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Listening to America

Listening to America

Society & Culture, Politics, History, American, Unitedstates

4.6 • 1K Ratings


Listening to America aims to “light out for the territories,” traveling less visited byways and taking time to see this immense, extraordinary country with fresh eyes while listening to the many voices of America’s past, present, and future. Led by noted historian and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson, Listening to America travels the country’s less visited byways, from national parks and forests to historic sites to countless under-recognized rural and urban places. Through this exploration, Clay and team find and tell the overlooked historical and contemporary stories that shape America’s people and places. Visit our website at ltamerica.org.

444 Episodes

#1600 A Conversation with Richard Rhodes

Clay Jenkinson interviews Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Rhodes, the author of 23 books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Topics include Rhodes' path to one of the most productive and acclaimed writing careers in recent American history; the strengths and weaknesses of Christopher Nolan's film Oppenheimer; the time Edward Teller abruptly stopped an interview and asked Rhodes to leave; the current status of the Doomsday Clock that tells us how close we are to nuclear war; and what's next in the illustrious career of the much awarded and universally celebrated author.

Transcribed - Published: 20 May 2024

#1599 Underway! Tracing Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” Journey

Clay Jenkinson and special guest host Russ Eagle discuss the first days of Listening to America’s Travels with Charley Tour. Clay reports from a campground near Cedar Rapids, Iowa en route to Sag Harbor out on the end of Long Island, New York, to touch base with Steinbeck’s starting point for his 1960 journey through America. Clay recounts his wrestling match with an uncooperative bike rack, and other details of getting underway on a twenty-week odyssey around the perimeter of the United States. Russ and Clay talk about Steinbeck’s state of mind—and declining health—as he set out in late September 1960, and the ways in which Steinbeck shaped his book Travels with Charley as a literary masterpiece and not just a dry reporting of verifiable road facts. They discuss the place of Travels with Charley in the larger trajectory of Steinbeck’s amazing career, and the places Clay will visit on his way to Long Island.

Transcribed - Published: 13 May 2024

#1598 A Conversation with Political Cartoonist Phil Hands

Clay Jenkinson interviews political cartoonist Phil Hands about the importance of cartoons in American history. Hands is the house cartoonist for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin, syndicated for a range of newspapers around the United States. We gave much of our attention to political cartoons about Thomas Jefferson, including one that depicts him as a prairie dog vomiting money in his quest to buy the Floridas, and another that depicts Sally Hemings as Jefferson’s consort. We also talked about the most cartooned political figure in American history, Theodore Roosevelt, including Clifford Berryman’s famous Teddy Bear cartoon of TR, as well as the difficulty of being a political cartoonist today with the aggressions of cancel culture.

Transcribed - Published: 6 May 2024

#1597 Arbor Day and the Seeds of Liberty

Guest host David Horton of Radford University discusses America’s trees and forests with Third President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said, “No sprig of grass grows uninteresting to me.” He told his friend Margaret Bayard Smith that any unnecessary cutting down of a tree should be regarded as silvicide, the murder of a majestic living thing. Jefferson wanted future cities to be planned in a checkerboard pattern with every other square permanent parkland. One of his last requests, just months before his death, was that the University of Virginia plant an arboretum. Jefferson’s protégé Meriwether Lewis was so startled by the treelessness of the Great Plains that he wondered if they could ever be settled. Later in the program, Clay and David talk about the origins of the Soil Conservation Service and FDR’s idea of a single endless shelter belt down the hundredth meridian from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Transcribed - Published: 29 April 2024

#1596 Ten Things on Nullification

Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the doctrine of nullification. That’s when a state refuses to accept the legitimacy of a federal law. Nullification is nowhere enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but through the course of American history a number of nullification crises have arisen. When the Adams administration passed the Alien and Sedition laws of 1798 Jefferson wrote a set of secret resolutions for the state of Kentucky resisting those laws, which Jefferson said were worthy of the ninth or tenth century. John C. Calhoun attempted nullification for South Carolina and other southern states in the 1830s, mostly over tariffs, and now again a number of states, led by Texas, are threatening to nullify federal laws they hate--or even to secede if necessary. Dr. Chervinsky has a hilarious response to the idea of Texas or Louisiana secessions.

