Travel America through Books: Insight and Hope

It is common to contemplate, even marvel, at the size of America: “From sea to shining sea,” if one uses a phrase from America, The Beautiful, or, “From California to the New York island,” imagery from This Land Is Your Land. It may be normal to wonder what it would be like to take the time to travel around this country, having the opportunity to visit the different regions and talking with various people one encounters along the way. In lieu of that not being a realistic option for most people, there are books that are based on that basic idea: Authors who took the time to travel and put their adventures into words.

Steinbeck’s book cover

Three such books are the basis of this essay that provide insight and hope. 1 John Steinbeck, the well-known novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and authored books such as Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Pearl, published Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962), based on travels in a converted truck in 1960 with his dog, Charley. 2 Steinbeck named his customized truck, Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse. 1960 was the year of the Presidential election between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon and Steinbeck’s journey took place in the months prior to and immediately after that election. He traveled from Maine, through upstate New York, to Washington state, to California, Texas, Louisiana, and home (Sag Harbor, New York). All told, Steinbeck travels more than 10,000 miles in almost three months.

Book cover for American Journey

American Journey: Traveling with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America, by Richard Reeves, was published twenty years after Travels with Charley. 3 Reeves was a well-known journalist and author who won an Emmy for an ABC TV special and a Peabody Award. His book is based on traveling the same route (mostly) taken by Alexis de Tocqueville, who 150 years earlier had visited America with his friend, Gustave de Beaumont. Tocqueville and Beaumont traveled for nine months in America, beginning in Newport, Rhode Island, then working their west visiting Cincinnati (Ohio), Louisville (Kentucky), Memphis (Tennessee), New Orleans (Louisiana), and north to Norfolk (Virginia), Washington D.C, Philadelphia, (Pennsylvania) and New York. Tocqueville wrote a book which is still a classic in examining American democracy, Democracy in America. Reeves wanted to see what had changed and not changed regarding American democracy based on Tocqueville’s observations and assessments about this country. 4

Book cover for Home Is Where I Lay My Head Down

Home is Where I lay My Head Down: Walking Across America by Kent Treptow is, as the title states, the author’s journey by foot across the continent. 5 Treptow is a photographer and, unlike Steinbeck or Reeves, does not carry the name recognition of either of those writers. Treptow’s walk across the country took him through 15 states (from Maine to California). His book was published 32 years after Reeves’s book and 52 years after Steinbeck’s book. Unlike Steinbeck and Reeves, Treptow did not have a clear purpose in mind that he wanted to discover about America; the journey, the walk, just to do it, was his primary reason.

There are a wide assortment of books that could be chosen to provide insight, to provide a detachment from the present, as a means to step back and see America, perhaps in ways that help one to look beyond current issues, whether political or pandemic, related to wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Steinbeck gave an interesting observation on his travels toward the end of his journey:

External reality has a way of being not so external after all. This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me. If an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Italian should travel my route, see what I saw, hear what I hear, their storied pictures would be not only different from mine but equally different from one another. 6

There is no blank canvas that each of us brings to a journey, we see with our upbringing, with our experiences, with our memories both good and horrible. Steinbeck might have quibbled with Samuel Johnson’s observation on travel when he wrote, “The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” But Steinbeck, and for that matter both Reeves and Treptow, could agree with Thomas Jefferson when he wrote, “One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.”

Everything cannot be experienced; books open opportunities beyond our limitations. Books add to our capability to perceive: Where are we now and where are we headed? Sometimes trying to see beyond our passions comes from looking back. What Steinbeck saw and experienced in that period leading up and slightly beyond the 1960 Presidential election, what Reeves experienced in the years soon after Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, and what Treptow experienced in the midst of the Obama Presidency, provide ways to project into a near-term future.

A good Tocqueville quote

Tocqueville in Democracy in America was curious about American democracy functioning almost fifty years after the end of the American Revolution. Tocqueville was aware of the French Revolution beginning in 1789, followed by the end of the French Monarchy in 1792, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and then the return of the Monarchy to power after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. He was not just looking at America but France and using America to look ahead for what he wanted in France. Sixteen years after he published volume two of Democracy in America (1840), he published The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856). While his work on France contains numerous descriptions of contemporaries of his during the 1840s and 1850s, which included an 18-year reign by King Louis-Phillip (1830-1848), France’s last king, his primary aim was that he wanted France to become a constitutional system which included a “spirit of liberty.” No doubt his travels in America helped him to reflect more on how he looked at France’s future.

Three books that can help to provide insight and hope. Three books that can help to ask: Where do we go from here?

People, not The People

Not, “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address delivered November 19, 1863, slightly more than four months after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, but just people. Steinbeck, Reeves, Treptow, each simply met people. Each book weaves through various encounters, whether brief or a bit longer, whether so short as to be just a moment with an image, or long enough to develop an impression.

Steinbeck made an interesting statement on his journey and the people he met:

[I]n over ten thousand miles in thirty-four states, I was not recognized even once. I believe that people identify thing only in context. 7

Steinbeck’s converted truck, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Museum in California

As noted, in the case of Steinbeck’s journey, it began shortly before the 1960 Presidential election, soon after Labor Day. Usually, the notion is that the “official” start of an election season begins after Labor Day. At this point, a Presidential election is just some two months away. A reader would assume that Steinbeck’s conversations with those he met, would quickly get around to politics: That was not the case. One exchange with a man went as follows:

Steinbeck: I’m not taking a poll, but how does the election seem to be going around here?
Man: I wish I knew. People aren’t talking. I think this might be the secretest election we ever had. People just won’t put out an opinion.

In the case of Treptow, politics enters conversations with the people he meets. There are instances where it enters Treptow’s walk and is a contrast with what Steinbeck encountered, approximately half a century earlier. A barber in Kansas, leads Treptow to write, “It’s obvious real political discourse is impossible with Frank, because within two minutes he’s already told me how much he hates liberals and hippies.” 9 Frank wanted a Barack Obama poster so he could hang it upside down next to his poster (hung the correct way) of Sarah Palin. At a biker bar in California, instead of a sign out front advertising what food was available, “the sign…feature[d] derogatory comments about our first black president and something about Muslims hating Christmas.” 10

When Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show on NBC, as one writer put it, “he treated political humor gingerly.” 11 Contrast that with Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS, and his monologues which open the show, rarely are they not political. The influence of Donald Trump becoming President has certainly had an impact on making politics more front and center in the lives of people. In the case of Treptow, politics is visibly present with people feeling the need to express strong opinions regardless of the topic. In other words, prior to Trump becoming President, politics was already front and center. Colbert was announced as the new host of The Late Show, replacing David Letterman in April 2014, more than two years before Trump became President. CBS knew what it was getting in Colbert, having hosted The Colbert Report on Comedy Central beginning in 2005, which essentially was a political commentary show. Nina Tassler, President and CEO of the CBS Corporation, in her statement on announcing Colbert as Letterman’s replacement, noted his interest in politics. 12

The term Culture Wars was popularized in a 1991 book by James Hunter, a sociologist. 13 Years before Trump became a political force, Hunter was noting that there where hot button items that set off people to feel the need to express their opinions, whether health care, guns, or abortion. At the 1992, Republican National Convention, Patrick Buchanan, who tried to win the nomination to run for President (unseating the then incumbent President, George H.W. Bush) gave a speech that included the sentence, “[There] is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.” 14 The Confederate flag, Civil War monuments, or Black Lives Matter can be added to the list of hot button items, but making the list longer is not same as creating a list that was never there before.

