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Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson

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.
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Listening to America with Clay Jenkinson
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Now displaying: 2024
Apr 15, 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.

Apr 8, 2024

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.

Apr 2, 2024

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.

Mar 25, 2024

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.

Mar 18, 2024

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. 

Mar 11, 2024

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.

Mar 4, 2024

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?

Feb 26, 2024

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.

Feb 19, 2024

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. 

Feb 12, 2024

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. 

Feb 6, 2024

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.

Jan 29, 2024

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.

Jan 22, 2024

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.

Jan 15, 2024

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.

Jan 8, 2024

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.

Jan 1, 2024

This week on Listening to America, Clay’s conversation with Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky 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.

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