Transcribed - Published: 22 April 2024

#1595 The Solar Eclipse of 2024

Clay Jenkinson joins his friend Dennis McKenna in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico to observe the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. Chaco Canyon dates to at least the ninth century CE, more than a thousand years ago, and somehow their skywatchers know how to observe equinoxes, solstices, and eclipses. What better place to see the solar eclipse of 2024? Administered by the US National Park System, but interpreted for us by a Native Navajo and Zia expert Kailo Winters, it was a magical experience in a sacred place. We came away impressed by the capacity of the European Enlightenment to figure all of this out, but far more in awe of the Puebloan scholars who figured such phenomena out centuries before European science was out of its swaddling clothes. We also check in with our favorite Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri.

Transcribed - Published: 15 April 2024

#1594 Live from Oklahoma

In this special edition program, Listening to America records in front of a live audience at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma. Clay Jenkinson and Professor of Political Science Dr. Aaron Mason focus their conversation on Thomas Jefferson and his influence on the American West. Dr. Mason is also co-executive director of the NWOSU Institute for Citizenship Studies.

Transcribed - Published: 8 April 2024

#1593 The LTA Survey and American Reflections

Listen in on Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with media consultants Luke Peterson and Riki Conrey of Washington, DC. Luke distributed a survey based on our questions about America at 250 and 2,700 people responded. Some survey results are discussed, but also the question of how exactly does Clay or anyone else go out to listen to America? How do you check your own biases? Where do you go exactly and to whom do you talk to listen to America? How do you present what you have learned and in what larger historical context? One thing is certain: all people everywhere are storytellers. The question is how to hear those stories in a way that is useful to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Transcribed - Published: 2 April 2024

#1592 Geert Mak and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley

Clay Jenkinson’s interview with the distinguished Dutch journalist Geert Mak, the author of In Europe, and also In America: Travels with John Steinbeck. In 2010 Geert Mak and his wife retraced the entire Steinbeck journey in a rented Jeep. After he returned to the Netherlands, Mak wrote a 550-page account of his travels. Though Steinbeck isn’t the main theme of In America, Mak fulfills the mission that Steinbeck set out to accomplish—that is, to wrestle with the character and narrative of what Steinbeck called “this monster country.” Clay and Mr. Mak discuss the sheer size of America, Steinbeck’s occasional fibs about the exact circumstances of the journey, race relations in America, violence in America, and the current state of the American Dream. It’s an amazing and quite moving interview.

Transcribed - Published: 25 March 2024

#1591 The Election of 2024 and the Constitution

Clay Jenkinson and regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky talk about the ways in which the Constitution of the United States is impeding and even preventing good government, with a particular focus on the coming election of 2024. Topics include the need for a uniform national election procedures act; the many problems of the Electoral College; and the possibility that in the next four years we may need to invoke the 25th Amendment, which was passed in 1967 to prepare for the possibility that a President might be incapacitated before the end of his term. We also look briefly at civilian control of the military and the future of the religious freedom principles of the First Amendment.

Transcribed - Published: 18 March 2024

#1590 Ten Things: The Jefferson-Adams Correspondence

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky to discuss the extraordinary correspondence between former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Between 1812 and 1826, they exchanged 158 letters, thought by historians to be the finest correspondence in American history. They wrote about their political visions and disagreements, the French Revolution, the origin of Native Americans, their private and public religious views, the American West, their children and grandchildren, and so much more. Jefferson was more formal and serene, Adams more candid and at times aggressive. In his fourth or fifth letter Adams said, “we must not die until we have explained ourselves to each other.” They both worked hard at it, usually with remarkable harmony. They died on the same day, July 4, 1826, Jefferson first at Monticello and Adams five hours later in his bed in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Transcribed - Published: 11 March 2024

1589 Loss of Respect for American Institutions

Clay Jenkinson interviews Dr. Henry Brady of the University of California at Berkeley about loss of respect for sixteen American institutions, some public, and some private: the police, the church, the Supreme Court, Higher Education, the FBI, the presidency, and, of course Congress. How did we lose faith? Has there been moral and ethical slippage in the last fifty years or are we just more aware of the imperfections of these institutions thanks to 24/7 media, including social media? What role has demagoguery played in the plummeting of respect for our institutions? How do we restore respect and trust in our basic institutions and how likely are we to see those reforms?

Transcribed - Published: 4 March 2024

#1589 Loss of Respect for American Institutions

Clay Jenkinson interviews Dr. Henry Brady of the University of California at Berkeley about loss of respect for sixteen American institutions, some public, and some private: the police, the church, the Supreme Court, Higher Education, the FBI, the presidency, and, of course Congress. How did we lose faith? Has there been moral and ethical slippage in the last fifty years or are we just more aware of the imperfections of these institutions thanks to 24/7 media, including social media? What role has demagoguery played in the plummeting of respect for our institutions? How do we restore respect and trust in our basic institutions and how likely are we to see those reforms?

Transcribed - Published: 4 March 2024

#1588 Presidential Norms

Guest host David Horton of Virginia leads a discussion with Clay Jenkinson about the difference between Constitutional requirements and what are called presidential norms. George Washington, for example, did not shake hands with the American people. He held formal levees once a week. Jefferson regarded those as monarchical habits and he performed a series of acts of political theater to tone down the presidency during his two terms. Nothing in the Constitution requires the outgoing president to attend his successor’s inauguration, but it is an established American norm, and when that norm and others are violated, it weakens the fabric of the American republic. David and Clay talk about the presidencies of the two Roosevelts, both of whom enjoyed expanding the powers of the presidency, and of course the disruptive events of the last ten years.

Transcribed - Published: 26 February 2024

#1587 The Sad History of Executive Orders

Clay Jenkinson and guest host David Horton discuss the history of executive orders. Even though they are not authorized by the U.S. Constitution, every president except William Henry Harrison has issued at least one. David and Clay review the most important executive orders in American history: the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; the Japanese internment camps brought on by FDR in 1942. Truman integrated the U.S. military and JFK created the Peace Corps using executive orders. Clay argues that they should not be used by the president in lieu of letting Congress hammer out public policy, particularly when tax dollars are at stake. And now, in this disruptive age, each president rescinds some of the executive orders of his predecessor, and the process repeats itself at the next election.

Transcribed - Published: 19 February 2024

#1586 Ten Things on Margaret Bayard Smith

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular contributor Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky for a spirited conversation about Margaret Bayard Smith, one of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest admirers. Mrs. Smith, who was 35 years younger than Jefferson, was the wife of the editor of the National Intelligencer, the first Washington, D.C. newspaper. Her letters and journals, printed as The First Forty Years of Washington Society, contain some of the most interesting details of Jefferson’s presidency, beginning with his inauguration on March 4, 1801. What she noticed and admired was the peaceful transfer of power in this our happy republic. Because Jefferson was a widower, Margaret Smith and Dolley Madison served as hostesses at some of Jefferson’s White House functions. Smith and Jefferson shared a love of nature. In fact, when Jefferson retired he gave Mrs. Smith a geranium plant she coveted. She and her husband Samuel Harrison Smith visited Jefferson at Monticello in August 1809, just a few months into his 17-year retirement.

Transcribed - Published: 12 February 2024

#1585 Ten Things About John Randolph of Roanoke

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky to talk about one of the strangest and most extraordinary people of America’s Early National Period, John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia. Randolph was a brilliant and flamboyant man, hairless with the voice of a soprano and locked physically in a pre-pubescent state. Yet he was a brilliant orator, an outstanding Congressional floor manager, with a wicked tongue and a vituperative spirit. Randolph was a radical Republican who broke with President Jefferson when the third President behaved like a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. We discuss a number of episodes from Randolph’s colorful life, including his manumission of more than 300 slaves and his role in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.