Steinbeck left Sag Harbor, his home, on Long Island, New York after Labor Day. He was delayed by Hurricane Donna. In fact, he discussed saving his boat during the hurricane, in which he ended up in the water, and clung to a tree branch, washing up on shore. Labor Day that year was Monday, September 6. It is not clear exactly on which day after Labor Day he left on his journey, but assuming the hurricane hit Long Island around September 10th, then the earliest seemed to be September 11th. He was on his adventure for 75 days, which means, no matter how one counts the days, he arrived home after the Presidential election, which took place on Tuesday, November 8th, the election which was won by John F. Kennedy. What is interesting is that Steinbeck makes exactly one mention of this election. His reference to Kennedy and Richard Nixon, is not really with the people he meets, but of a conversation with his two sisters, both Republicans. As Steinbeck writes, “The main purpose of this homecoming seemed to be fighting over politics.” 15

Kennedy was the first, and last President elected who was Catholic. This was a big issue at the time. In other words, his Catholicism transcended politics. In a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12th, perhaps the day after Steinbeck began his journey, Kennedy said, “Contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.” 16 Despite this religious twist to the Presidential campaign, it comes up nowhere in Steinbeck’s book.

Treptow posted this sign on the side of the baby running carriage he used to hold his belongings. He was constantly having people call the police that there was a guy with a baby on the side of the road or highway. The sign had the intended effect of eliminating police calls.

Treptow, however, has a barber who immediately jumps into a political diatribe, unlike Steinbeck where politics is so removed from his journey, that a reader of his book needs to take a moment to just recall when his journey took place and what was happening during his travels. Reeves’s book is different, he is in search of people, often specific people, to discuss democracy, government, and their attitudes and observations.

While Treptow may encounter several circumstances coated in politics, Reeves met politics at every stop. Treptow has one situation where when eating in a restaurant, a child was incredibly out of control, a temper tantrum that seemed to never end. As one man was getting up to leave the restaurant, he turned to the father and said, “Just want you to know you ruined our breakfast.” The father’s reaction seemed to be like some of the extreme reactions currently occurring against wearing a mask in public to contain the spread of COVID-19. The father screams, “I thought this was a public restaurant! I thought this was America!” 17

Despite some of these encounters, Treptow has a good opinion of most of the people he meets. At a diner in Vermont, when he’s done eating, he finds out someone sitting at the other end of the counter had paid for his lunch. In Hooker, Oklahoma, the mayor approaches him to have a chat. 18 In one town, a woman stops him and says he can spend the night at her house. He marveled at her kindness adding, “Leaves for work at the slaughterhouse at 6 a.m. and tells me to lock the door when I leave. Doesn’t even know me, leaves me alone in her house with all her possessions.” He described her house as “like the house Grandma would have.” 19 On the Katy Trail in Missouri, he runs (or rather walks into) a man on a lawnmower who complains about liberals and “left wingers” but offers him a beer and dinner. 20 In Kansas, as he writes:

I can’t go a day without eight or nine people or a dozen [people]…stopping to check on me, asking if I’m okay, offering a place to stay, handing over a beer or a tube sock with a couple of 7-Ups inside. 21

American Rhetoric Matters

Reeves’s book is optimistic about America and our democracy. Reeves writes:

The ideas of America are indeed bigger and better than Americans—and, as a people, organized as a government, we are often forced to confront our own evil to confirm the rhetoric to ourselves. The golden time for black Americans…was not the of violence [in the 1970s]. It was also partly a result of the ability of black leaders-particularly Martin Luther King, Jr.-to force America’s white majority to face up and prove there was some truth in the American rhetoric. 22

This conflict between American rhetoric and much of Donald Trump’s often odd and uncomfortable tweets or statements, is what has many Americans upset, riled up, or willing to join protests. Politics can be understood as personal, on one level. How we were raised, events that mattered to us, convictions we developed in our personal growth, can matter in how we look at, understand, and react to political events. 23 But it is not the only way to understand politics: Political participation can be a collective action different than the individual act of voting. Reeves, does a good job emphasizing the importance of collective action. As he writes, “The nature of the American experience, I was beginning to think, was the attempt to rise, collectively, above one’s self.” 24

Early edition of Tocqueville’s book

Reeves has a conversation with Christopher Lasch, a noted historian, who’s book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, won the National Book Award in 1980. Lasch identified a decline in the role, or perhaps, importance of the family since the end of the Second World War in 1945 (or maybe extending even earlier than that, here it depends on where something begins). Lasch identified a personality disorder that seemed to be focused on pleasure and indulgence. As a result of his assessment of American society, Lasch stated, “I think people are beginning to realize how bad things really are.” 25 Lasch makes this statement 35 years before Donald Trump was elected President, which raises the issue of whether America was in as bad or even worse shape at that time, then is believed to be the case now.

Reading statements such as Lasch’s can help to put pessimistic assessments of America’s future in perspective. Where are we now as a nation? Is this a time of severe despair, worse than when Lasch felt he identified a problem in America? As expected, there are contemporary readers who see Lasch’s points as even more relevant today with Trump in the White House. But, were those 35 years between Lasch’s statement and the election of Trump a period of constant melancholia and aimlessness or were there optimistic times, advancement of democratic ideals, economic achievements, and medical and scientific advances in there which put Lasch’s assessment into question? Within those 35 years, gay rights made advances which Lasch, or even Reeves, would probably never have considered. We saw the election of America’s first African American President and the first time a major political party had a woman at the top of the ticket. The high inflation and unemployment of the 1970s (known as “stagflation”) was overcome by the 1980s. The uninsured rate for those between 18-64 was as high as 18.4 percent in 2010, before the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), dropping to as low as 10.9 percent in 2016. Although the uninsured rate has risen under Trump (since he eliminated the penalty for not having insurance) it is still well below the 2010 figure. 26 AIDS, while a disease that continues to plague individuals and communities, saw deaths from this disease climb quickly through the 1980s and then begin to decline beginning after 1995. The introduction of AZT (introduced in 1987) together with the use of what became known as the “AIDS cocktail” began to change the future for many of those afflicted with this disease. Protease inhibitor drugs which were introduced in 1995 became a significant step forward in the treatment of AIDS. Although, in 1995, AIDS was the leading killers of Americans between the ages of 25-44, it seems to be a turning point year in effectively confronting this disease. 27 A 2001 medical report could make a statement, which no doubt would have been fantasy in the mid-1980s during a decade when AIDS deaths quickly climbed upward:

[The] combination therapies have not yet achieved the most optimistic goals set by scientists, much less the often-hyped claims of the popular media. In particular, the complete elimination, or “eradication,” of HIV from an infected individual has never been achieved, and perhaps may never be achieved because HIV has the capacity to remain dormant in certain cells and also to infect difficult-to-reach cells in the central nervous system and other parts of the body. … Nonetheless, the overall impact of combination therapies has been overwhelmingly positive. Since the mid-1990s there has been a significant decline in death rates from AIDS in the United States. 28

Reeves, for his part, was not in agreement with Lasch. As Reeves writes, “Democracy, Lasch thought, had failed. I was a long way from believing that.” 29 Next Reeves sought out Eugene Genovese, another historian. Genovese was discharged from the Army for having Communist beliefs and considered himself a Marxist. Despite these views, his statement on American democracy working well indicated hope for democracy’s future in America–that from someone not supportive of it in the first place. As Genovese told Reeves, “The American people are not going to kick over a going concern. …The rhetoric of alienation outruns the content. Institutionally, the country is much more democratic than it used to be.” 30

A good thought

Politics, again, although minimal, that weave through aspects of Treptow’s book, which are absent from Steinbeck’s, are front and center today and addressed by Reeves’s First Law of Democracy. Reeves expressed this law as: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” What he meant was that he saw situations and issues rise from being focused on local governments to the national government as the source of the problem, but also the source of the solution. 31 Much of Tocqueville’s work focused on local organizations and institutions, such as churches: Reeves emphasized the importance and role of the federal government. The Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017, the day after Trump was sworn in as President showed that First Law of Democracy. There were similar marches taking place nationally and internationally: Politics was not just the personal, but the collective and aimed at the national level. This feeling of collective, of coming together, is what gives hope that American democracy has qualities that can endure. The March was a reaction against Trump not a reaction against the Republican Party. If John McCain, has been elected President in 2008, defeating Barack Obama, or, if Obama had been defeated by Mitt Romney in 2012, the same elevated feelings we see against Trump in the White House, would not necessarily be there. In the case of Donald Trump, so much of the attitude against him is the politics of the personal, but reaction against him takes place as the collective.

A survey by the American Political Science Association, found that Trump’s Presidential win, increased interest in politics; 49 percent of Political Science department chairs reported higher enrollments in their department courses in 2016-2017. 32 But it was not just college students that developed increased interest in politics. Since winning the 2016 election, Trump has averaged more than ten tweets a day: News organizations, in fact, keep data on the number of Trump tweets. One June 2020 article stated, “Mr. Trump’s account on Twitter, the president’s preferred social media service, posted on the platform a total of 200 times within 24 hours, shattering his previous record of 142.” 33 The persistence of his tweets is one reason for increased political interest among cross sections of Americans. A Pew Research Center poll found that some nine months after Trump’s inauguration, 58 percent of women were more interested in politics than was the case at the time of the inauguration, despite the Women’s March, which was considered the biggest rally in American history. 34

Maxine Waters, then a member of the California State Assembly, now a Democratic Congresswoman, was interviewed by Reeves and said, “There is only so far repression could go in America. The rhetoric of the country and Christianity, probably act as an effective break to obvious repression.” 35 Waters was expressing Reeves First Law of Democracy which can be seen in protests, marches, possibly in increased voting and occasionally but unfortunately, violent outbursts. Trump’s supporters certainly do not see a problem, but his critics see plenty. There was plenty of criticism when Barack Obama was in the White House. The Town Hall meetings held by members of Congress where reaction was highly vocal against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or as it is commonly known, Obamacare, were the stuff of nightly TV news events. In the case of Trump, the intensity of the reaction against him seems greater than what Obama experienced. In addition, in the case of Obama, the reaction was not aimed necessarily at him personally (although that happened) but a specific health care policy. Admittedly, Obama did a terrible job explaining the Affordable Care Act. 36 In the case of Trump, reaction against him is partially focused on some specific policies or statements and tweets, but beyond that, the reaction is against everything he touches. Trump has done nothing to increase his appeal to more than a faithful, probably small, section of American voters. He has done nothing to stem the flow of criticism aimed at his personality issues.

Steinbeck was hopeful about America. The people he met, often expressed their desires, hopes, and often a yearning to move, to wander. As Steinbeck writes:

From start to finish, I found no strangers. If I had, I might be able to report them more objectively. …For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. 37

Treptow writes, “I have no higher purpose. There is no cause. The cause is me.” 38 But then he comments on people he meets:

I’m still meeting good people. …A big trucker hauling horses pulls over in heavy traffic and the driver hands me a Gatorade, just because. A lady in a Cadillac stops, gets out in heels and an elegant dress and hugs me. 39

Reeves, based on the people he met, was optimistic about the future of American democracy. As he wrote:

The United States, in modern times, has been a remarkably stable country, politically; more than that, the nation was a remarkably stable society. The political arguments I heard during my journey were about means, not ends. 40

Good people, who may differ in their political views, can still find common ground, which can be seen in the travels of Steinbeck, Reeves and Treptow. Stereotypes and simple imagery of how to see people are missing from the travels by these three writers.

People without Labels

Political discourse at a national level, reflected in statements and speeches by members of Congress and the often over-the-top-quickly-get-your-opinion-across daily diet of cable news shows, are different than the stuff of practical conversations. 41 There are instances where individuals displayed intolerance for others since Donald Trump became President, however, to see these incidences as the norm may be questionable. Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow take readers to see a level expressed well by Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, “It is only when the partisan shouting stops that we can hear each other’s voices and concerns.” 42

A man boasted on Facebook that he stopped to help a stranded motorist but then saw her bumper sticker. He posted, “I was going to help her but she has a #Trump sticker on her car #CallYoPresident.” 43 A tow trucker driver refused to help a disabled motorist with a disability placard hanging on her rear-view mirror because she had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker stating:

Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave. And when I got in my truck, you know, I was so proud, because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed. 44

The Lord probably was not communicating with the tow truck driver, although saying so made for good press. Contrast these situations with protestors in Louisville protecting a police officer from harm during a demonstration against the police killing of Breonna Taylor: Five men linked arms to prevent the officer from being harmed. 45

Five men linked arms to protect a police officer

Americans come across as a mosaic of complexities with a range of feelings and attitudes: Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow each present Americans beyond superficial impressions. Writers and political analysts can marvel at the loyalty of a hard-core Trump supporter base, often presenting them as a monolithic group. As one writer put it, “He has a sizable core of support that refuses to shrink. In fact, a recent poll of voters in six battleground states showed that 90 percent of Trump’s supporters from 2016 approve of his performance as president.” 46

