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Charlie Savage - “Part of the Fun of the Job Is That Things Never Stand Still”
Charlie Savage speaking at the 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Charlie Savage - “Part of the Fun of the Job Is That Things Never Stand Still”
Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu and Oscar Tollast 
While many journalists agree the job can feel thankless on occasions, the career of a reporter at least is never mundane – particularly at the time of writing. Charlie Savage, Washington correspondent of the New York Times, says: “Part of the fun of the job is that things never stand still.... it is just different, constantly different.” Savage was a faculty member at this year’s Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) symposium - Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics - held in September at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg, Austria. As a correspondent for the Times, covering national security and legal issues in a post-9/11 America, Savage has witnessed and reported on a fair share of significant change, covering both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s administrations both for the Boston Globe and the Times. The 2007 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting was awarded to Savage for his “revelations that President Bush often used ‘signing statements’ to assert his controversial right to bypass provisions of new laws.” After digging into the Bush administration further, Savage recognized there was a bigger story to tell. He says, “I started to understand that there was undergirding this [policy direction] a strong push coming out of Vice President [Dick] Cheney’s office to expand presidential powers an end to itself… It was an insight that explains, in my mind, so much about what was going on, but you really couldn’t do justice to it in a newspaper-length article or even a long magazine. It needed to be a book to make the pattern – to sort of suss out their connections, and it just was a book I needed to write.” As a consequence, Savage published Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency & the Subversion of American Democracy in 2007, the sixth year of the Bush presidency. Eight years later, Savage published Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency. In Savage’s words, he describes it as “kind of a sequel but kind of not.” Why? “The Obama administration did not have an ideological approach to executive power like the Bush administration did that explains its pattern of behavior…” Savage says. He adds, “They did accept that the war on terror was a real war, which some liberals deny, but they thought they could fight it within the constraints of what they saw as the rule of law - without making expansive assertions of presidential power to bypass laws and treaties, like Bush and Cheney had done. “The result was something of a muddle from one perspective, where they kept legalized versions of some policies they had inherited from Bush, like military commissions and warrantless wiretapping, but got rid of other things, like torture, which displeased people among both the faction that supported the Bush war on terror and the faction that loathed it." In a presentation at SSASA, Savage drew from both of these books. Commenting on his presentation, he says, “It was trying to get at the question of why it was that Obama did not govern in line with the expectations created by his campaign rhetoric, when everyone thought he was going to dismantle the war on terrorism that the Bush administration had erected - the architecture of things like warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention at Guantanamo military commissions and all the rest... It was more like he right-sized it. “[Obama] shaved off the rough corners and he did shut the door on torture but on other things he preserved these authorities even if he was trying to use them more sparingly and with greater legal standing or foundations than perhaps they had when Bush first created them.” In the same presentation, Savage commented on some of the early insights we could take away from President Donald Trump’s administration. He says, “[Trump’s] rhetoric suggests an authoritarian mindset: whether it is attacking the independent judiciary, attacking a free press, suggesting that he sees law enforcement as an instrument of his own will rather than some sort of independent rule of law based approach to these extraordinary powers…. But then I made the point that notwithstanding all that for the most part that's not how his administration has governed. His administration has while criticizing adverse judicial rulings abided by them.” In short, it is too early to draw conclusions, but Savage believes there is a disconnect between what Trump has said and what he’s been doing in terms of how abnormal it is. “People have often said to me: ‘Oh, you are going to have a great trilogy here,” Savage says when asked if he is planning on writing about Trump’s approach to national security. While not ruling it out, Savage is yet to be fully convinced a book – at least in this area - is waiting in the wings. Savage says, “For all their differences, the Bush and the Obama administrations both had very coherent strongly philosophical legal policymaking behind them… You could see what they were trying to do and then you could see how from that insight many specific examples across many different themes fit within this pattern. And so, both of those books are very similar in that respect. I have an argument, and then I show how 100 different things all lined up with this argument. “The Trump administration does not seem to have a very coherent legal [policy making framework]. The role of lawyers in the Trump administration is very limited as far as I can tell and an awful lot of its policy-making seems somewhat capricious and sort of personality-driven and indeed a little bit arbitrary. That means that there is a lot of good books to be written about behind the scenes in these arguments and the sort of menagerie of idiosyncratic people who have their hands on government leaders of power right now. Books like the one Bob Woodward just did [Fear: Trump in the White House], for example, or Fire and Fury [by Michael Wolff] earlier…. there are plenty of good articles about that too, but it's not the kind of thing I do. It doesn't fit within that legal lens.”   Both of Savage’s books were written in the sixth year of President Bush and President Obama’s administration. Will Savage’s opinion change if there is a sixth year of President Trump’s administration? “We will see how things look,” he adds. Charlie Savage was a faculty member during Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics, part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Christopher Bigsby - Trying to Understand America
Christopher Bigsby delivers the inaugural Ron Clifton Lecture in American Studies at Salzburg Global Seminar
Christopher Bigsby - Trying to Understand America
Salzburg Global Seminar 
Christopher Bigsby is a professor of American studies and director of the Arthur Miller Institute for American Studies at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, UK. He has published more than 50 books, principally on American culture, literature and theater, a biography of Arthur Miller, eight novels, plus as a study of Holocaust literature. Bigsby is a member of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association Advisory Board and has attended many SSASA symposia as a faculty member or participant. Below is a video and full transcript of the inaugural Ron Clifton lecture on American Studies, delivered by Bigbsy during the 16th SSASA symposium - Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics.
TRANSCRIPT The English philosopher John Locke once wrote, "in the beginning, the whole world was America," a tabula rasa. The poet John Donne compared it to his mistress’s body which he explored, calling her his "new found land," his America. It was a place awaiting its own invention, innocence eager for experience. What would it become? What has it become? In 2000, three Supreme Court Justices, in a minority report, offered the opinion that nude dancing was protected by the First Amendment. At the beginning of the American story, Increase Mather would have spun in his pulpit having fulminated against mixed dancing, which he called promiscuous dancing, of a kind in which many of you will have engaged. Since another word for mixed dancing was gynocandrical, you can see why the Puritans were against it. What to make of the contradictions of a country which would expand from sea to shining sea. Arthur Miller once told me, "the thing is that Americans are all crazy, but the good thing is that they are all crazy in different ways and at different times." So how to understand it? As I am sure you all know, Aeschylus was killed when a falling tortoise hit his head. It’s fair to say it must have been something of a surprise let alone difficult to understand, but scarcely more so than the election of Donald Trump, a man who refers to himself in the third person, a habit he shares with Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings, Richard Nixon and Elmo the red monster in The Muppets. Who understood and predicted his victory? Not the New York Times, which on election morning gave Hillary Clinton a 91 percent chance of becoming president, the Huffington Post preferring 98 percent, the Princeton Election Consortium [stating] 99 percent. They should have listened to him. After all, as he had explained in the campaign, "I will be the greatest president that God ever created," "the most successful person ever to run for the presidency." Did he not tell us that he was "a very stable genius," and would, in the words of the note he dictated to his physician, be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency, with extraordinary physical strength and stamina? He could, he explained, "be the most presidential person ever." "My IQ," he remarked, "is one of the highest… I’m intelligent. Some people would say I am very, very, very intelligent." There as he explained, "probably in the history of this country, probably in the history of the world … never been anything like what happened in November of ’16." On that last note, perhaps he was right. What were we thinking? Those of us in this room – academics, journalists, those involved in government – are expected to understand the world we inhabit, to have our fingers on the pulse of the body politic. If we were doctors, though, I wouldn’t give much hope for the patient. We, or many of us, are in American Studies. Did we so understand America that we saw this coming despite the fact that there are almost as many PhDs in this room as there were signers of the Declaration of Independence? Hillary Clinton’s book is called What Happened? ITN’s political editor in Britain, Robert Peston, called his [book] What the Fuck. In the words of a Bjork song, "This wasn’t supposed to happen." The financial crisis of 2008 was anticipated by no one, and the resultant austerity which metastasized around the world delegitimized government and arguably gave birth to the populism that would lead towards Brexit and Trump. Did we understand it was coming? Do we understand where it’s going? We are confronted with a classical aporia, stunned by the contradictions of a system which seemingly is no longer a system. In truth, we would have been better off with Nancy Reagan’s astrologer, Joan Quigley, who determined when the alignment of the stars would favor a meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, or Paul the Octopus who predicted each of the seven 2010 World Cup matches that the German team played, including the third-place play-off with Uruguay. Happily, for us, octopuses only have a life expectancy of three to five years, so we still have the edge over cephalopods. Incidentally, they enrolled another octopus for this year’s World Cup. It accurately predicted the winners of all Japan’s group stage games, but we now live in a different world. Its owner killed it and sold it for seafood. Philip Roth, some seven years ago, before the current president was in office, remarked, "I know nothing about America today. I see it on television, but I don’t live there any longer." And he was a writer who once seemed to understand the American psyche, its ego, and its id. Today, many Americans feel strangers in a strange land, and the rest of us look on in bewilderment. We share less than we think, understand less than we imagine. And how do you understand a country which only has one math, is the only country in the world which in writing the date places the month before the day and which measures ingredients in cups rather than pounds or kilograms? One recipe called for three cups of cucumber. How do you understand a country in which towns in the Midwest have two signs outside them? One gives the population, the other the height above sea level. Is there a connection between the two things? The sea hasn’t been in Kansas for millennia or, if you are a creationist, since Thursday. What should I have made of the American student I met who told me she was majoring in mortuary science and who when I asked why she had chosen that major said that she wanted to meet people? Why do Americans give standing ovations in theaters and in the State of the Union address where they bob up and down like grade schoolers on a trampoline? And what is it with the flag? In my country, almost no one can tell if our flag is flying upside down and, in truth, could care less. In America it has its own website and since 1942 has had its own official code following a joint resolution of Congress. There are 38 rules governing when and where it can be flown and how it can be used. "Understanding America" is the title of a Frank Zappa album – one song being It Can’t Happen Here. Sinclair Lewis’s novel of that same name was about a man elected President who promised to return America to greatness, who ran on a policy of speaking for the common man, attacking the elite and punishing Mexico, so obviously not relevant to our concerns. And how do you understand a country of 326 million people, with four million more every year? An American is born every 14 seconds. By the end of this hour there will be 257 more Americans, 63 of them African-American or Hispanic, and we don’t get to choose who they will be. In 2017, 45 million were born outside the country, the highest for 108 years, not including an estimated 11 million illegals. How do we understand a country in which at least 350 different languages are spoken in American homes, in which there are 310 religions and denominations and 567 Indian tribes? There are 272 neighborhoods in Los Angeles, each distinct. New York City recognizes 31 different gender identities. Today, the hottest ticket in town is to Hamilton, a musical about an immigrant revolutionary, written by a man who is mostly Puerto Rican, performed by a multi-ethnic, multi-racial cast, in a musical form developed by African-Americans, which had its first try out in front of a president whose father was African. And we think we understand America? Crevecoeur asked, "What is this new man: the American?" It is a question which never ceases to be asked. There are more books on American identity than that of any other nation not least because the clock of history is constantly reset. Innocence is regained. A gypsy woman in a Tennessee Williams play has her virginity restored with every full moon. A slogan of Ronald Reagan’s election campaign was "it’s always morning in America." In his inaugural address, President Clinton declared that it is up to every generation of Americans to say what America is. America is always starting again, with every full moon, every morning or every generation. Just when we think we understand it, it changes. And what would Lynndie England, an evangelical who grew up in a trailer park in West Virginia and worked in a chicken processing plant, have to say to Daniel Akaka, she joining the army and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, he