Transcribed - Published: 6 February 2024

#1584 The Red Barber Program

Clay is joined by Dr. Kurt Kemper of Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, and our west coast Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri. Both are deeply interested in American sports, both for the sport per se, but also for the window they provide on the larger dynamics of American life. This week’s topics: outsized college coach salaries; the madcap world of Bill Walton; the problematic temperament of Draymond Green; and the death of intercollegiality in American college sports. Dr. Kemper is the author of College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era. David Nicandri has written highly regarded books on Lewis and Clark and Captain James Cook.

Transcribed - Published: 29 January 2024

#1583 College Football as Cultural Lens

Clay is joined by two guests, David Nicandri the West Coast Enlightenment correspondent for Listening to America and Dr. Kurt Kemper of Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. Kemper is the author of College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era. Kemper and Nicandri believe that larger themes in American culture find expression in the world of sports. Much of the discussion surrounds the famous 1962 Rose Bowl—in which the faculty of Ohio State University voted not to send the football team to the celebrated New Year’s game because it would distract from the academic mission of the university. The result was a riot in Columbus, Ohio, with lots of property damage and in which faculty members and the university president were burned in effigy. In the end, UCLA played the University of Minnesota in the Rose Bowl. The program also explores the ways in which the Civil Rights Movement roiled college football in the 1950s and 60s.

Transcribed - Published: 22 January 2024

#1582 On the Trail of John Steinbeck

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson’s follow-up conversation with Russ Eagle of Salisbury, North Carolina, about following the trail of John Steinbeck. Russ is a former high school teacher and administrator with a vast love of the writer. After his report on the arrival of Steinbeck’s heralded boat, the Western Flyer, in Monterey, we talk about the other must-see places and objects in the Steinbeck universe: Rocinante, his truck camper at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California; Sag Harbor, his home on the eastern edge of Long Island; the original manuscript of the Grapes of Wrath at the University of Virginia; Doc’s Laboratory in the heart of Monterey; and the hand-carved box which he fashioned to deliver the manuscript of East of Eden to his editor in New York.

Transcribed - Published: 15 January 2024

#1581 Henry Wallace and the World That Might Have Been

Clay talks with Jeremy Gill of Hays, Kansas, about former Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace served several presidential administrations, some Republican but more Democrat. He was FDR’s New Deal Secretary of Agriculture, then FDR’s vice president in his third term, 1940-1944. The Democrats dropped Wallace as too radical in 1944, nominating Harry S. Truman in his place. So, Truman became the accidental president on April 12, 1945, not Henry Wallace. Wallace ran for the presidency against Truman as an independent in 1948 but lost badly. Wallace was a serious agrarian who experimented with new corn varieties and had a Victory Garden in Washington, D.C., during his tenure as vice president.

Transcribed - Published: 8 January 2024

#1580 Ten Things about the Hamilton-Jefferson Relationship

This week on Listening to America, Clay’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervensky about two of the greatest of the Founders, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson knew of Hamilton’s war heroics and his importance as aide-de-camp to George Washington, but he didn’t actually meet Hamilton until the spring of 1790 when they were two of the four members of George Washington’s cabinet. They were yin and yang. Jefferson was an agrarian and a strict constructionist, a man who was obsessed with peace. Hamilton was an urban man who wanted the government to support American industry, a broad constructionist of the Constitution who believed war could bring glory to himself and to the nation. They crossed swords in the Washington Cabinet but each found a good deal to admire in the other. In the end, Hamilton helped secure the Presidency for Jefferson, not because he thought Jefferson was right for the job, but because he knew that Aaron Burr was an unstable demagogue.

Transcribed - Published: 1 January 2024

#1579 The Holiday Show

Clay checks in with a few of his favorite Listening to America guests to hear about their own holiday traditions and their New Year's resolutions. Guests include David Nicandri, Beau Wright, and Brad Crisler.

Transcribed - Published: 24 December 2023

#1578 Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson interviews professional photographers John and Coleen Graybill of Buena Vista, Colorado, about the life and achievement of Edward S. Curtis. Curtis took 40,000 dry glass plate photographs of Native Americans between 1900 and 1935, and published 20 volumes of his portraits, landscape photographs, musical notations, and a gigantic amount of ethnographic prose. John is the great great grandson of Edward Curtis. The Graybills are traveling the West photographing descendants of individuals that Curtis photographed, and interviewing them on video about their lives and their heritage. They have released two books of previously unpublished Curtis photographs. It’s an amazing story of love, integrity, and perseverance.