A Trump rally held in June in Tulsa, however, as a prelude to kicking off his 2020 Presidential campaign, demonstrated that many of his supporters are concerned about their health, shown by their decisions to not attend, unlike their President who often displays an indifference to COVID-19. This rally held as the pandemic is visibly a health issue that cannot be ignored, was in an arena that might have been half-filled, at best. A Trump campaign spokesman saying, “Sadly protesters interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally,” which was an outright lie, could not overcome the obviously empty seats. 47 Photos were taken of attendees passing through gates where protesters were not located. Furthermore, Trump tried to blame poor attendance on TikTok, saying users of that site signed up to attend and had no interest in ever attending. The problem is that this was a first come, first served event, so Trump’s rage aimed at TikTok was simply him searching for scapegoats. 48

While Trump may want the pandemic to appear as a minor distraction, there clearly are supporters of his who are concerned enough to not risk infection. One of Trump’s advisers said, “[He is] not really working [on] this anymore. He doesn’t want to be distracted by it. He’s not calling and asking about data. He’s not worried about cases.” 49 Trump himself on deaths from the virus stated, “It is what it is.” 50 An incredible statement to read at a moment when American deaths exceeded 140,500. 51

Somewhere in March, there was hope that a national virus testing program would be set up. One participant in a group led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law said, “I was beyond optimistic. My understanding was that the final document would make its way to the president over that weekend.” 52 That did not happen. National testing is the way to control the spread of the virus, South Korea is the best example of this: South Korea has averaged one death for every 100,000 people, the United States 37 for every 100,000. South Korea and the United States announced their first confirmed COVID-19 cases a day apart in January, indicating that the United States had time to address this virus effectively. 53 On April 27th Trump essentially announced 50 states were on their own: A federal government directed role to address COVID-19 would not happen. Doris Kearns Goodwin in her study on Presidential leadership stated that a President during a crisis needed to, “Infuse a sense of shared purpose and direction.” 54 Trump has failed badly when the country needs him most.

Peeling away a broad layer of people to reach the level where Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow encounter people one-on-one can help to distinguish Lincoln’s reference to “the people” in his Gettysburg Address to a point where someone walking across America is offered a beer and dinner, yet listens to a complaint about “leftwingers.”

There are Trump supporters, who, as a political analyst put it, “take their sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is fake, from the president himself.” 55 But, beyond the broad brushstrokes there is a reason why Trump’s approval ratings have fallen so significantly since April. This virus shows it can devastate lives and livelihoods—individuals, the type Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow met, are looking at their President differently. 56 In the aftermath of police and the military clearing a path so Trump could walk from the White House to have a picture of himself taken with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal church across the street from the White House, in the midst of a demonstration against the death of George Floyd by a police officer, a Trump supporter in Lawrence, Kansas stated, “Beginning to regret wearing all Trump gear on Election Day 2016. This is not right, on any level.” 57 A series of focus group studies of only women, conducted by Sarah Longwell, displayed that individual women who voted for Trump in 2016, were looking at him in a way they did not during the early days of his Presidency. As one stated, “The stakes are too high now. It’s a matter of life and death.” Longwell concluded, “His whole life Trump treated women with disdain. And now they are poised to return the favor.” 58 Elsewhere, another woman expressed her vote in quite a personal way:

I really failed my fellow American citizens. I’m extremely disappointed in myself, and sometimes I am really afraid to talk about it. If I were to vote again for Donald Trump in 2020, it would be just as much a failure as an American, but also a failure as a human being. 59

As this virus begins to show it is an equal opportunity infection, spreading to both Democratic and Republican counties and zip codes within the country, more Republicans are beginning to take the virus seriously: The increase in Republicans concerned somewhat correlates with the decline in Trump’s approval ratings. 60 That decline in approval ratings is made up of the people three writers met on their journeys.

A President Who Will Leave his Mark, But Maybe Not in Ways He Intended

Future Republican presidents will push for tax cuts that will be defined as benefitting many but probably benefit few, as Trump’s tax cuts have done. Future Republican presidents will complain about “big government” and push for deregulation of some government agency regulations, as Trump has done. Future Republican presidents will push for Supreme Court justices who they hope will rule to limit or overturn Roe v. Wade or restrict immigration or widen the right of businesses to use religion to limit their interaction with those they oppose, such as making cakes for gay marriages. Many of Trump’s policies are standard Republican Party issues, although the crudeness of Trump’s approach to addressing serious topics will baffle many for years. We can assume, however, that a McCain Presidency or a Romney Presidency would have handled the current pandemic differently with the goal of reducing its impact on American lives. Trump is different in that regard in that this virus is seen as a personal insult to him and not about all of us, about lives, families, and the livelihood of many: His attitude toward addressing it has only made this pandemic worse. 61

Putting aside policy issues that can bind Trump with Republicans in Congress or Republican governors, any future historical assessment of Trump’s Presidency will, no doubt, focus on Trump’s personality faults. Peggy Noonan, now a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, but earlier in her career she was a speechwriter and Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan. One of the books she wrote, When Character Was King, is her view of Reagan and what she saw as his admirable characteristics. 62 It is an acceptably passable book, essentially by someone writing as “Keeper of the Flame.” It will be difficult to see anything similar, however, written about Trump (unless it is written by one of his sons). His ego, his complete lack of empathy, his vanity, his lack of willingness to learn which is such a basic human trait, his “what’s in it for me,” attitude (to borrow a line from a Faith Hill song) 63 his incredibly thin skin, will highlight anything written about him. 64 One can only imagine the deluge of books on Trump after his Presidency ends. 65

Particularly important will be assessments made once this pandemic ends and a clearer picture emerges of the damage caused by him because of his personality, which has affected his policies, or rather lack of them.

It should become a standard theme, whether Trump is a one-term or two-term President, that he is an aberration. Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow, provide perspectives that this is a resilient country and it can move beyond Trump. It is interesting to find hope in books that cover Trump in no way, that do not address social media, or the televised theatrics that play out on nightly cable news shows. Each of these books can be useful now, not as glances into an American past as though there is a before and after, but that there are aspects of being American that run through time.

Steinbeck’s vision of travel

Continuity and change are common ways of looking at where we were and where we are headed. The whole basis for the journey by Reeves, is to see what continued and what changed in those 150 years since Tocqueville and Beaumont began their journey in Newport, Rhode Island. The continuity is seen in a passage by Reeves, “I learned that the questions and the themes-mine and Tocqueville’s-were the same everywhere in the great land. …I was asking the same questions.” 66 Steinbeck sensed that the changes that had taken place left him behind. As he wrote:

I discovered that I did not know my own country. …I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But, more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years. In short, I was writing of something I did not know about, and it seems to me that in a so-called writer this is criminal. 67

Resiliency is about bouncing back, an endurance, an ability to overcome. Ironically, Trump as President may have begun a process of forcing some change for the better. The movie, The Social Network (2010, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer) about the birth of Facebook makes Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) look to be a character of questionable values. His inability during the Trump Presidency to do as little as possible to address many of the incendiary, insensitive, or completely fabricated Facebook posts by Trump or those associated with him, seems to simply reinforce any low opinions that might have developed regarding him from watching the movie. Facebook finally labeled a Trump post as offensive in the fourth year of his Presidency, leading a New York Times opinion writer to address Zuckerberg, “You get zero claps for doing a tiny right thing after doing the wrong thing for far too long.” 68