a school teacher from Hawaii, of Chinese and Hawaiian descent, who went on to be a Democratic Senator and vote against the Iraq war? It was Henry David Thoreau who, on the establishment of a telegraph line between Texas and Maine, observed that they might not have anything important to communicate to each other. Red states, blue states, gay, straight, poor, rich, those with access to some of the world’s finest health care and those with access to none, those on Martha’s Vineyard and those picking grapes in the vineyards of the Napa Valley, what is it they share? Those living in Manhattan may have more in common with those in London or Berlin than with those in Manhattan and Kansas, and I have lived in Manhattan and Kansas. Those on welfare in America hear only 28 percent of the words heard by those who are not. In other words, they occupy an alternative linguistic country, deaf to 72 percent of what fills the air in their own country. Much the same, though, is surely true of those in a deeply polarized America, who tune out what they prefer not to hear, fail to understand what their compatriots believe or declare, who listen to, watch, those news outlets and social media channels which confirm their own convictions like some feedback loop, an Escher drawing, in the same way that Amazon offers you what it thinks you already buy. Beyond that, as ever in an immigrant society, there is the tension between the centrifugal impulse of identity politics and the centripetal pull of a national consciousness. We all stand somewhere, see the world through different eyes yet believe we see the same thing, undistorted. In Moby Dick, a gold doubloon with a curious design is nailed to the mast. As the whale men come forward to look at it, a black cabin boy declines the verb to see: "I see, you see, he sees." The white whale itself is what others project upon it and no facts or statistics, such as Melville assembles at the beginning of the book, lead to an understanding of its true being, an image of an America which perhaps we try in vain to harpoon, to pin down, as if the assembling of facts implies understanding just as an autopsy may reveal the cause of death but not the truth of a life. In The White Album, Joan Didion remarks that "We live entirely … by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience." For Roland Barthes, a city is like a text. So, surely, is a country. The question is how legible is it. And is it truly a single text? Or are we, indeed, imposing a single narrative line on disparate images? The English novelist B.S. Johnson published a book, unbound, in 27 sections which could be read in any order. For him, "Writers can extract a story from life only by strict, close selection, and this must mean falsification. Telling stories is telling lies." Is this any less true of trying to tell the story of a country, particularly, perhaps, of America, a book with multiple plots, teeming with characters and which, perhaps like any country, tells lies about itself to itself? The American dream has three components, each one problematic, beginning with the definite article. Incidentally, what is that dream? Is it Benjamin Franklin’s early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise, Horatio Alger Jr’s stories of luck and pluck, Frank Sinatra singing "The House I Live In," Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Norman Rockwell’s picture, on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, of a family gathered around a Christmas tree or in a convertible, hair streaming in the wind, smiling, always smiling? Is it a teenage young boy on a bicycle throwing newspapers on neat front lawns and dreaming of going to the state university and maybe marrying a cheerleader and coming back to a town where cars are parked aslant along Main Street in front of stores which bear the name of those who founded them and whose families still own them, going to the white steepled church on a Sunday because they know that God walks with them, people whose eyes can focus 20 miles away across the cornfields knowing that somewhere there are cities where people sell their souls and speak of them, with an edge of contempt, as living in fly-over states irrelevant to a country where the real dream is of moving up and becoming fluent in the language of money, money which can be transmuted into power and then back into money? Is it the story of the Lehman brothers, immigrants who made their money at first in the South buying cotton produced by slaves, and then moved north where they, or the company theirs became, reached the zenith of success until, like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun, in the process destroying the dreams of so many, and not only in their own country?   The Germans have an expression – luftschloss, a castle in the sky, a fantasy, a pipe dream, a phrase which echoes through Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a play as close to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as America has produced being inimical to a national Panglossian view of the future. There is a reason two of the characters are called Jimmy Tomorrow and Harry Hope, hope being the last item in Pandora’s box, while Arthur Miller’s salesman Willy Loman, a true believer in the dream, goes to his death baffled as to why he has never made it but, then, as his neighbor, Charley, says, ‘’A salesman has got to dream … It comes with the territory." Perhaps that is equally true of the country. And of course, Charley’s son does make it precisely by hard work. But whose dream is it? American school children stand in class, hands on their hearts, and pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible -- a phrase, incidentally, derived from post-revolutionary France (la Républic française une et indivisible) – even as Samuel Huntington, in a book significantly entitled Who Are We?,  famously insisted that there could be no Americano dream even though there were 55 million Hispanics in 2016 and that by 2060, it has been estimated, Spanish-speaking people will represent 28 percent of Americans, a projection which he sees as carrying the threat of  a reconquest of America. In fact, the Brookings Institute projects that America will become minority white in 2045. If 27 years seems a long way off, 27 years in the past only takes us to 1991, the time of George Bush and the Gulf War, when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual molestation, and his nomination was in the balance. How things change. Is America, then, different in different languages? Incidentally, the pledge of allegiance was the product of a man, Francis Bellamy, a socialist minister, who devised it in 1891 when he was alarmed by the fact that Jews, east Europeans and dark-skinned people from the Mediterranean area were, as he delicately put it, "pouring into our country," "dull-witted and fanatical immigrants" making America a "dumping ground." In other words, the America celebrated in the pledge of allegiance which he devised was essentially white and Christian, though the words "under God" would not be added until the 1950s, a time when the American motto changed from e Pluribus Unum, with its sense of inclusion, to "In God We Trust," a phrase which occurs in the American national anthem, with its celebration of the land of the free, whose lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key, a one-time slave owner who referred to black Americans as "an inferior race of people," and wanted to send them back to Africa. In Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, an African-American nurse insists of the anthem that nothing sounds less like freedom to him in a country represented by his patient who he describes as terminal, crazy and mean. That patient is Roy Cohn, the henchman of Joseph McCarthy and mentor to Donald Trump’s father. "Where’s my Roy Cohn?" asked President Trump when Jeff Sessions recused himself. In hell, I trust, is the answer. In the context of this seminar, it is entirely possible that we will have difficulty in understanding America because I suspect, though I may be wrong, that nobody here would have sought to abolish Obamacare, end the Iran deal, withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the UN’s human rights council, regard Mexicans as rapists and murderers, justified the seizing of children