Transcribed - Published: 18 December 2023

#1577 The Listening to America Origin Story

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with occasional guest host David Horton about the origins of the Thomas Jefferson Hour and the purpose of changing the name and focus of the program to Listening to America. Clay sings the praises of two hosts, Bill Crystal, now of Virginia, and David Swenson of Makoche Recording Studios in Bismarck, North Dakota. Clay recalls incidents that have occurred in his long career in tights and buckled shoes, and particularly the way in which Jefferson’s hypocrisy on race and slavery has been addressed by members of Clay’s audiences. Plus, what we can expect from Listening to America over the next few years as the United States reaches its 250th birthday.

Transcribed - Published: 11 December 2023

#1576 Ten Things About the Louisiana Purchase

This week on Listening to America, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with regular guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky: Ten Things about the Louisiana Purchase. In the spring of 1803 Napoleon sold the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States for three cents per acre. At 525 million acres, or 828,000 square miles, it was the greatest land sale in human history. What was Jefferson’s role in all of this? Why did President Jefferson believe that the purchase might be technically unconstitutional? What about the Native peoples who already lived in that vast territory? Why did Napoleon sell? And why didn’t Jefferson attempt to stop the spread of slavery into the American southwest?

Transcribed - Published: 5 December 2023

#1575 Mind the Gap: Between Presidential Administrations

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with guest host David Horton about three remarkable moments in American history between administrations. First, the tragedy of Meriwether Lewis, who got caught between the outgoing administration of his mentor Thomas Jefferson and the incoming administration of President James Madison, who was no admirer of Lewis. This gap contributed to the nervous collapse of Lewis and probably his suicide in 1809. Then the burden that fell on the shoulders of Vice President Harry S. Truman in April 1945 when FDR died at Warm Springs and Truman learned about the existence of the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project for the first time that day. And finally, the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to fulfill JFK’s agenda on Vietnam, civil rights, and the space program.

Transcribed - Published: 27 November 2023

#1574 John Steinbeck and the Western Flyer

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with fellow Steinbeck scholar Russ Eagle of North Carolina about the relaunch of the Western Flyer, the boat that took Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck’s wife Carol, and four others to the Sea of Cortez in the spring of 1940. After eighty years the Western Flyer has been completely refurbished and now takes its place as one of the principal attractions at Monterey, California. Ricketts was a marine biologist and one of Steinbeck’s best friends in life. Partly to help Ricketts (who was a mediocre businessman), partly to get away from his sudden celebrity after The Grapes of Wrath went viral, Steinbeck commissioned the boat, gathered the crew, and made his way with his fellow adventures to Baja California to collect specimens for Rickett’s lab in Monterey. Steinbeck’s marriage to his first wife Carol was coming apart at the time. He was completely exhausted after the flurry of concentration that led to the greatness of Grapes of Wrath. It was part science, part escape, part vacation, but it led to two books, The Sea of Cortez in 1941, and The Log of the Sea of Cortez ten years later.

Transcribed - Published: 21 November 2023

#1573 Overrated and Underrated Presidents

Clay Jenkinson is joined by regular guests Lindsay Chervinsky and David Nicandri to discuss the most overrated and underrated Presidents in American history, present company excluded. We evaluate the 46 presidencies, not the overall character or achievement. Woodrow Wilson does not fare well, but Richard Nixon has considerable support, in spite of Watergate. Lindsay heaps high praise on her man John Adams while David believes John F. Kennedy has additional luster now that our national leaders have become jaded, cynical, and openly opportunistic. We agree that Bill Clinton is one of the most disappointing presidents, given his amazing natural gifts and charisma, and Lindsay pays a moving tribute to Bush 41.