Poster for The Social Network

Will Facebook develop strong policies aimed at Trump’s exploitation of that social media platform? At some point, we can assume that guidelines will be developed by Facebook. If Zuckerberg develops a backbone and does it with Trump in the White House, that would be significant, although late in the game. Among the seven leading social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit), Facebook is ranked number one. 69

In 2019, 55 percent of Americans said they got their news from social media “often” or “sometimes” which was an 8 percent increase over 2018. A Pew Research Center report stated, “social media is now a part of the news diet of an increasingly large share of the U.S. population.” 70 Studies, however, by Pew from 2016 (62 percent) and 2017 (67 percent) showed a higher proportion of the public were getting their news from social media. Nevertheless, these studies consistently show more than half of Americans turn to social media for news, indicating its reach and influence. 71 In a 2019 Pew study, 69 percent of those surveyed reported using Facebook while 22 percent used Twitter. 72 Facebook’s influence is also seen from a 2017 survey which showed that 45 percent of social media users said they got their news from Facebook, contrasted with just 11 percent from Twitter. 73 What Facebook does regarding the regulation of its content matters.

The type of problem Mark Zuckerberg seems unable to address

Ironically, while Trump may have popularized the term “fake news” it was fake news that benefited him in the 2016 election, or even before the 2016 election. In April 2012, Trump announced that he had sent private investigators to Hawaii to probe whether Obama was born in the United States. As he stated in an interview with Meredith Viera on The Today Show, “I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Elsewhere he said, “His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya, and she was there and witnessed the birth.” This interview lasted almost ten minutes, nothing was revealed, absolutely nothing, although Viera kept displaying a Wall Street Journal poll showing Trump first among Tea Party supporters for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination 74 Another Wall Street Journal poll was also displayed, it showed Trump second behind Mitt Romney among Republican voters. 75 Viera’s laughable, even sophomoric, interview with Trump, particularly with a statement across the bottom of the screen reading “Meredith one-on-one with Donald Trump” is one of those TV moments that Trump must have loved—it created a climate that he had something credible to add to American politics. 76 In September 2016, Trump said, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” 77

A co-author of one study on Facebook stated:

Facebook stands out in our data as the site people visited most disproportionately prior to visiting a fake news website. We don’t observe the same pattern with Google, Twitter, or web mail platforms. Journalists love to talk about Twitter, but it just doesn’t compare in reach to Facebook. 78

Disproportionality (62%) readers of fake news sites are conservatives. For the most part, fake news sites do not seem to persuade voters to change their vote, rather they serve to reinforce vote choices. Therefore, when it went viral that Pope Francis endorsed Trump for President (he did not but that headline spread widely and quickly) it simply helped to reinforce support for Trump among those already planning to vote for him.

Changes at Facebook at some point, most likely forced on it by advertisers boycotting it or made as a result of the barrage of constant criticism of its inability to address false stories are one way that a positive development might come about to counter all that Trump touches. Republicans challenging Trump’s desire to serve a second term is another positive development. If Trump wins a second term, it will be interesting to see if certain Republicans or Republican associated organizations continue to exist and try to influence members of their party in Congress. William Kristol, a well-known Republican and conservative with credentials stretching back to his years in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, stated, “It would be good for the country if there were a conservative party that wasn’t a nativist / proto-authoritarian / nationalist-populist party. This would be the case for not giving up on the [Republican Party], but rather fighting to save it.” 79 Stuart Stevens, a Republican Party consultant who worked on George W. Bush’s 2000 Presidential campaign, wrote:

Mr. Trump has served a useful purpose by exposing the deep flaws of a major American political party. Like a heavy truck driven over a bridge on the edge of failure, he has made it impossible to ignore the long-developing fault lines of the Republican Party. A party rooted in decency and values does not embrace the anger that Mr. Trump peddles as patriotism. 80

The Lincoln Project is an organization founded by prominent Republicans in December 2019 opposed to Trump’s re-election. The organization is headed by George Conway, husband of Kellyanne Conway, who serves as counselor to President Trump, which must lead to interesting dinner conversations. Together with Carly Fiorina, who tried to win the Republican nomination to run for President in 2016 who announced she was voting for Joe Biden, the Democratic Party candidate for President, along with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R, AK) statement that she has not made up her mind if she will vote for Trump, add in the 89 former Defense officials, many of them Republican, who signed an open letter in the Washington Post, condemning Trump’s threat to use the military to end protests after the death of George Floyd, 81 combined with a Political Action Committee (PAC) called 43 Alumni made up of officials from the George W. Bush Administration supporting Biden with the slogan “Principles matter more than politics,” 82 and Reeves First Law of Democracy begins to be seen within the Republican Party.

This would not lead to any breakup of the Republican Party but perhaps begin the process of pulling Republicans back toward rejecting any similar Presidential aspirant from displaying Trump-like tendencies. There is no smooth road, however, back to a normal type of conservative.

Oddly, while more traditional Republicans are lining up to either vote for Biden or throw their vote away somewhere, elements of crazy continue to appear. QAnon, which is a strange conspiracy belief or series or beliefs includes the notion that the Mueller investigation was not about Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election, but actually directed by Trump to uncover liberals, Democrats and the “deep state” and, once exposed do something about them. Exactly what would be done, however, never seems to be the point. 83 Several of the believers of QAnon have managed to win Republican primary wins. Marjorie Taylor Greene won in Georgia and looks likely to win the general election and become a Congresswoman. Greene has made videos in which she made anti-Semitic and racist statements. 84 Jo Rae Perkins won in Oregon in the Republican Senate primary but may not win the general election. Angela Stanton-King, is an African American who served time in prison for her involvement in a car theft ring, followed by home confinement. Originally, she was running against John Lewis, for the Congressional seat he held from Georgia, with his death she is running against Lewis’s replacement on the ballot, Nikema Williams. In February, Trump pardoned Stanton-King, who is the goddaughter of the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a former reality TV star (BET Network’s Life of a Real Housewife). Stanton-King has repeatedly tweeted a QAnon slogan, used QAnon hashtags, and stated that she is running for Congress because, “God sent me.” 85 QAnon is not fading away but continues to show its presence in corners of the Republican Party. 86 All told, there are some 60 candidates running for some public office who support QAnon. 87 There may be Republicans trying to pull the party back to a normal conservative, but, at the same time, Trumpism, seen as more than just Trump, but a way of thinking that transcends The Donald, is alive and well, the passion for QAnon among some shows that. Support for QAnon is of concern, as it was addressed in an FBI Intelligence Bulletin where it was classified as a fringe political movement, stating:

[QAnon is a] fringe political conspiracy theor[y], [that] very likely [can] motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity. The FBI further assesses in some cases…conspiracy theories very likely encourage the targeting of specific people, places, and organizations, thereby increasing the likelihood of violence against these targets. These assessments are made with high confidence. 88

