable.

"I hope to show two things," she said, "first, the long-standing role of conservative media shaping Republican politics, and second, that Donald Trump, though he often seems to be a radical break with the past, has in some ways returned the Republican Party to some of its early 20th century beliefs of protectionism and a wariness of international intervention."

She continued, "Conservative activists, starting in the 1940s and 1950s, saw media as a key to political change. They believed the media outlets of the day were under the control of liberals, and that's why liberal politics had succeeded since the days of the New Deal. So they started their own media outlets to spread conservative ideas and, they hoped, to change politics."

Hemmer explained that in the process, those media activists, such as William F. Buckley Jr. and Bill Rusher at the National Review, Clarence Manion on radio, and Henry Regnery in publishing, found themselves leaders of a movement. They helped to move the GOP to the right through candidates like Barry Goldwater and in the process transformed American media. They moved it out of the consensus politics of the 1940s and 1950s and into the world of left-vs-right that we know today.

Considering Hemmer's credentials as a scholar of presidential studies, I asked her how she evaluates President Trump's first six months in the White House.

"Trump's first six months in office have been fascinating," she said. "Perhaps the most important takeaway thus far is that the Republican Party and Trump continue to tie their fates together, and the GOP is willing to capitulate to Trump on a number of fronts, including foreign policy and protectionist economics.

"It's also been both tremendously chaotic and largely unproductive," she continued, "There's not yet any major legislation passed in the first six months, which is stunning given that there's united Republican government."

Hemmer's talk promises to be instructive. David Greenberg, author, of "Republic of Spin," evaluated her book, "Messengers of the Right" this way: "Historian Nicole Hemmer has written the single best book to date about the roots and growth of the ideas and networks underneath it all. ... This first-rate work of scholarship instantly joins the must-read list for any student of history of conservatism, the history of modern media, or the history of the polarized political culture in which we find ourselves today."

Frank Shatz's column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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