Transcribed - Published: 14 November 2023

#1572 Ten Things: The Post-Civil War Amendments

This week, Clay’s conversation with favorite guest Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. All ratified between December 1865 and February 1870, these three key amendments are in some respects the second founding of the United States. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th insisted on equal protection of all citizens of the United States, thus applying the Bill of Rights to the people of every state. And the 15th granted Black men 21 years old and older the right to vote. Unfortunately, all three were systematically undermined by the states of the old Confederacy, often with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court. We talk about birthright citizenship today, whether someone convicted of insurrection today would be ineligible to run for president, and whether the current trajectory of the Supreme Court is undermining the plain provisions of these key Constitutional Amendments.

Transcribed - Published: 6 November 2023

#1571 A Conversation With David Nicandri

This week, Clay’s conversation with Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri about four subjects: Ken Burns’ documentary on the buffalo; the solar eclipse of Saturday, October 15; a new book by former Secret Service Agent Paul Landis about the Kennedy assassination — Landis actually tampered with the evidence in the presidential limo, and now, at 88, he wants to tell the people of America his story; and a preliminary conversation about the structure of road adventures, beginning with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and ending with Nicandri’s recent trip to the Arctic Circle.

Transcribed - Published: 31 October 2023

#1570 Clay’s 10 Propositions About Thomas Jefferson

This week on Listening to America, after a lifetime of thinking about the third president of the United States, Clay Jenkinson has made a list of 10 insights about the great man. Clay puts these propositions to our favorite guest historian Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky.

Transcribed - Published: 23 October 2023

#1569 Ten Things About the Constitutional Convention

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the creation of the Constitution in the summer of 1787. What did they get right, what did they get wrong, and which issues did they simply kick down the road? Was the true divide between big states and little states, or as James Madison said, between slave states and free states? Why did the Founders work behind closed doors in secrecy? Why did they throw out the Articles of Confederation when they were instructed merely to make a few strategic amendments? Why did Alexander Hamilton give that insane five hour speech calling for the President and Senators to serve for life? How would things have been different if Jefferson had been there, if John Adams had been there, if Patrick Henry had been there? Well, Patrick Henry said he “smelt a rat.”

Transcribed - Published: 16 October 2023

#1568 The American Buffalo: a New Documentary by Ken Burns

Guest host David Horton of Radford University talks with Clay Jenkinson about Ken Burns' latest documentary, The American Buffalo, which premiers on PBS on October 16. Clay has now been in five of Ken Burns' documentaries, and has been one of the historical advisers in two of the films. Among the topics of discussion: Who was William Hornaday and what role did he play in the saving of the buffalo? What was Theodore Roosevelt's role? How do you prepare to be interviewed in a Ken Burns film? Why is the buffalo so important to America's sense of its heritage? Clay also speaks of his own long association with the buffalo, first seen when he was a child in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Transcribed - Published: 10 October 2023

#1567 Rebuilding Trust in American Institutions

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s interview with Dr. Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute about how we can turn America around from this funk of profound disillusionment and cynicism. Dr. Levin is the author of many books, the most recent of which is A Time to Build: How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream. As the United States lurches towards its 250th birthday, are we still a nation with a common history, a common set of values, and a common destiny? Dr. Levin’s view is that nostalgia for the golden age between the end of World War II and Watergate is a mistake, that we have to stop dwelling on the past and what went wrong, and begin rebuilding trust and trustworthiness in our national institutions. We need to demand more of our political leaders and ask more of ourselves if we want to recover. And, he recommends books every American should read as we get ready for July 4, 2026.

Transcribed - Published: 2 October 2023

#1566 How To Be a Chautauquan

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with actor Steven Duchrow about taking on historical characters. Steven has been performing as the poet Vachel Lindsay for many years, but now he is taking on the character of the poet Carl Sandburg. Where do you start? How do you figure out what has to be in any performance whether it is five minutes long or an hour and a half? Once you have done all the research, how do you turn that immense body of information into a solid and entertaining Chautauqua performance? Steven Dukrow provides several superb recitations of poems by Vachel Lindsay and—of course—performs Sandburg’s most famous poem: Chicago, Hog Butcher of the World.