Optimism Is needed for Hope

Ruby Bridges escorted to school by U.S. Marshals

Steinbeck met a family where the husband worked as a mechanic and he discussed a future bright for him and his wife after his children were grown and moved on with their lives. He said, “when the kids grow up, we can…work our way south in the winter and north in the summer.” Hope matters and Steinbeck enjoyed the optimism he saw. 89 Optimism is not just seen in economic terms but exists in other ways. Steinbeck wrote he wanted to visit New Orleans when it was beginning to integration public schools. It is apparent that he understood there would be tension and hostility in what he was going to see. Steinway wrote, in a way that echoed the American Rhetoric issue addressed by Reeves, “When people are engaged in something they are not proud of, they do not welcome witnesses. In fact, they come to believe the witness causes the problem.” 90

He arrived in time to watch as U.S. Marshals escorted a small African American girl to school. The reaction to her presence at the school was voiced loudly and disgustingly by women known as the Cheerleaders. As Steinbeck wrote:

Anyone who has been near the theater would know that these speeches were not spontaneous. They were tried and memorized and carefully rehearsed. This was theater. I watched the intent faces of the listening crowd and they were the faces of an audience. When there was an applause, it was for a performer. 91

Ruby Nell Bridges and Barack Obama in front of the well known Norman Rockwell painting of her being escorted by U.S. Marshals to school.

Ruby Bridges was the girl’s name and those protests went on through that schoolyear. As soon as Ruby entered the school, white parents began to pull their children out. But Lloyd Anderson Foreman, a Lutheran minister, brought his son to school soon after, stating, “I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school.” Slowly other white parents brought back their children. The next year when she returned to school she was not alone, other black students were there. Bridges recalled developments at this elementary school after her first year:

I stayed at that school through the sixth grade. The most difficult year was second grade, when I had a teacher who had refused to teach me the first year. But every fall, more black students joined me. By the time I left, I seem to recall that William Frantz [Elementary School] was about evenly integrated. After the first year, no one really discussed it. 92

Progress can come in leaps or slow developments, or U.S. Marshals escorting a small girl to school. Something occurring for the better is not necessarily the same as using certain events or developments as a reason to be satisfied and expect no more, rather it is a reason to have hope, to understand the power of collective action that Reeves addresses. Action can lead to change, but all change is not the same, some change can look like a slight modification, which is frustrating since it may not completely satisfy. But, in an odd way, slight changes can provide hope that more change can be achieved: Out of frustration and small glimmers of change can come optimism.

Bridges reflected on what she went through and how she sees changes now, expressing an optimism that Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow could understand:

[T]here were lots of white folks, Hispanics, lots of people that took part during the Civil Rights Movement. But what we’ve seen today in the streets is very, very powerful [as a result of George Floyd’s death]. I think when we open our doors and we are able to go back out, this world is going to be a different place. 93

Reeves refers to American Rhetoric as important by forcing at least a willingness to examine the gap between the promise of America with its belief that anyone can achieve their goal and where America falls short. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D, IL) wrote, “we have never been a perfect union, we have always sought to be a more perfect union.” 94 Her words reflect the words of Reeves, that American rhetoric at least addresses inclusion, the belief that reaching for the brass ring is possible for anyone: Hope matters. Admittedly, public opinion polls present a portrait of many Americans as pessimistic or feeling worse about where we currently are, in other words a challenge to addressing hope. But a Greek tragedy attitude of inevitability should not be acceptable (and is a reason for this essay). Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times made a good point:

[O]ur nation is a mess, but overlapping catastrophes have also created conditions that may finally let us extricate ourselves from the mire. The grim awareness of national failures — on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs — may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country. 95

At his Mount Rushmore appearance leading up to July 4th celebrations, Trump set the tone for his 2020 campaign. Douglas Brinkley, a noted historian, summarized his speech as “now he’s really attacking millions of Americans as worthless.” 96 Trump’s original sin is that he has not embraced that American rhetoric, he has confronted and challenged it and done his best to make many feel left out, left behind, unwanted, and degraded.

Literature supports travel

Trump’s behavior, his mind-numbing Twitter rants, challenge a belief that he can transcend his personality faults to address what James Madison referred to as “the public good.” Madison wrote, “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” 97 The view of American Rhetoric, discussed by Reeves, is important here, which leads to his First Law of Democracy. While Madison addressed the role of a Republic form of government as needed to control the self-interests of the few, or in Trump’s case, the one, Reeves saw hope in his view of collective action. Tocqueville wrote, “I must say that I have often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and I have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.” 98

Steinbeck toward the end of his journey concluded:

For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. 99

An anonymous Op-Ed was published in the New York Times in September 2018, in which the author, only identified as a senior official in the Trump administration, wrote:

[M]any Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

The impeachment of Donald Trump, which seems ages ago amid this pandemic, showed a side of public life where there were individuals who had reputations and careers to lose and still were willing to step forward and accuse the President of wrongdoing. As noted by one writer there was never just one whistleblower, as Trump liked to contend, but several. As a New York Times writer stated, “[This was] a collection of…public servants…who…remembered that their duty [was]…not [to] a particular leader, but [to] the American people.” 101 Any President following Trump will, no doubt, need to consider that their behind-the-scenes actions may not stay there but might see the light of day.

Tocqueville had faith in American democracy: Steinbeck, Reeves, and Treptow each saw and experienced good in this country, which adds to Tocqueville’s faith. Take a trip across America with books, see your country through the eyes of others, enjoy the journey and take hope in an America that can be.