from their immigrant mothers, attacked the International Criminal Court, currently concerned with possible crimes by American military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan but also conducting a preliminary enquiry into Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine, withdrawal thus benefitting both America and Russia. Yet 63 million Americans voted for Trump. If we are trying to understand America can we afford to condescend to 46 percent of the American electorate? We in the UK have the same problem with the 52 percent who voted for the ritual suicide which is Brexit. In both cases, we are tempted to point out that the less well educated voted for Trump and Brexit. The problem is that that is the nature of democracy and democracy can, from time to time, summon demons. I give you Russia, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Turkey. You will all have your own list which, for some, may include Austria. All these countries, America especially, are currently about the business not of inventing the future but re-inventing the past, making a better yesterday, that moment when they were once great, when everyone acknowledged their national supremacy and importance, and when individuals, now feeling marginalized by global capitalism and their own experience of economic and social exclusion, reach back to a time when they wish to believe things were other. But when was that time? When was America great? Surely not this century with 9/11 and financial collapse. Was it the good old times when racism was legal and homosexuality illegal? Was it the 1920s with prohibition and Al Capone, the 30s with the Depression, the 40s with WW2, the 50s with HUAC, the 60s with riots, assassinations, Vietnam, the me-decade of the 1970s, the decade of greed in the 1980s? Or was it further back with the robber barons, the Civil War or the heady days when the country came into existence, and a group of slave owners got together to write a constitution which spoke of freedom and equality? How do we understand America? How does America understand itself? Is it through its institutions, its politics, its business people, its media, through the religions it embraces? Are these sources we trust? If so, there is currently a crisis of understanding. Every year the Edelman Trust Barometer is published. It looks at all those areas. Its conclusion this year is that “the United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust." "Trust among the informed public in the U.S." its report declares, "imploded … making it now the lowest of the 28 countries surveyed, below Russia and South Africa." Overall, trust in institutions in the US has fallen 37 percent in the past year. In China, it has risen by 27 percent. In common with 22 of those countries, the least trusted are the media (the US falls in the middle at 42 percent). 63 percent of people say they cannot distinguish good journalism from rumor or falsehoods. One in four Americans gets their news from social media. As you know, in the last presidential campaign a story on Facebook claiming that the Pope supported Donald Trump was viewed one million times. How many believed it? It is impossible to say. Not that credulity is novel. In his new book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari observes that "When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion," and that, of course, is another mystery about America in which religions are invented on a regular basis, often being monetized. Even Joseph Smith tried to sell the copyright of The Book of Mormon. As to Scientology, currently worth some $1.75 billion, if that doesn’t defy understanding, nothing will. It’s an impossible mission. Distrust almost certainly fuels populism, at least that is the conclusion drawn by Edelman. Its other conclusion is that distrust is now the default position. In 1964, 77 percent of Americans said that "most people can be trusted.” In 2016, only 31 percent of Americans believed that most people could be trusted. America’s national motto, as I recalled, is “In God We Trust.” Today, fewer than a third of Americans even trust one another, let alone God, decline in belief having itself declined, according to Pew, dropping to 18 percent for 18-29-year-olds. If you don’t trust other people that may impact on agreeing to common policies, or even on what the definition of an American might be. Cheating in school and university has increased. In 2015, between 75 percent and 98 percent of college students admitted that they had cheated in high school. Meanwhile, university students can buy papers online, even specifying the GPA level. American banks used to include the word trust and fidelity in their corporate names. Lacking a sense of irony, some still do. Nor are they alone in that. Consider the Nobel Peace Prize for Henry Kissinger or, indeed, Barack Obama who would send drones to kill more than one American, leaving a legacy, and not only in that respect, for his successor as Charlie Savage points out in his disturbing book. Meanwhile, distrust is spawned at the very top as America seems to be suffering from truth decay as Sean Spicer confirms three million non-existent fraudulent votes in the presidential election and Kellyanne Conway refers to alternative facts, by which falsehoods become truths and vice versa even as the Washington Post and the New York Times try to keep a tally of the President’s lies. Last month, apparently, it passed the 3,000 mark. Beyond all this, quantum mechanics proposes that the thing we observe changes because we observe it. May that not also be true of we observers of America, journalists, and academics. We have our own biases. Perhaps we Europeans prefer a particular version of America in order to define ourselves against it. We look for its faults and declare ourselves innocent of them never, in truth, an innocent approach to understanding. When Alexis de Tocqueville planned his trip, it was America’s penal system he wanted to investigate. Bernard-Henri Lévy followed in his footsteps in the 21st century, exploring Riker’s Island once where New York’s garbage was dumped and now a place charged with despair and violence. There are obviously certain things which leave the mind stunned, which surely defy understanding. When it comes to America the thing above all that non-Americans, and, it has to be said, many Americans, find impossible to understand is its acquiescence in gun violence as though it were an expression of a natural law. Hannah Arendt described violence as mute and with each regular school shooting language comes up short, beyond the rote declaration, by presidents, of thoughts and prayers neither of which have, or ever will, inhabit the moral vacuum which is a consequence of a Second Amendment whose conditional nature is seldom acknowledged. It reads, as you know, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." In the 18th century, with no standing army, you needed a militia to fight the British. There were 13 state militias. The good news today is that the British are not coming while America has armed forces, including reserves, of over two million. Ah, but you need guns, members of the NRA declare, to fight your own government, that having gone so well in 1861 to 1865, or to resist the armies of the United Nations apparently ever ready to send troops to Nebraska. Incidentally, in 2008 the Supreme Court, on a five to four decision, removed the suggestion that the right to bear arms depended on the need for a militia, well-regulated or not. In December 2015, the US Senate voted down, by 54 to 45, an amendment which would have blocked terrorists from purchasing guns and ammunition. Six months later, in June 2016, a man on the FBI watch list for possible terrorist links, declared his allegiance to the leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, shortly before killing 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando. They are serious about the right to bear arms in America, and seemingly willing to pay the price, any price. So, the right to bear arms would seem to be part of the American dream. The American dream? Whose dream? How many dead children will it take before something is done, knowing that those who might act are mute, wondering how much hard cash from pro-gun groups it will take to be re-elected so as, once again, not to act when children lie dead among a clutter of desks, computer screens with cursers winking, waiting for someone to begin a sentence which will never be started. Perhaps if all the children killed in school shootings would oblige by gathering together in one place and dying there, it would have a greater impact, though I doubt it. A terrorist drives a truck into people in New York, eight people die. Three people are killed in the Boston Marathon bombing. These are rightly seen as attacks on the republic requiring several agencies to be answerable. A teenager shoots a handful of his friends, and the local paper is the only one still writing about it a month later because by then other local newspapers are sending reporters to other morgues. We’ve all heard of Columbine and Sandy Hook. Who remembers Red Lake Senior High in Minnesota, 10 dead, Chardon High School in Chardon Ohio, three dead, Maryville Pilchuck High School in Washington, five dead, or Aztec High School in New Mexico, three dead.  