AASLH Keynote: Jeremi Suri, “The Impossible Presidency”
I’m back from the AASLH (American Association for State and Local History) Conference in Austin, reflecting on the energizing keynote presentation by University of Texas history professor Jeremi Suri. The presentation was based on his newly released book, “The Impossible Presidency.” And while I though it would be about the very unlikely outcome that Donald Trump was elected President, it was actually about something more structural and pervasive: how we as a society have lost the ability to be led.
Intriguing. We have lost the ability to be led. And the presidency is set up for failure through developments in a society that is far different than that of the founders. Those developments include:
- a widening division between urban and rural cultures that is characterized by condescension and resentment
- a decreased focus on improving yourself and your society — (early settlements placed great emphasis on establishing universities and education)
- a decreased ability to see yourself in the scope of history
- hectic over-scheduled daily lives with few moments for reflection (including the daily schedule for the President)
I’m not sure I’ve characterized this all correctly — I’ll have to get the book. One of the implications mentioned for museums: the importance of teaching people to think about the future of society — to see something bigger than yourself. And in my mind, to reduce stereotypes that encourage the polarization between urban and rural cultures.
One audience member suggested that museums can (and should) play a special role through programs focusing a self-reflective lens on our society. It’s got me thinking…thinking about ways my own work recording visitors’ experiences might help facilitate this. Things are definitely not well in Washington, but maybe the dysfunction can encourage wide recognition of the need to grow.