Works Cited

  1. I want to thank Dr. Jeanie Thies, Professor of Political Science, Lindenwood University, a former colleague, for reading this article in its earlier version. Considering that it is quite longer than the previous articles I had published on The Artifice, I felt it was a good idea to get a feel whether it all “held together.” I feel I see it as academic-ish writing as opposed to academic writing—somewhere in there I see a distinction.
  2. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, New York, Penguin Books, 1962
  3. Richard Reeves, American Journey: Traveling with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America, New York, Simon and Shuster, PBS turned American Journey into a TV series in 1983.
  4. Reeves visited California and Alaska, which were not states when Tocqueville and Beaumont landed in America. In the PBS series, a quote by an African American sums up a continuing racial problem, “I’m glad to be an American, but not necessarily proud.” The optimism Reeves saw he expressed as, “America will become more and more democratic. Individuals will have more and more power as they get more and more information and an increasingly sophisticated view of the working of the society.”
  5. Kent Treptow, Home is Where I Lay my Head Down, Alicia Robinson, ed., Newport Beach, CA, Kent Treptow, 2014
  6. Steinbeck, op.cit., p. 209
  7. Ibid., p.7
  8. Ibid., p. 31
  9. Treptow, op. cit., p. 140
  10. Ibid., p. 252-253
  13. James Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, New, Basic Books, 1991
  15. Steinbeck, op. cit., pp. 198-199
  17. Treptow, op. cit., pp. 23-24
  18. Ibid., p. 28, p. 156
  19. Ibid., pp. 158-159
  20. Ibid., p. 116
  21. Ibid., p. 136
  22. Reeves, op. cit., p. 230
  24. Reeves, op. cit., p. 230
  25. Ibid., p. 87
  27. My late wife was an OB/GYN. I remember us discussing pregnant women who tested HIV positive and her questioning whether they should continue with their pregnancies. Around the mid-1990s, she began to realize that her conversations with these patients was not as fatalistic as was the case several years before.
  29. Ibid., p. 87
  30. Ibid., p. 92.
  31. Ibid., p. 141
  35. Reeves, op. cit., p. 230
  36. I was a union president in the 1980s and had to address health care costs as part of contracts. In addition, I’ve written on health care reform. Furthermore, I helped my late wife address financial issues with her medical practice. I can say that Obama’s defense of the ACA was absolutely bordering on incoherent. There was so much he could have said that would have made sense, but he didn’t do it.
  37. Steinbeck, op.cit., p. 210
  38. Treptow, op. cit., p. 75.
  39. Ibid., p. 120
  40. Reeves, op. cit., p.239
  41. I just need to add here that listening to Representative Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Speaker of the House, talk is annoying. I can agree with her policy positions, well, most of them, but she does a terrible job talking on TV. I assume she is surrounded by “yes people” who will not tell her how badly she comes across on TV. No one appears to be willing to tell her how badly and, at times, incoherent she sounds.
  51., Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resources Center data is relied on here. Unfortunately, by the time this article is published, that figure probably will be well exceeded—a terrible feeling to be so certain of about knowing that it affects so many.
  53. Other sources show less than one death per 100,000 in South Korea and closer to 46 deaths per 100,000 in the United States. In other words, there are some slight adjustments in numbers. Regardless of what numbers are used, the different in deaths per 100,000 is significantly different in these two countries.
  54. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times, New York, Simon & Schuster , 2018, p. 278
  60. Although between August-December 2017, his approval ratings were lower than they now., and,
  61. It is interesting about how little Melania Trump has mattered during this pandemic. Many hoped she would step forward and provide some words of comfort, or inspiration during this pandemic. Here was her opportunity to aspire to be Eleanor Roosevelt or even Betty Ford and she failed.
  62. Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan, New York, Penguin Books, 2002
  64. Books are already being written about him that focus on personality issues. Books such as: Dan McAdams, The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning, New York, Oxford University Press, 2020; Daniel Drezner, The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us about the Modern Presidency, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2020, and; David Cay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump, New York, Melville House, 2016. Addressing books currently out on Trump by former White House employees,
  65. In a very odd development which, may or may not, see further developments, apparently Trump wanted the American Ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, to somehow convince the British government to move the British Open, a golf tournament, to Trump’s Turnberry course in Scotland. This was not a recent development but dates to February 2018. This was all about Trump and his family making money. Prestigious golf tournaments, and the British Open is among the most prestigious, known as one of the four major tournaments, would bring considerable revenue to the Trumps.
  66. Reeves, op. cit., p. 15
  67. Steinbeck, op.cit., p. 5
  74. It is difficult to tell if Viera knew anything about polling, since she treated this poll as meaningful. The Wall Street Journal poll showed a + or – of 8.5 percent, which is on a par like asking a baseball fan who will win the World Series in 2025-meaningless. If The Today Show wanted to show it could actual advance in its political coverage, it should not look forward but back: Rebroadcast this Trump interview but only after checking with the White House for the names of “the people” Trump sent to Hawaii and have them on to talk about what they found. Despite Trump, subsequently, saying Obama was born in the United States, he still says he sent “people” to Hawaii. Did those people lie to Trump, telling him what he wanted to hear? He had to pay them, so there are receipts. If no names are revealed then every day until the election, show it on the TV screen that the show is still waiting for those names.
  75. Again, here was another Viera problem, this poll had a + or – of 6.35 percent. As a basic guideline for readers, polls with a + or – of 3 percent are perhaps meaningful, seeing a + or – of 5 percent of more is less polling and more guesswork. Viera showed no willingness to explain any of this to the TV audience.
  83. Joseph Cernik, “Donald Trump and QAnon: Conspiracy unlike Movies and TV,” The Artifice, here:
  84. . If Greene makes it to Congress, she may find that displaying a public nuttiness and learning to work with her fellow Republicans could be a problem. She should not forget Rep. Steven King from Iowa who lost in a primary probably because the Republicans removed him from all his committees in Congress. If Greene hopes to be more than a one-term crazy, the King lesson might matter to her. In other words, it will be interesting to see if the Reeves First Law of Democracy has any impact in Greene’s situation. Ironically, while Republicans try to present themselves as the Party opposed to “Big Government,” King lost—not to someone more liberal but to someone as equally conservative—because by King being removed from committees in Congress, he could not “bring home the bacon” to his Congressional district and his Congressional district needed the “bacon”—so much for Republicans opposed to “Big Government.”
  85., and, This is a good article on Trump’s support for QAnon:
  89. Steinbeck, op. cit., p. 103
  90. Ibid., pp. 247-248
  91. Ibid., pp. 258-259
  97. Madison, one of the three writers of The Federalist Papers, the other two being Alexander Hamilton and Jon Jay, originally wrote their collective, 85 essays in New York newspapers to support ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787. Later these essays were put into book form to become The Federalist Papers. The words “the public good” are in Federalist Paper #10
  98. This Tocqueville quote comes from here in Democracy in America, Volume 2:, and the full online text is here:
  99. Steinbeck, op.cit., p. 210

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  1. Steinbeck was a brilliant writer. Could write ‘The Great American Novel’ (did it 3 times; G of W, East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent). Could also do comedy; Cannery Row & Sweet Thursday are my favourite comedic novels.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I read several of Steinbeck’s book and saw his house on Long Island since I grew up there.

    • Interesting that you characterise Cannery Row as comedy. I agree there is comedy and farce in there but I get a tremendous feeling or sadness, loss and yet the triumph of the human spirit.

      • Thompson

        The best comedy needs its tragic undertones, I think, Just as tragedy needs a few lighter moments – unlike real-life for some.

  2. Steinbeck was one of those writers who, as they say now, truly was on the right side of history.

    • Joseph Cernik

      A good writer. Travels With Charlie was his one book I first read on my own, his other books I read in high school.

  3. bellBelmo

    When Steinbeck passed away, a representative from the state of Oklahoma was dispatched to attend the funeral. When queried why, he replied “we wanted to make sure he was dead.”

  4. Marilyn

    The story here and the insights of Reeves, Steinbeck, and Treptow is quite inspiring. I am really looking forward to reading them and will shove them to the head of my reading list. Thank you.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Three enjoyable books, each from a different time.

    • Ann Adams

      Read Steinbeck as soon as you can- it’s a great read and very eye-opening. Cannery Row is another good Steinbeck book, but so many to choose from.

      • Joseph Cernik

        I enjoyed Steinbeck’s writings. I had thoughts of incorporating one of his books into an essay so doing so here was enjoyable.