Perhaps we do remember Santa Fe High School - 10 dead - because that was only May of this year. And I’m not counting the multiple deaths on American campuses. Hannah Arendt was right. Violence is mute. In 2017, there were mass shootings on nine out of every 10 days, though definitions of mass shootings vary. The most recent were in Bakersfield, California, on the 12th of this month, six dead, and six days ago in Silver Spring, Maryland, three dead. Switzerland has the third highest ratio of civilian firearms per 100 citizens, beaten only by the US and Yemen. Its last mass shooting was 17 years ago. Yet the curious fact is that only just under a third of Americans own guns while three percent own half of them. Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, owned 47. So is this a case of the tyranny of the minority or is freedom indivisible? Gun sales, though, are down. Earlier this year, Remington filed for bankruptcy while Smith and Wesson, whose CEO is British, a man who made his reputation selling bin liners, rebranded itself to de-emphasize its reliance on guns. It is now the American Outdoor Brands Corporation. Weapons used by both manufacturers were used in school shootings. Why are sales down, though? Because Donald Trump was elected. Sales were up when Obama was elected because the NRA said he would confiscate guns, as Trump said that Hillary Clinton would. With Trump, they have a friend in the White House. Incidentally, white Americans are one-third more likely to own guns than black Americans while Republicans are two-and-a-half times more likely to carry guns than Democrats. Currently, according to Gallop, 67 percent of Americans favor stricter gun controls, 92 percent favoring compulsory background checks for all gun sales. And what happens? By the end of the first week of this month, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there had been 247 mass shooting incidents in the United States this year. I confess I don’t understand it. One problem in understanding America, if you come from my country, where you can never be more than 70 miles from the sea, is spatial. In fact, the UK as a whole would fit into the US 38 times, no doubt to the considerable benefit of the United States. Texas is roughly the same size as France and Switzerland combined, and there is, after all, a Paris, Texas. All 28 members of the EU, soon, alas, to be 27, occupy land less than half the size of the United States. The poet Charles Olson, writing the word space in capital letters, said, “I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here.” And it does. The distance from Washington to San Francisco is the same as that between Salzburg and Omsk. Key West to Maine is the same as Salzburg to Baghdad. New York to Honolulu is the same as Salzburg to Santo Domingo or, indeed, Chicago. And since space and time are related Americans don’t even occupy the same time as one another, unlike the Chinese who bizarrely do.    That fact surely changes perception. It is, perhaps, one of the reasons a distant federal government is distrusted. The British distrust Brussels and it is only 220 miles from London. In America it explains the relative significance of city and state governments, the fact that people take the local newspaper rather than a national one, watch local television news with its presenters flashing their whitened implanted teeth while engaging in banter as artificial as their smiles. Today, (electronic versions aside), effectively only the New York Times is national, that and USA Today which is less a newspaper than a series of bar charts and weather forecasts, though many read stories of national significance on screens only inches across. Did I say stories? I think I mean headlines. Meanwhile, the New York Times, and surely to its great regret, can seem the principal opposition party in America, along with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and John Oliver, presenters of late night television shows, those and the legal drama The Good Fight. Another problem in trying to understand America is that its rhetoric and reality are prone to be at odds. In the World Press Freedom index the United States comes 45th out of 180 countries, one below Romania. In the Index of Economic Freedom, it comes 18th out of 170 countries, one better than Lithuania. According to the OECD, it comes 33rd in infant mortality, one better than Russia. It is 39th in life expectancy and 19th for GDP per capita. It ranks 14th in the most recent world happiness report, below Mexico and Austria. Austria? Fewer than a third of Americans describe themselves as very happy, but then they are not dedicated to being happy but pursuing happiness. Meanwhile, suicides in America rose by more than 30 percent in half the states between 1999 and 2016 and in some by up to 58 percent. On the other hand, since the happiest country is apparently Switzerland, followed by Iceland, where it is dark and freezing for much of the time, I am not sure I believe any of this, but the US comes third in the World Health Organisation’s list of countries when it comes to depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, one place above Russia. In terms of social progress, surely the conviction at the heart of the American dream, it comes 18th out of 128 countries. It would take 150 years, or five generations, for a child from a poor family in America to earn the national average. Could it be, then, that the American dream is the tooth fairy for adults? The chances of moving from the bottom to the top are greater in the UK than in America, and with justification, nobody speaks of a British dream. Chances of social mobility in Canada are almost twice as high as in the United States, and social mobility varies with race. When it comes to income inequality, the US is worse than all but six of 38 countries. Oh, and when it comes to freedom, the US boasts more than half of the global prison population, though perhaps boasts is the wrong word. Together, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States carry out all known executions. And what race are they? It was Richard Pryor who said that "If you go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find – just us."  