Friday, September 30, 2016

Speaking on American Character in Portland, Oregon

I had a enjoyable whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon last weekend to deliver the 2016 Oliver Lecture at the First Congregational Church, an event co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Oregon. I spoke about my new book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Freedom and the Common Good, which is something of a sequel to American Nations.

Thanks much to the excellent and engaged crowd, to Broadway Books for selling on site (and selling so many) and to the sponsors for having me. I look forward to visiting again when I have  more time.

While in town, I made the obligatory writer's pilgrimage to Powell's, the legendary Portland bookstore, which takes up an entire block and requires its cavernous rooms be color coded just to find one's way around. They now have signed copies (pictured), though Broadway Books has the grandest collection West of the Mississippi.

Also was reassured about Portland fits into American Nations' Left Coast, as the history, founders, and institutional history of the First Congregational (and, indeed, the once-rival Unitarian church up the street) illustrates the Yankee half of the equation so very well. (George Atkinson founded the church, and one of his leading biographers attended the event.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Roanoke went from Train City to Brain City

My latest installment for POLITICO Magazine's "What Works" series is on the remarkable and entirely homegrown transformation of Roanoke, Virginia, which has been getting a lot of attention this week. Here's a snippet:
How did a small city in a disadvantaged region four hours from a major metropolis—one that had seen its signature industries atrophy or depart, that lacked so much as a branch campus of a state university—transform itself from the forgotten stepsister of the Appalachians into a formidable rival to Asheville, North Carolina? The answer has lessons for small, out-of-the-way cities everywhere: Roanoke’s people did it largely by themselves, in small steps and with an eye to assets and alliances in the wider region around them. 
Roanoke, at least, has embraced the story. Today's editorial in the Roanoke Times praised the story for not patronizing the city, which I gather has been a problem with national media treatments in the recent past. "Sometimes we're too close to things to fully appreciate them," the Times writes. "The Politico story does an excellent job piecing together how Roanoke has turned itself around."

And, in a first for the "What Works" series, there was this produced news segment on the story from
one of the local television stations, NBC affiliate WSLS. Thanks, Roanokers, for the endorsements.

This is my seventh full-length "What Works" piece this year. The others were on how Des Moines went from dull to cool; how Manchester, New Hampshire turned its vast 19th century millyard to spinning high-tech gold; on how Denver built its game-changing light rail system, only to discover its most powerful effects were not what they'd expected; how Cincinnati transformed "America's most dangerous neighborhood"; how Philadelphia repurposed a 1200 acre former naval base; and how Milwaukee breathed life back into a legacy industrial district, creating the manufacturing park of the future. In addition -- on the occasion of the Republican National Convention -- I had this shorter story on how Cleveland revamped its long-neglected Public Square.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Talking about Milwaukee's reindustrialization with Wisconsin Public Radio

For August's installment of the POLITICO Magazine "What Works" series, I was in Milwaukee, writing about that city's "re-industrialziation" effort and, in particular, their remaking of a blighted industrial zone into a model for what a 21st century manufacturing park can look like. The Menomonee Valley -- once the sacrifice zone for everything the city didn't want anyplace else -- now combines manufacturing with nature trails, parks, trout fishing, New Urbanism-ish design standards, and a landscape that helps control stormwater runoff and flooding.

I was pleased to be the guest Friday on Wisconsin Public Radio's long format interview program, Central Time. Here's a link to the audio of that online.

I was last on WPR in March, talking about my new book, American Character.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Pacific Standard asks: Can fact-checking defeat (LePage's) demagoguery?

A writer from Pacific Standard Magazine gave a call the other day asking about Governor Paul LePage, who is currently in the midst of the greatest of his long chain of self-inflicted scandals, this one over a chain of racist statements regarding drug dealer arrests, violent and profane threats against a lawmaker who called him out for these, and other sundries. The question at hand: can fact-checking -- by the media, or the ACLU or whomever -- put a demagogue in check?

My answer is probably not, at least in regards to such a person's supporters, and I say this from the experience not only of covering Paul LePage, but also of living and reporting in Viktor Orban's Hungary, Franjo Tudjman's Croatia, and the mess that was (and is) post-war Bosnia. Supporters back such people because they believe them to be on "their side" against a wicked internal enemy ("liberals," Serbs, what-have-you), not because the justifications the demagogue comes up with for their policies actually stand up to scrutiny. That's why they've been so dangerous throughout history: they lead people down a fact-free path of resentment, and in some times and places the more polite sectors of society are temperamentally unable to muster a vigorous enough response to the threat until it's too late.

Fortunately the stakes are relatively low in Maine, where the chief executive doesn't have an army, nuclear arsenal, or security state at his or her disposal. Not true of the Presidency of the United States, though, which is why our European allies -- who have far more firsthand experience with demagogues -- are so concerned about Donald Trump.

This long answer isn't in the article, but you can hear takes from the ACLU, Maine progressive activist Mike Tippng and conservative activist Lance Dutson.