According a Los Angeles Times story on the new Administration’s immigration and refugee orders, “Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment … to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.”

(Chicago Tribune)

(Chicago Tribune)

Here we are, once again, with vigorous efforts to block or to drive out “unassimilable” immigrants. (Ironically, American society is remarkably assimilating and today’s newcomers are no more likely to maintain their cultural differences than did the supposed unassimilables who came before them.) As shocking as these moves may seem to some, history shows that Americans have long resisted immigrants and refugees, often fiercely. The news is that Americans are, the current administration notwithstanding, becoming more rather than less welcoming.

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Explaining Trump

Explaining how such an unfit candidate and such a bizarre candidacy succeeded has become a critical concern for journalists and scholars. Through sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, and 538, as well as academic papers, we can watch political scientists in real time try to answer the question, “What the Hell Happened?” (There are already at least two catalogs of answers, here and here, and a couple of college-level Trump syllabi.) Although a substantial answer will not emerge for years, this post is my own morning-after answer to the “WTHH?” question.

I make three arguments: First, Trump’s electoral college victory was a fluke, a small accident with vast implications, but from a social science perspective not very interesting. Second, the deeper task is to understand who were the distinctive supporters for Trump, in particular to sort out whether their support was rooted mostly in economic or in cultural grievances; the evidence suggests cultural. Third, party polarization converted Trump’s small and unusual personal base of support into 46 percent of the popular vote.

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***** Hiatus *****

This blog is going on hiatus.

Have a great holiday season, more like this:

Rockwell Christmas

than like this:

Puritan Christmas


In 1971, the great Carole King sang: “So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?” Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of “the ever-growing mobility of Americans.” And in 2010, a psychologist argued that “an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift” toward individualism. It’s a common U.S. lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.moving-aeon

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile U.S. is a myth that refuses to move on. . . . . . . . This essay (which expands on a 2010 post) continues at the online site, Aeon, here.


Update (Feb. 19, 2017):

A Pew report finds that there was a big drop in the moving rates of 25-35-year-olds of the current generation compared to members of generations of the previous few decades when they were 25 to 35: See here.

Update (May 22, 2017):

This column from The Atlantic reviews some of the debate over whether underemployed Americans in declining towns should–or can–move to better opportunities.

Update (June 15, 2017):

This essay from Vox reviews the evidence showing the folks who stay put in their hometowns tend to have many disadvantages compared to those who move away.

Election Reflection

Mid-day, November 8, 2016. Not knowing the outcome and not being a scholar of elections, I thought I’d nonetheless make some comments on the election–hopefully informed ones.

The central question, the one that will occupy dissertations, articles, and books for many years to come, is how could about half of American voters, the great majority of whom are normal, decent, salt-of-earth Americans, choose as their president a self-admitted sexual predator and tax evader, policy ignoramus, major BS-er, unstable personality, and schoolyard bully who surrounds himself with neo-fascists?

(Does academic even-handedness require a similarly blistering description of Clinton? No, polite symmetry is not appropriate here. Clinton is in the historical range of somewhat-soiled presidential candidates–say, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy. That pillars of the Republican party such as the Presidents Bush and Mitt Romney at least implicitly and conservative newspapers explicitly–the Arizona Republic and the Manchester Union-Leader, for example–do not endorse Trump testifies to his exceptionalism.)

One feature of this year’s campaign is that we have been able to follow social science research on it in real time. Web sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, Five-Thirty-Eight, and others have provided not only a running score based on the polls, but also often substantive analysis directed at answering that question, How could Trump could have so much support?

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Scholars of religion and scholars of American society (including me) have conventionally described the United States as religiously “exceptional” compared to other affluent Christian nations. The claim has at least two features: First, since at least the mid-nineteenth century, Americans have been notably more religious than other westerners. Second, the U.S. has not experienced the decrease in individual piety (“secularization” in this discussion) that seems to have accompanied “modernization” in much of the affluent West. Indeed, observers have often been struck that, paradoxically, the U.S. has been at the same time the most “modern” society in the West and the most religious.god-we-trust

This description has, of course, been repeatedly challenged. Two new articles strongly argue that, at minimum, the U.S. has been experiencing “secularization” in the last several decades, so that, if American faith ever was immune to the supposedly secularizing forces of modern life, it is no longer.

Maybe. Maybe not.

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One of the fascinating stories about Americans’ encounters with modern technology has been about how the flurry of labor-saving devices from the early twentieth century–electric lighting, central heating, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, electric and gas stoves, washing machines, dryers, full water and sewer systems, etc.–did or perhaps did not reduce the domestic workload of American women.

The conventional answer among historians, developed most fully in Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s 1980 classic, More Work for Mother (see also here), is a paradox: The time women spent in housework did not go down between, say, the 1900s and the 1960s, but stayed about the same. The reason, it is argued, is that standards for good housework rose and ate up the time savings provided by technology. No longer did gruel and cold cuts of meat make a passable meal; women now had to prepare “cuisine” each evening. No longer were monthly washings of bedclothes enough; they had to be washed weekly (and personal clothing had to be washed often enough to be changed daily). No longer was a bit of dirt and grime acceptable until spring cleaning; now homes had to be spic-n-span always.

1946 (source)

1946 (source)

Housework may have become less physically draining–no more hauling water or firewood to the kitchen; no more hand-wringing of wet clothes–and the results become more satisfying–better meals, healthier families, cleaner homes–but the time demands did not change.

A key research study behind this paradoxical story appeared in 1974. Joann Vanek compared several hundred “time-budgets” filled out by American women in the 1920s and ‘30s to those gathered from American women in the 1960s. (“Time-budget” studies ask respondents to report what they were doing in precise time segments, say, every 15 minutes, throughout the waking day.) Vanek found that among women not employed outside the home there was little difference in the amount of time they spent on domestic duties between roughly 1920 and 1970, despite all those new time-saving appliances. Given that many more women were working, Vanek concluded 40 years ago: “It appears that modern life has not shortened the woman’s work day. Farm work has been greatly reduced, but it has been replaced by work in the labor force. Indeed, for married women in fulltime jobs the work day is probably longer than it was for their grandmothers.”

In a newly-published study, Jonathan Gershuny and Teresa Atttracta Harms go back to the original time-budget reports, add more data and some new techniques, and come up with a somewhat different conclusion about technology and domestic work.

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