More than a third of those executed since 1976 were black. Meanwhile, according to President Trump, "We’ve got the cleanest country in the planet right now. There’s nobody cleaner than us.” In fact, as The New York Times pointed out, the United States ranked 27th out of 180 countries in an environmental performance review. For all a tendency to hyperbole, though, only 29 percent of Americans believe that their country stands above all others, 56 percent acknowledging that it is one of the greatest, and they are not wrong. Every year the US and World Report publishes a list of the world’s best countries, using nine criteria. The United States comes eighth out of 80, which is not bad. The good news is that it comes one above France. The bad news is that it comes seven places below Canada. The UK is fourth. And what of its attitude to history, which I also sometimes find difficult to understand? In Berlin, thanks to the work of the artist Guenther Demnig, victims of the Holocaust are commemorated by small brass bricks inscribed with their names. They are called Stolperstein, stumbling stones. History itself is a stumbling stone on a continent in which the past is inscribed in its very geography -- social and political. In Europe, history is not something you can wish away. The borders are marked in blood. They are where the fighting last stopped and where the fighting could begin again, and has in the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, and Ukraine, though wars today are less between national states than within them. Since 1989 only five percent of wars have been between states. But history weighs heavily, particularly in Europe where colonial powers now find those they once colonized crossing oceans and penetrating those borders, seeking the repayment of a historical debt. When President Obama declared that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward" there was a particular context, but it was also a statement which reflected a more general American approach. As a character in Clifford Odets’s play Paradise Lost remarks, "We cancel our experience. This is an American habit." Nobody ever went to America to be what they were. They went to transcend the past, erase it, re-inventing themselves, self-made not only in constructing careers but constructing a self, an existential gesture in an existential country. They closed the door on the past as the golden door supposedly opened to them. Slowly, the past was shuffled off. Arguably, that is the price of assuming a new identity. It was Gramsci who remarked that "History teaches, but has no pupils." That would seem to have a special relevance to what Gore Vidal called the United States of Amnesia. Of course, there is no shortage of historians, but I am talking about the mythos of a country. You might say that for the South the past has a present reality, as it does for the Irish, but in both cases, it is myth rather than history that is preferred, history as theme park concealing inconvenient truths. The figures on Mount Rushmore celebrating heroes of democracy were carved by a man, a child of Mormon polygamy, who was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who had wished to celebrate the heroes of the Confederacy but when that proved impossible celebrated more acceptable heroes and did so on land stolen from the Indians on a mountain named for a white gold prospector. If it didn’t prefer myth to history, how could America celebrate as martyrs to freedom the slave traders and slaveholders seeking to extend America’s slave states, who died at the Alamo, Mexico having abolished slavery seven years earlier? America regards itself as anti-colonial despite its very settlement being imperial, its acquisition of Spanish possessions in the Spanish American war, it having annexed Hawaii, while today having 14 dependencies, 750 military installations in 130 countries. Winston Churchill said that "Before looking forward, it is first necessary to look a long way back." Christopher Andrew, the historian of intelligence operations throughout the centuries, has said that "the things we understand least well about… other countries, we misunderstand because we’ve forgotten the roots of the present." When on September 12th, 2001 George W. Bush said that the war on terror would be a crusade he was seemingly oblivious to the incendiary history of the word, or perhaps Europeans and those in the Arab world deliberately put their own construction on the word. Arthur Miller insisted that the past is "the seedbed of current reality and the way to possibly reaffirm cause and effect in an insane world," but the National Museum of African Americans wasn’t established until 2003, 140 years after the Emancipation Declaration and 54 years after the National Baseball Museum was inaugurated - baseball, incidentally, not being an American invention as you will know from reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The National Museum of the American Indian had to wait until 2004, 128 years after the Battle of Little Bighorn and 106 years after the last Indian uprising at the Battle of Sugar Point. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which commemorates lynching, opened in Montgomery, Alabama, this year, though admittedly, and unbelievably, only 23 years after the last lynching, by the Ku Klux Klan, in Mobile, Alabama, of Michael Donald. The National Museum of Latinos is no more than a proposal. These are, perhaps, signs of a change but America is a country inclined to wipe the past clean, to see itself as a virgin land caught in the paradox of declaring itself a utopia while insisting on the centrality of progress, an interesting case of cognitive dissonance. The green light across the bay in The Great Gatsby is at once the green of an untouched land and a shimmering image of a future yet to be claimed. What connects the Knickerbocker Trust building in New York, the Hippodrome, the Old Metropolitan Opera house, the Hotel Astor, the Ziegfeld Theater, the Lewsohn Stadium, the Singer Building, the Ritz-Carlton, the New York World Building, and so on and so on. They are all iconic buildings in New York which have been torn down. The list runs to 63 pages. Arthur Miller wrote a play which featured this idea of a cityscape constantly erased, and with it the memories, personal and social, that went with it, one narrative being overwritten by a series of others, what in painting is called pentimento, as it happens the title of a work by Lillian Hellman in which, almost certainly, she lied about the past creating a myth of her own life. America is never stationary, never fixed, always Protean. That is the challenge to an understanding of it. It is always being terraformed as its inhabitants are shapeshifters, which is why American literature is full of those who change their names, from Cooper’s hero to Gatsby. And where immigrants did not change them themselves, immigration officials stood by to change them for them. And who, after all, is Gatsby but what he wishes to present himself as being in the land of the second chance. A president who resigned in ignominy could be born aloft at his funeral with a day of national mourning, presumably for its values. 50,000 people took 18hours to pass by Nixon’s coffin, just to make sure he was dead, I presume. President Clinton praised him for giving something back to the world, perhaps because he had stolen it in the first place. A quarter of the US population are first or second generation immigrants. As the British novelist David Mitchell observed: "We live in fractured times, in times of competing narratives.” That is surely true of America. Perhaps the slogan of this seminar in which we try to understand America should be summed up by two lines of Whitman’s great poem, speaking of himself and surely his country: "I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured." His obituary for himself could apply equally to the nation he celebrates, its meaning always provisional: "You will hardly know who I am or what I mean… Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you." Cecelia Brady, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, says "you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don’t understand. It can be understood … but only dimly and in flashes." She is talking about Hollywood but could be talking about America itself. We see it through a glass darkly depending on where we stand. It draws people today, as it ever has, not because it is fully knowable or even fully understandable but because it is possibility, a place constantly reinventing itself. If it is a novel the next page has yet to be written, and the one after that. They are attracted because it is the white whale onto which meaning can be projected by whoever chooses to see it as a last great hope. They see what they wish to see. I see, you see, he sees. Photos from Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics

View full set on Flickr All photos can be republished with the inclusion of the credit: Salzburg Global Seminar/Sandra Birklbauer This lecture was delivered during Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics, part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA. #s3gt_translate_tooltip_mini { display: none !important; }
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How Can Culture and Politics Help Us Understand America?
Participants of the 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
How Can Culture and Politics Help Us Understand America?
