It's a truism that American political life is broken. Even with the presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court under one party, we remain at loggerheads. Peter H. Schuck (AM '69, government) responds to this divisiveness in One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us (Princeton University Press, 2017). Schuck dissects five vexing issues: poverty, immigration, campaign finance, affirmative action, and the intersection of religion and public policy. For each, he summarizes the background and context and, wherever possible, marshals empirical research. “Good policy,” he says, “requires good data, which is exceedingly hard to come by.” Policymaking can founder on complex realities. For example, many Americans embrace their own immigrant heritage yet view recent immigrants with suspicion, whether from economic concerns, fears of terrorism, or discomfort at racial or religious differences. Likewise, cultural values shape our approaches to poverty—who should receive assistance, how much, and in what form. Today Schuck’s empirically grounded, dispassionate approach seems particularly vital.
Most historians have two main takes on former President Woodrow Wilson—unrealistic moralist or unrepentant racist. Trygve Throntveit (AB ’01, history and literature, AM ’04, history, PhD ’08, history), lecturer and assistant director of undergraduate studies in Harvard’s Department of History, envisions another, pragmatic Wilson. Power without Victory: Woodrow Wilson and the American Internationalist Experiment (University of Chicago Press, 2017) aligns Wilson with the pragmatism of William James. Throntveit interprets Wilson’s racism as more casual than strident, and he rejects the view of Wilson as “rigidly moralistic.” Wilson’s pragmatism is seen in his notion of government by “common counsel,” encompassing an “inclusive, deliberative discourse” between citizens and their government. Diplomatically, it recognized other states as equals. Yet Wilson’s Latin American policy—marked by military interventions in Mexico (1914 and 1916), Haiti (1915), and the Dominican Republic (1916)—belied such principles. Throntveit concludes that Wilson learned from such missteps, as seen in his 1917 call for “peace without victory” (“Only a peace between equals can last”) and his plans for the League of Nations.
Danes haven’t caused much of a dither since Viking times (unless you’re a native Greenlander). Denmark has long seemed a model of stolid homogeneity. But in 1850, the first Mormon missionaries arrived, won tens of thousands of converts, and started a Danish exodus to Utah. Danish But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850−1920 (University of Utah Press, 2017) recounts the impact of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Danish society. Mormonism’s spread posed serious challenges for religious freedom and tolerance and catalyzed a more heterogeneous vision of Danish culture. Author Julie K. Allen (PhD ’05, Germanic languages and literatures) invokes various forms of popular culture, including editorials, literature, theater, songs, and motion pictures, to make her case. Responses shifted from initial rejection (including some violence) to ultimate rapprochement, as Danes came to see their Mormon neighbors as “productive, respected, long-term members of Danish society.”