Transcribed - Published: 25 September 2023

#1565 Ten Things about Writing a Book

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky about the agony and ecstasy of writing a book. Among the topics: Do you do all the research before you start to write or just begin and research as you go along? How do you pace yourself and not burn out? How do you know if the book is any good? What do you do to power through the gumption traps—writer’s block, the distracting dramas of real life, other professional commitments, the days or weeks when you just don’t feel like writing, or conclude that you have nothing important to say? Lindsay’s second book is tentatively titled Making the Presidency, about the administration of the second President John Adams. Clay has authored more than a dozen titles.

Transcribed - Published: 18 September 2023

#1564 The New Look of the Jefferson Hour: Listening to America

This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University returns to engage Clay Jenkinson about the plans and purposes of Listening to America. Why the name change on the highly successful Jefferson Hour? What will the new program title enable Clay to explore over the next decade? Did the New Enlightenment Radio Network change the name because Jefferson is now perceived as toxic because of his complicities in slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans? How exactly does Clay intend to "listen" to America? How does this new program emphasis help us think about America as the republic approaches its 250th birthday on July 4, 2026?

Transcribed - Published: 11 September 2023

#1563 The Formation of Thomas Jefferson

This week, guest host David Horton of Radford University questions Mr. Jefferson about his formation, about the path he took to national greatness. What were the particular influences of Jefferson's father Peter, a self-made man of the overseer class, and Jefferson's mother Jane Randolph, who belonged to one of the most socially and politically prominent families in Virginia? Why did Jefferson's life veer from the agrarian simplicities of western Virginia and lead him to the writing of the Declaration of Independence and later on to the Presidency of the United States? Might Jefferson have been happy if he had followed the trajectory of his closest friend Dabney Carr, who seemed content with a modest house, a few books, an amiable spouse, and a simple Virginia diet?

Transcribed - Published: 4 September 2023

#1562 Ten Things: Counterfactual History

This week on Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson, Clay's conversation with his regular guest Professor Lindsay Chervinsky about Ten Historical Counterfactuals. Historians are warned never to indulge in what if history, but we cannot help it, it just such fun. What if the British had won the Revolutionary War? What if Alexander Hamilton had become the President of the United States? What if Jefferson had never owned an enslaved person? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated on November 22, 1963? What if Adolf Hitler had gotten an atomic bomb for use at Moscow or Stalingrad? If some of the pivotal moments in world history had gone the other way, how might things be different?

Transcribed - Published: 28 August 2023

#1561 The Titan and the Titanic

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s interview with David Nicandri in the aftermath of the disaster of the submersible Titan in the north Atlantic. Nicandi reflects on the spirit of exploration, the risks taken by those who would go where no man has gone before. Were the five men who died when the submersible imploded just billionaire tourists or adventurers in the spirit of Lewis and Clark and Captain James Cook? How can we make sense of the continuing lure of the Titanic? Where does undersea tourism go from here?

Transcribed - Published: 22 August 2023

#1560 The Oppenheimer Film as Cinema

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with his cinephile friend Niles Schwartz of Minneapolis about the summer blockbuster film Oppenheimer. People are already saying it is one of the great films in recent decades, a certain classic like The Sound of Music, Dr. Strangelove, the Deer Hunter, and Citizen Kane. Clay asked Niles to forget about history and the character of Robert Oppenheimer, but simply to respond to the film as film: cinematography, editing, direction, the acting, the score. Niles agreed that Robert Downey, Jr., is headed for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Niles Schwartz is a tough critic, but he loved this film.

Transcribed - Published: 14 August 2023

#1559 The Plight of a Secular Society

This week, Clay Jenkinson interviews Bruce Ledewitz, the author of The Universe is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life. Since Nietzsche's famous pronouncement that "God is dead," Euro-American culture has become profoundly secular--and it shows, according to Ledewitz. Without the great tradition of Christian culture, America has descended into radical individualism without any moral anchor for public or private behavior. Ledewitz rejects the Enlightenment's belief that secular culture is a sufficient restraining mechanism for humans who are, in the Enlightenment's formulation, capable of considerable perfectibility. Jefferson's belief in a "moral sense" is not enough to give American culture meaning or restraint. Ledewitz sees little hope for a restoration of a morally grounded American society.