Oscar Tollast 
The 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) reached a successful conclusion with participants gaining a better awareness of the political, social, cultural, and institutional tensions currently existing in the United States. After four days of discussion at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria, participants of Understanding America in the 21st Century: Culture and Politics left with new perspectives on the complicated nature of domestic and international forces driving America. This year’s program featured thematic presentations on populism, race, gender, America and the world, and – more specifically – the relationship between America and Russia. Participants also took part in discussion groups which focused on American literature, film, and the United States Supreme Court. Toward the end of the symposium, participants took part in café discussion groups. Topics included: Hollywood and contemporary American society and culture; America’s role in world affairs; Teaching race, sex, gender and class, and political correctness; and Trump era politics and American science fiction literature. Christopher Bigsby, professor of American Studies and director of the Arthur Miller Institute for American Studies at the University of East Anglia, was the guest speaker chosen for the inaugural Ron Clifton Lecture in American Studies. Bigsby, who has also won awards for his academic work, fiction and biography, gave a presentation titled “Trying to Understand America.” This lecture was created to honor Clifton, an ardent and loyal supporter of American Studies programs at Salzburg Global Seminar for nearly 30 years. He has served on the faculty, or as chair, of more than 20 American Studies programs. Last year, he and his wife Gwili created the “Clifton Scholarship in American Studies.” Clifton was unable to attend this year’s symposium but did speak to participants at the beginning of the program through Skype. In her closing remarks, Marty Gecek, chair of SSASA, said, "As of today, we have completed 16 symposia under the auspices of SSASA - the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association. We've had some very animated discussions over the last days on the very incredibly timely topic of trying to understand America. I am sure that you have gained insights from the presentations and the panels, and I hope that you have made very valuable, professional and personal contacts during your stay here." Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics
Photo from Unsplash by Courtney Hedger
Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics
Oscar Tollast 
Why is the United States of America so hard to understand? This question is one of several which participants of the 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) will explore over the next few days. This year’s program – Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics – is bringing together more than 50 people from all corners of the planet to Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria. For the next four days, participants will assess topical questions and issues related to American culture and society. One goal of the program is to foster intellectual analysis and discussion between professionals and academics about the factors shaping the future of personal life and communities in America. Participants will achieve this goal by attending thematic presentations by distinguished guest speakers, which will be followed by moderated plenary discussions and breakout workgroups to investigate topics further. Issues to be explored at this year’s program include: In what way are increased social, political and cultural tensions a product of demographic shifts, changes in leadership, or issues of gender, race relations, the politicization of immigration, and crime and punishment and judicial fairness in the U.S.? What explains the loss of trust that America is currently experiencing and what are the implications for the future? What are the most dynamic factors, specifically including the distribution of wealth and educational opportunity that are contributing to the polarizing of society and politics? To what degree does an analysis of popular culture and cultural institutions, such as political, economic, educational, and the arts foster an understanding of America?   To what extent does American populism and nationalism differ from that presently being experienced elsewhere? In what way and manner has the expectation and conduct of political leadership changed in the 21st century? The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association and its precursor – the American Studies Center – have organized more than 30 American-themed seminars. The study of America has played a long and vital role in the history of Salzburg Global Seminar. Previewing this year’s symposium, Marty Gecek, the chair of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association, said, “Our purpose is to understand the origin and nature of the political, social, cultural and institutional tensions currently occurring in the United States. Our plan is to analyze and discuss the likely directions of changes in America over the next decade, drawing on recent developments since the 2016 election as well as political and cultural trends leading up to the midterm elections of 2018. Participants will gain a better understanding of the complexity of domestic and international forces impacting and driving America in the 21st century." Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Salzburg Global Fellows Sign Former US National Security Officials’ Letter to President Trump
American flag
Salzburg Global Fellows Sign Former US National Security Officials’ Letter to President Trump
Salzburg Global Seminar 
More than 250 former US national security officials – including four members of the Salzburg Global community – have joined a rare public campaign to rebuke President Donald J. Trump for withdrawing the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, who has become a vocal critic of the president. On August 16, 15 American former senior intelligence officials from bipartisan presidential administrations signed an open letter condemning President Trump’s decision as “an attempt to stifle free speech.” William H. Webster – the first and only person to have served as director of both the CIA and the FBI and who at age 94 continues to serve on the advisory board of Salzburg Global’s Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law – was among the signatories.  Bipartisan outcry over President Trump's revocation of Brennan's security clearance continued to grow with the release of a statement of opposition signed on August 17 by 60 retired CIA officials and then on Monday by another 177 signatories spanning a wide range of national security jobs. Among them were Salzburg Global Fellows John B. Bellinger, III, former legal counsel, National Security Council; Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor; and Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor of the US Department of State and former member of the Defense Policy Advisory Board.  The statements indicated that while the signatories do not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed by Brennan, their signatures represent a firm belief in Brennan’s right to express them, as protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  See the full list of individuals who publicly opposed President Trump’s decision here. The changing political climate in the US has been a point of discussion at a number of other Salzburg Global Seminar programs in the last two years, building on long legacies of programs in American studies, the rule of law, and the role of media.  In September 2017, the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) held a symposium on Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, the report from which was published in January 2018, marking the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration.  Letter signatories Webster and Bellinger (who delivered the 2016 Cutler Lecture shortly after Trump’s election and served as Webster’s special assistant at the CIA) voiced their support for the intelligence community during the Salzburg Cutler Fellows program in February 2018. Speaking to a group of students from 11 top US law schools, the two mentors defended the intelligence agencies under fire from President Trump and called on the aspiring lawyers to help rebuild public trust.  In July and August 2018, students from around the globe examined the implications for journalism in the “post-truth” world at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.  Salzburg Global Seminar will continue to examine, debate, and dissect the political climate in the US when academics, Americanists, political scientists, cultural professionals, and public servants convene at Schloss Leopoldskron in September for the next SSASA symposium, Understanding America in the 21st Century: Culture and Politics.   Questions for discussion include “What explains the loss of trust that America is currently experiencing and what are the implications for the future?” and “In what way and manner has the expectation and conduct of political leadership changed in the 21st century?” It is exceedingly rare for intelligence professionals who spent most of their careers in the shadows and who tend to abstain from politically-charged public disputes to launch such a public campaign. However, in the initial statement issued on Thursday, the former intelligence leaders wrote that they felt “compelled to respond in the wake of the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions taken by the White House.”  Such unprecedented remarks – and the responses they provoke – will provide much fodder for discussion at Salzburg Global programs for many more months to come.   
