Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
David Kaiser – States of the Union

David Kaiser – States of the Union


No transcript...

My guest this week is the historian David Kaiser. If you’re a regular visitor to this space, you’ll recognize David’s name from his appearances on the show and his written contributions to the newsletter. He’s an incredibly prolific author—he’s written books about European conflict and leadership, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, baseball stats, and the NFL’s 1965 season, among many other topics, and he blogs at History Unfolding. His new book, States of the Union: A History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023, analyzes some of the major speeches by US presidents from George Washington’s inaugural to the present.

David has a history with Harvard. He received his BA and PhD there, and, like me, served on its faculty. He sees the Claudine Gay fiasco as a symptom of a deeper rot at the core of Harvard’s mission, and that of other elite American universities. We explore the decline of an elitism premised on excellence and the rise of an elitism premised on status and money. We then move on to presidencies past and future, and David explains why, if the Supreme Court hears the Fourteenth Amendment case against Trump, he may find no quarter with the originalist justices. We then get into David’s new book, and he explains how presidential addresses can help us track shifts in the political orientation of the nation over long swathes of time. I mildly dread the State of the Union address every year—sitting through the empty rhetoric and endless applause breaks can be a chore. But David has given me a new appreciation of its value, and I’ll be listening to this year’s edition with fresh ears.

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0:00 The many, many books of David Kaiser

3:01 David: Claudine Gay is a symptom, not a cause, of what’s wrong at Harvard

6:09 Western Civilization and elitism at Harvard

10:03 Meritorious elitism and luxury elitism

12:35 Intellectuals in the wild

14:28 How James Bryant Conant built the modern Harvard …

17:33 … and how it was broken

18:52 Glenn’s previous conversation with Omer Bartov

24:12 Why David thinks the Gaza War falls short of genocide but maybe not ethnic cleansing

25:51 What Claudine Gay could (and maybe should) have said at her congressional hearing

27:51 Why David thinks originalists will have a problem rejecting attempts to remove Trump from electoral ballots

32:38 David: Mitch McConnell should have impeached Trump when he had the chance

36:07 David’s new book, States of the Union

41:03 Have state of the union addresses always been as boring as they are now?

44:55 Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, and their legacies

57:37 Why Obama didn’t propose a New New Deal after the 2008 financial crisis

1:01:01 Biden’s silence

Recorded January 10, 2024

Links and Readings

David’s book, Economic Diplomacy and the Origin of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France, and Eastern Europe, 1930-1939

David’s book, Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler

David’s book, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War

David’s book, The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

David’s book, Baseball Greatness: Top Players and Teams According to Wins Above Average, 1901-2017

David’s book, NFL 1965: The Most Exciting Season

David’s book, A Life in History

David’s book, States of the Union: A History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Glenn’s previous conversation with David

Fareed Zakaria on elite universities

Glenn’s conversation with Omer Bartov

David’s blog, History Unfolding

David’s blog post about the Fourteenth Amendment

Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States

John F. Kennedy’s June 11, 1963 address on segregation


Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Race, inequality, and economics in the US and throughout the world from Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University and Paulson Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute