Historians and Presidential Misconduct

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Type: Panel Discussion

Tags: Politics


This panel grows from a 1974 report to the Impeachment Inquiry on presidential misconduct and responses to charges of malfeasance since 1789, a report recently expanded to include all administrations through the Barack Obama presidency. Panelists will offer comparisons of presidential scandals (especially between the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Donald J. Trump), reflections on what constitutes a presidential scandal, and consideration of changing standards of misconduct and laws to prevent misconduct. They will also consider the roles, civic and professional, that historians can play and have played in helping hold presidents and other public officials accountable for their acts.

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: James M. Banner Jr., Washington, D.C.
James M. Banner, Jr., holds a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from Columbia, where he studied with Richard Hofstadter. He was a member of the history department of Princeton University from 1966 to 1980, which he left to found the American Association for the Advancement of the Humanities. A former Guggenheim Fellow, fellow of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard, member of the board of directors of the American Council of Learned Societies, and Fulbright Visiting Professor of American History at Charles University, Prague, he is the author of many books and articles in American history, the discipline of history, education, and public affairs. They include To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (Knopf, 1969); with James M. McPherson et al., Blacks in America: Bibliographical Essays (Doubleday: 1971); with F. Sheldon Hackney and Barton J. Bernstein, Understanding the American Experience (2 vols.; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973); with Harold C. Cannon, The Elements of Teaching and The Elements of Learning (Yale University Press, 1997 and 1999); ed. with John R. Gillis, Becoming Historians (University of Chicago Press, 2009); ed. A Century of American Historiography (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009); Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (Cambridge University Press, 2012); and, most recently, ed. Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today (New Press, 2019). His book on revisionist history, tentatively entitled “Battles over the Past: Revisionist History—What It Is, Why We Have It,” is under contract with Yale University Press and is likely to appear in 2020. He is currently developing the script for a play, “Good and Faithful Servants,” drawn from the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Banner has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers and publications. He was a co-founder, with Joyce Appleby, of the History News Service and a moving spirit behind the founding of the National History Center of the American Historical Association.

Panelist: Kathryn Cramer Brownell, Purdue University
Kathryn Cramer Brownell is associate professor of history at Purdue University. Her research and teaching focus on the intersections between media, politics, and popular culture, with a particular emphasis on the American presidency. Her first book, Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), examines the institutionalization of entertainment styles and structures in American politics and the rise of the celebrity presidency. Along with contributing book chapters to recent edited collections that explore the American presidency and the role of media in American political history, she has also recently published articles in the Journal of Policy History, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Modern American History, and The Moving Image. She is now working on a new book project, “Republic of Entertainment: Cable Television and the Transformation of American Democracy,” which examines the political origins and implications of policy transformation regarding the cable industry from the Nixon administration through the Clinton years. She also writes regularly for popular media outlets including Reuters, Time, Washington Post, and NBC Think, among others and serves as a co-editor of the history section of the Washington Post’s “Made by History.”

Panelist: Allan J. Lichtman, American University
Allan J. Lichtman is Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. His has authored or co-authored ten books, including most recently, The Case for Impeachment (Harper Collins, 2017, revised 2018) and The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present (Harvard, 2018). His next book on gun control and the Second Amendment is under contract with St. Martin’s Press. Lichtman’s book FDR and the Jews (Harvard, 2013, with Richard Breitman), won the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish History. The book was a 2013 New York Times editor’s choice work and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History. Other recent books include the The Keys to the White House, 2016 Edition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (Grove/Atlantic 2008), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in general non-fiction. The Keys system has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election from 1984 to 2016. Lichtman received the American University Scholar/Teacher of the year award for 1992-3, the university’s highest academic honor. He is an elected member of PEN America and the recipient of the Marquis Who’s Who Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Richtopia has ranked him as number 85 among the world’s 100 most influential geopolitical experts. Lichtman has lectured extensively in the United States and abroad. He has provided commentary for all major television and radio networks and is regularly quoted by leading newspapers and magazines worldwide. His has provided commentary and analysis for NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, NPR, BBC, NHK, CTV, CBS, Voice of America, the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, and many other outlets. He has published more than 200 scholarly and popular articles and served as an expert witness in more than 90 federal voting rights and redistricting cases, including landmark cases in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. As an expert for the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, Lichtman discovered that the outcome of the 2000 presidential election turned on the vast disparity in rates at which officials rejected ballots cast by blacks and whites in Florida.

Panelist: Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis
Eric Rauchway is professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the author of six books on US history including most recently Winter War (2018), on the conflict between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in the months after the 1932 election. He is the author also of The Money-Makers (2015), which examines the relationship of Franklin Roosevelt's monetary policy to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes. His 2008 book, The Great Depression and the New Deal, was recommended by NPR's All Things Considered as one of the three books to read to understand the financial and economic crisis that began in 2007. Rauchway has appeared on C-SPAN, NPR, and BBC Radio 4 to discuss a variety of subjects including World War I and II, the New Deal, the history of the minimum wage, and the assassination of William McKinley. He has written also for the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the Financial Times, and other publications. Rauchway earned his PhD in History from Stanford University in 1996 and his AB in History & with Distinction in All Subjects from Cornell in 1991. He also holds an MA from Oxford University, where he was Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College in 2011.