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Salzburg Global President's Report 2018
Salzburg Global President's Report 2018
Louise Hallman 
“How does a relatively small but influential NGO help shape a better world? That is the question Salzburg Global Seminar set out to answer as we entered our 70th anniversary year,” explains Salzburg Global President & CEO, Stephen L. Salyer in this year’s edition of the Salzburg Global Chronicle.  Founded in 1947, Salzburg Global Seminar has the mission to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world. Our multi-year program series aim to bridge divides, expand collaboration and transform systems.  Features This year’s edition of the Salzburg Global Chronicle puts forth this renewed mission and strategic framework of the 70-year-old organization through a series of features and mini profiles of our Fellows and their projects. A Positive Space in a Polarizing World From Students to Statesmen Combined Efforts, Maximum Effect  From Ideas to Impact Radical Reinvention From Local to Global Campaign The Chronicle also announced the launch of Salzburg Global’s largest-ever fundraising campaign. Inspiring Leadership: The Campaign for Salzburg Global Seminar will seek to raise $18 million over the next three years to expand our scholarship program, invest in developing innovative solutions to complex problems and secure this organization and our historic home of Schloss Leopoldskron for generations to come.  “Campaigns are about vision. They support critical, compelling and transformational priorities,” states Salyer. “The Campaign Inspiring Leadership  — gift by gift, investment by investment — will empower people, policies, and placemaking that can transform the world.”  For the Love of Humankind From Scholarships to Schloss Renovations Yearbook Now in its fifth year, this year’s Chronicle is for the first time accompanied by a “Yearbook.” As Clare Shine, Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer explains: “Our 2017 Yearbook draws these rich strands together. It provides an overview of our activities and partnerships in Salzburg and around the world, highlighting our multi-year program goals and the concrete outcomes driving short and longer-term impact. We wish you good reading and look forward to working with you in the future.” Download the Yearbook (PDF) You can read all the stories and download both sections of the 2018 President’s Report on the dedicated webpage: www.SalzburgGlobal.org/chronicle/2018 
 
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Linell Letendre - Justice Requires a Culture of Leadership, Professionalism and Respect
Linell Letendre - Justice Requires a Culture of Leadership, Professionalism and Respect
Oscar Tollast 
As Colonel Linell Letendre spoke in front of her fellow participants at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), her charge was to discuss how the concept of justice and diversity has changed in the United States military over the past 70 years. Letendre, permanent professor and head of the Department of Law at the United States Air Force Academy, reflected on integration efforts concerning race, gender, and sexual orientation. This approach was to see if any lessons could be learned for society-at-large – both the good and the bad. In March 2010, then-US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates issued a directive for a working group to conduct a comprehensive review of the issues linked to repealing the policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). The policy had prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing service personnel and applicants about their sexual orientation (“don’t ask”) – but it had in turn also prohibited all servicemen and women from being open about their sexual orientation on threat of dismissal (“don’t tell”). Letendre was a part of this group, working as a legal advisor and as an editor for the subsequent report. During their research, Letendre and others looked at integration efforts involving race and gender and the responses from serving personnel interviewed about it at the time. Speaking to Salzburg Global during the symposium, Letendre says, “In the mid-‘40s to the late ‘40s, when the service members were interviewed, over 80 percent were violently against any sort of racial integration of the services. We saw similar percentages with respect to gender when we began more gender integration across specialities and particular jobs across the service. “In contrast, in 2010, when a very large survey [on DADT] was done of the Department of Defence, we saw almost a complete reversal of that [percentage]. Approximately, 70 percent of the service members essentially said, ‘Well, this isn’t  going to be that big a deal,’ and only 30 percent had any sort of concerns about open service of gay and lesbian service members.” In July 2011, after receiving recommendations from military leaders, then-US President Barack Obama certified to Congress that the US armed forces were prepared for the repeal of DADT. On September 20 that year, the policy was successfully repealed and no longer in effect in the Department of Defense. Letendre admits there is speculation as to why the survey responses differ for each experience of integration. She says, “When we were racially integrating the military, that was taking place in the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, and we still had Jim Crow laws across the South that had a required societal segregation as opposed to integration. The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in contrast was coming at a time when LGBT rights were an integral part of society. It’s just a very different aspect when you think about the civilian versus military and where each was at the time of integration efforts.” From a military perspective, Letendre says there are three things which are fundamental for justice to take place. She says, “It requires a culture and a climate of leadership, professionalism, and respect. If you can foster that climate where everyone – from the private soldier or the young airman all the way up to the senior leaders – is demonstrating those three attributes... I think it goes a long way toward achieving that ideal that we talk about, the American Dream: that ideal of justice and fairness and an equal opportunity for all to succeed.” Last year’s SSASA program – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – was divided up into three themes: 70 years of trends and events, quality of life and opportunity, and fairness and justice.  Letendre says the conversations taking place were “critically important.” She says, “I think conversations like the ones we’re having here in Salzburg where we think about how various disciplines are concerned about what justice means can only help us to inform and have better dialogue in the pursuit of what the American Dream is.” In her position at the United States Air Force Academy, Letendre leads a team of staff, which is responsible for the design and teaching of 19 core and elective law courses, legal support to the administration of the Cadet Honor System, and the development of officers of character for the US Air Force. When asked what inspires her to do the work that she does, she says, “One amazing part of being a professor is that you’re part of the education and learning of the next generation and the next leadership generation. That’s no different at the United States Air Force Academy where we take very seriously the idea of developing leaders of character. “Being a part of  that   – to develop our nation’s future leaders who have within them a sense of purpose, a sense of character and understanding of the rule of law and the appropriate place for justice and so forth – that’s what   inspires me not only to come here and have that conversation with other individuals from around the world in Salzburg, but that also inspires me to be a professor at the United States Air Force Academy.” Read more in our new session report  
Download the report as a PDF Colonel Linell Letendre was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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