One of my favorite television channels is C-Span. I know, most people do not even know what it is and if they do they are bored to tears. Not me. This is the stuff I enjoy. On the weekend C-Span 2 provides "Book Television" (all non-fiction books) for 48-hours. Now there is a C-Span 3 that deals only with history. For me the feast has been doubled. This glut of outstanding material is also accessible to me on my schedule with the DVR system I now use. I can set up four recordings at once and then watch them on my personal schedule. My "recorded television" Que is constantly full.
Over the last weekend I saw a great presentation by the well-known American historian Robert V. Remini (photo at right).
I first learned of Remini many years ago because of his majestic biographical work on President Andrew Jackson. Having grown up only a few miles from The Hermitage, Jackson's home and burial place, I was always interested in Jackson. Remini more recently wrote a book on the history of the House of Representatives. I have not read it but intend to in the new year. Because of his knowledge, and the need for members of the House to understand the history of their own chamber of the Congress, Remini was made the historian of the House of Representatives. He still makes his home in Illinois, after retiring from his teaching post at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Remini's most recent book, which I am reading right now, is: A Short History of the United States (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2008). This masterful 373-page volume is what history should be: readable, interesting and very hard to put down. Presidential historian Robert Dallek says it is "A masterful recounting of the American
experience, from the discovery of the New World to the present. Remini's engaging prose and balanced judgments make this a book for anyone who wants a realistic portrait of America's greatness an limitations. It is a perfect history for our times."
What struck me as I watched over an hour of Robert Remini on C-Span 3 was a question that he was asked by a person in the audience. The recorded event actually took place, in real time, just days before the national election. Remini was most careful not to comment on Barack Obama when he was asked. (Wise historians avoid becoming partisan commentators about modern politics!) The question this individual asked was about Obama's rise, and his corresponding lack of experience in politics, and whether or not this was a "trend." Remini spoke to a different issue, one that deeply interests me more than the question about Obama's rise to power. He spoke about "the era of the conservative revolution" coming to an end, an era which stretches over the past forty years or so. He said that he suspected this era was dead. I almost stood up and began to listen very carefully. I grabbed a pen and started taking notes.
Remini believes, and I have come to share his view, that the Reagan Revolution has ended. Pundits will keep talking about it and some Republicans will try to regain it with politicians like Gov. Palin but I think the appeal is lost, at least for a long time. He also said that what will replace this era is yet to be seen. I am not sure it will be an era of massive liberalism either. We are, in Remini's simple words, entering an "era of transition."
But why has the "conservative revolution" failed, or ended? Remini says it is due to massive deregulation linked with excessive spending. Our deficit is so huge that we cannot go back. The deficit has more than doubled in the last few years to over $10 trillion. Can Obama institute "real" change? Remini would not say, again being the cautious and wise historian that he is. He refused to see America in terms of Rome or other ancient powers while at the same time he said the new president will have to deal with people and ideologies that will not simply change because of an election. Obama will become an extension of what can happen or we will simply continue to move in a direction that will increase the likelihood that we will become a once-great power much like the nations of Europe, especially Great Britain.
I believe Remini's sober analysis is about right. The study of empires and nations will reveal that they decline slowly and unless there is new leadership, of the kind that stands up to power and corruption, we will drift and run down as a power in the world. This is not the end of the world, only the end of America as the sole great power that we became in the last decade of the 20th century.
It is interesting that once we reached our highest point in world history we declined so very quickly. And once the Republican Party had power in its hands it lost it so easily. (I can still recall the discussion in 2004 regarding whether or not the Republicans had a majority that they would not lose for many years to come. In two years it was gone and now it is in the dumps after 2008.) Could it be that our collective arrogance and greed will actually undo us? God knows. Christians would be wise to stop seeking the interests of American Empire and begin to preach and live for the kingdom of God. The two are not the same. Those who understand this will be ready for the future and those who don't will keep wasting time and money on the wrong issues.