Transcribed - Published: 8 August 2023

#1558 How Accurate Was the Oppenheimer Movie?

This week, Clay Jenkinson’s conversation with Listening to America’s Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri after viewing the blockbuster film Oppenheimer. How close did the film stay to the historical record? Was the characterization of Oppenheimer both accurate and compelling? Why does Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) play so large a role in the film? Will the film be remembered in Hollywood history? Why is the film rated R? Is Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Edward Teller an allusion to Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove? Do the four narrative strands of the film hold together? What is the significance of the argument of the film that, once you create nuclear devices, they are sure to be used in the next existential world crisis?

Transcribed - Published: 31 July 2023

#1557 The Death of Great Salt Lake

This week, Clay Jenkinson's interview with the Thoreau of Great Salt Lake, Scott Baxter, about the possibility that the lake will die well before it dries up entirely. Baxter has spent decades monitoring the lake as its levels diminish thanks to over-allocation and more recently the prolonged drought in the American West. With his future son-in-law, Baxter circumnavigated the lake several years ago. The toxic dust that is exposed by declining lake levels represents a respiratory problem for the citizens of the Wasatch Front in Utah. That dust finds its way to the snowfields in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, damaging the ski industry and causing the snowpack to melt sooner than ever before. This interview is part of Listening to America's Water in the West initiative.

Transcribed - Published: 25 July 2023

#1556 John Quincy Adams Part II

This week, the second of a two part conversation between Clay Jenkinson and Lindsay Chervinksy on the life and achievements of John Quincy Adams. The little known sixth President is so interesting that Clay and Lindsay decided to do a second Ten Things program about him. Did he have a sense of humor? Could he relax? What kind of First Lady was Louisa Adams? Was Adams a true abolitionist or did he prefer caution to a bold assault on slavery? Why did he dislike Thomas Jefferson so much?

Transcribed - Published: 18 July 2023

#1555 John Quincy Adams Deserves Better

This week, the first of a two part conversation between Clay Jenkinson and Lindsay Chervinsky on the life and achievement of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. Adams was perhaps the greatest Secretary of State in American history. He had a rough one-term presidency, but then he won a seat in the House of Representatives that he retained until his death in 1848. He was one of America's greatest opponents of slavery.

Transcribed - Published: 10 July 2023

#1554 Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Civilization

This week, Clay Jenkinson talks with David Horton of Radford University in Virginia about the artificial intelligence revolution. Where are we with AI and where are we headed? What is the future of privacy? Is it possible to regulate AI? Will the machines terminate us as a slovenly, irrational, and wasteful species? Will we live forever or at least another hundred years? What will universities do now that ChatGPT is rocking education? Meanwhile, Clay asks ChatGPT to write an essay condemning Jefferson for slavery and another defending him.

Transcribed - Published: 4 July 2023

#1553 Shackleton’s Ship the Endurance Found!

Clay Jenkinson interviews Enlightenment correspondent David Nicandri about the discovery of Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Endurance at the bottom of the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. The Endurance sank in November 1915 after being trapped and crushed by polar ice. A rescue archaeologist named Mensun Bound led two multimillion dollar expeditions to find the sunken ship, which had settled on the bottom of the icy sea nearly 10,000 feet below the surface. On March 5, 2022, an underwater probe found the Endurance right where it should be, and to their great surprise, it was wonderfully intact. Clay asks Nicandri whether such an expensive undertaking was worth it.

Transcribed - Published: 27 June 2023

#1552 Ten Things: If George Washington Could Drop the Mic

This week, Clay Jenkinson and regular Listening to America correspondent Lindsay Chervinsky talk about moments when the first president, George Washington, may have been tempted to drop the mic - if such a technology had existed in his time. We discuss Washington's response to the Newburgh Conspiracy, Washington showing up at the Continental Congress in uniform before they had appointed him Commander in Chief, Washington's Farewell Address, and Washington's gift of a basket of figs when Colonel Hamilton was beset by a sex scandal.

Transcribed - Published: 20 June 2023

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