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News Learning from the Past and Present

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New York Times columnist reviews current and historical events in U.S. politics

By Justin Richards, University of Delaware junior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication

Watch the video, listen to the podcast, read the transcript, and read the Review news story.

OCTOBER 7, 2019―“Oh my God, he admit it!” Jamelle Bouie, the third speaker in “Direction Democracy,” National Agenda Speaker Series, tweeted a gif from Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson to describe the release of the phone call transcript that began President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry. The transcript between President Trump and Ukraine President Zelenskyy, released that day, was on the minds of much of the audience on the evening of September 25, 2019.

During his recent “Contextualizing Culture” talk, Bouie, a New York Times columnist and expert on politics and the history of culture of the United States, talked at great length about how the impeachment inquiry may affect the nation. Bouie believed that President Trump did not learn the lessons of foreign interference with the 2016 election, noting that the phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy occurred the day after Mueller testified in front of Congress. “The next day after Trump essentially got out of the pickle of the Mueller report, he contacts the President of the Ukraine to solicit dirt on one of his political opponents, to basically do the thing that he had been accused of doing,” said Bouie.

When compared with the more in-depth Mueller report, the Ukraine incident is “very simple to explain,” said Bouie. With the Mueller report, “you kind of had to be a little deep in the weeds.” Bouie said that the readout is “far easier to understand and I think that’s really going to make a difference.”

A Historical Perspective
National Agenda speaker Jamelle Bouie on September 25, 2019

​Jamelle Bouie (left) and Lindsay Hoffman (right), National Agenda Director, discussed both current and historical events in politics on stage at the University of Delaware's Mitchell Hall Auditorium in Newark, Delaware.

It is “genuinely unusual” for impeachment to have occurred only occur four times in U.S. History, said Bouie. The founders foresaw the use of impeachment “not all the time but with some relative frequency, more common than we see now.”  Bouie compared President Trump’s possible impeachment with past presidential impeachments. 

President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 because he violated the Tenure of Office Act when he removed a cabinet officer without the approval of Congress. The true intent was to remove him because “Johnson had been a foe of Reconstruction.” Bouie explained that Johnson was not just a foe to the Republican-dominated Congress, but also blocked the effort to extend voting rights to African Americans, supported vigilante violence, and sympathized with former Confederates. 

“The real reason [President Trump] will be impeached is basically for a kind of violating one of the core premises of the modern United States, which is that we are a multi-racial democracy,” said Bouie.

“Hunter Biden, it’s clear, is engaged in the kind of influence peddling and buckraking and that I think is very unsavory,” said Bouie about the actions of Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. He compared that scandal to the activities of the Trump children and stated that he did not believe it was an episode of serious corruption.

President Trump often uses fear-based appeals to engage his supporters, said Bouie, and a Nixonian style of politics. “This idea, this Nixonian idea of a silent majority of the President being both an elite but not of the elites; of standing as kind of a representative or avatar of ordinary people who are put upon, in Spiro Agnew’s words, by ‘nattering nabobs’ of the media of elite culture.”

Bouie compared the current political climate with particularly hyper-partisan American elections in 1800, 1864, and 1888. The heat of the 2016 election was “probably more in keeping with how elections in this country have been than something like 2000 or 1996 or 2008,” he said. 

Racial Inequality in America
National Agenda speaker Jamelle Bouie on September 25, 2019

​Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times columnist, discussed "Contextualizing Culture" on September 25, 2019, as part of the National Agenda 2019: Direction Democracy speaker series.

Bouie discussed his role on the 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative to observe the 400th anniversary of the introduction of slavery to North America. He explained how his contribution to the project was based on two extensive books, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, a 2016 book by Robert G. Parkinson, and Slavery's Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification, a 2010 book by David Waldstreicher.

The Common Cause looked at pamphlets throughout the colonies at the time and how advertisements and propaganda portrayed slavery helped unite colonists from colonies like Massachusetts and Virginia. Slavery’s Constitution described how America’s founders “established the powerful federal government and then it insulated the institutions of slavery from the power of that government,” said Bouie.

With questions on current policies regarding racial inequality in America, Bouie offered his take on reparations. “I think the legacy of slavery is such that it should inform a public policymaking because there is a direct line between it and present-day conditions. But, in terms of a reparations program, I think a steadier basis, a stronger basis for it is documented examples of state-sponsored theft or state-sanctioned theft,” Bouie said. He discussed examples like redlining in Chicago in the 1960s or blockbusting in Detroit in the 1970s. Those individuals who experienced the effects of these practices, “they are alive and well.” 

Bouie also did not believe that reparations is the be-all and end-all for solving racial inequality in America. “In terms of fixing racial inequality or these problems you need deeper seeded programs, broader programs that touch every part of the society.” His wish to ultimately fix racial inequality would be to “disentangle race from place.”

“The problem is that your race has a direct impact on your life chances. It shapes your ability to accumulate wealth. It shapes your ability to achieve an education. It shapes the environment you live in. It shapes your health outcome. It shapes all of these things that it ought not shape, right?  There’s no reason why that ought to be the case,” said Bouie.

Before the talk ended for the evening, the conversation returned to President Donald Trump and his re-election chances. Bouie said that Democrats’ message must be strong on economic policy because in 2016 Trump was able to persuade those who were liberal on economic issues and conservative on identity issues to vote for him. 

By using 2016 election to look at the 2020 election, one of Bouie’s recent tweets posed an interesting predicament: “What would be a worse outcome for 2020 and the future of American democracy: Trump wins with an outright majority or an even larger Electoral College misfire?”

The second part simply calls for Democrats to “be better at politics.” Bouie warned that another electoral misfire may spell trouble. “It’s no longer an organizing or mobilizing question anymore; it’s an institutional question. Our institutions no longer translate the public will into any kind of democratic outcome that people would understand as being fairly democratic and I think it leads to sort of mass demobilization and mass disillusionment.”

About National Agenda

The ninth annual National Agenda speaker series, hosted by the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication, brings nationally known speakers to campus and encourages students, staff, faculty, and community members to join the conversation. CPC Associate Director Lindsay Hoffman, an associate professor of communication at UD, directs the series. This year's theme, "Direction Democracy," explores where we have been, where we are going, and the current state of democracy in the United States. National Agenda is free and open to the public. It is made possible with support from the University of Delaware's Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences. For more information, please visit

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New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie discussed how the President Trump's impeachment inquiry may affect the nation.

​New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie discussed how the President Trump's impeachment inquiry may affect the nation. 

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Learning from the Past and Present
  • Department of Communication
  • Department of Political Science and International Relations