  5. Great article! Please recommend me more meaningful travel books.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thanks for enjoying the article. Suggested:
      Daniel Mode, The Travelers Within: Into the Unknown (not really on the U.S.)
      Bryan Starchman, United Scenes of America: Travel Essays in the time of COVID-19 and other wanderings
      Peter Jenkins, A Walk Across America
      James and Deborah Fallows, Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

      • The Golden Honeycomb by Vincent Cronin – wonderful book about the people, customs and monuments of Sicily.

        Naples 44 by Norman Lewis – really any of Lewis’ books could be included but this is my favourite as it was the first I read. Hilarious in a wonderfully deadpan way.

        A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford – don’t know how I ended up buying this, expected to dislike it but was totally engrossed. She’s a wonderful, sympathetic writer, here describing a long trip in Mexico in the 50s.

        Old Glory by Jonathan Raban – chap sails small boat down Mississippi river. Meets oddballs, ordinary folks, nearly drowns, has a ball by the sounds of it.

        Connemara by Tim Robinson – epic (on-going) account of the landscape, folklore and history of the west of Ireland.

        Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb – a modern take, featuring added mafia/political conspiracies.

        And finally – anything by Ryszard Kapucinski.

    • Here you go.
      * The Road to Kathmandu
      * Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes
      * River Dog

      My own personal bible when i set off as a teenager on a journey from which i have never returned was
      “The Hichhikers Guide to Europe” by Ken Welsh

    • The greatest travel book for me is Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon – a trip through Yugoslav geography and history and I masterpice of writing and opinion.

    • Some truly decent travel writing includes:

      – Turkestan Solo by Ella Maillart
      – Between the Woods and Water or A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
      – Black Lamb Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

    • The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman is my personal favourite …. and I was really inspired as a kid by Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk, although that turned out to be pure fiction, sadly.

    • Peter Moore every time for me. A backpacker through and through.

  6. Steinbecks Travels failed to match the writing of Stevensons Travels with a Donkey, which was his inspiration. Stevensons travel was pedestrian, much slower, took time to understand a place, contained more detail and sharper observation, was rural. Steinbeck sped through places in his camper van on the highway and admitted he had little contact or conversation with local people. It is only towards the end , when in New Orleans, that he finally finds something interesting to write about. Steinbeck admitted in the book that he was cheating the reader. I couldn’t understand why he allowed it to be published.

  7. Stephanie M.

    Highly interesting article. I appreciate the new angle on the Trump administration, and I absolutely respect the hard work you clearly put into this.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thank you. I always hated the Us vs. Them approach to political analysis. I did 18-years as a TV political commentator (local TV stations) and never did Liberal vs Conservative: Too much of that is theater and shows no substance.

  8. Samantha Leersen

    I can’t say I’m familiar with any of these texts, but I have always found travel literature interesting. Not related to the U.S. (nor hope, actually) is W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. He goes on a walking tour of Suffolk and writes what he sees. Except, it can be kind of…incoherent at times, because he writes what he sees, and then offers a stream of consciousness of what those sights force him to think of. He covers everything from Herring to large-scale historical events. It’s touching and quite sad, because he seems devoid of hope. (I don’t think I’m selling this very well, but it is a good book.)
    Perhaps this comment was a little incoherent, but your article reminded me of Sebald’s book, and how much I enjoyed that. I might have to look into the books you have discussed here!
    I enjoyed your very thoughtful and well-written article 🙂

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thank you for reading and, hopefully, getting some points out of my essay. I’ll have to look into the book you referred to.

  9. Sean Gadus

    This was a very engaging and interesting article. The main draw was the three authors who wrote about America (I have read Travels with Charlie) but overall the connections made to our current landscape were interesting. 2020 has been a difficult year but even among all the dissatisfying, disheartening moments, I have read and seen people trying to make a kinder, gentler, less divided world.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thank you for reading my essay and enjoying it. Yes, I too see and meet people who are not all in a combative state of mind but willing to work with others. Even among Trump supporters I meet, they are all not angry or hostile but just normal people. Somewhere in there normal conversation should be possible.

  10. Mak’s “In Europe” was a very good book which I would heartily recommend and “Travels with Charley” sounds like a good companion volume.

  11. Shira Patten

    Lovely history lesson and selection of books, thank you.

  12. Grapes of Wrath is a virtual description of my father’s family as migrant workers. He and his siblings were all born in different States. Years later, when I had said I wanted to read the novel, my father became really angry. He had worked hard to escape the memory of those experiences, and resented being reminded. Fortunately, I possess photographs from that time, so I am reminded of the hard times in the 20s and 30s. Perhaps now it’s time to finally read the forbidden novel.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Interesting. I remember my parents not wanting to remember certain things from their childhood, because they both grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

  13. bow-bow

    Love Steinbeck, would take him over Hemingway any day.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Sounds like an essay that you can write: Why Steinbeck over Hemingway.

    • Yep. I loved Hemingway when I was a young man, but as I age, he becomes less appealing to me. his prose is lovely, but I find I like less and less what he seems to be saying.

    • Earl Reed

      Very different writing styles and philosophy. But I would have to agree!

      • Joseph Cernik

        Thank you. I hope my essay was enjoyable and, more important, provided some optimism despite the man in the White House who seems beyond reasonable description.

  14. ‘Travels With Charley’ is superb. A beautiful, elegiac travelogue, in the sundown years of the writer’s life, watching the America he knew disappear over the horizon.

  15. Love Steinbeck. The greatest literary humanist. Just don’t read Travels with Charlie! Devastating to see his warm and reassuring narrative style was an artistic device – and he was a curmudgeonly old sod after all. Love his work, though.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I enjoyed several of his books, besides “Travels with Charlie,” there is “The Pearl.”

    • Eh? Have to disagree with that – I enjoyed the book and have recommended it to a few people. I gave him credit – at an older age – for trying to re-understand his own country.

      His trip through the South, in the grips of the civil rights protest (Ruby Bridges attending a de-segregated school in particular), were very memorable.

    • I loved Travels with Charley! I think you can be both warm and a grump. (I think that sums up all my favourite writers, actually.)

  16. One summer, I decided to reread John Steinbeck’s works, challenging myself to revisit every book I could find in the library or old book stores. It became one of the most fulfilling summers since I was a child. I felt reunited with an old friend, as I often do when rereading books. The great recession was still a decade away, life was good in my household but – John Steinbeck drew me back to years spent growing up just outside miles of lettuce and strawberry fields, watching the migrant workers lined up waiting for the busses for the fields. At 14, friends & I decided to work a day in the onion fields simply to understand what that entailed – my father, a child of the Great Depression, forbade it, and that was that. I didn’t understand at the time what memories it triggered in him.

    • Joseph Cernik

      My parents grew up during the Great Depression so I understand the bad memories they had and did not enjoy remembering those times.

    • Beverly

      Reading “Grapes of Wrath” in high school gave my life direction. I had no idea that Mr. Steinbeck said, ““I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.” but he surely did.

      The book was banned from my rural school library because a “religious” woman was appalled at the ending. Of course, that made many of us want to read it. It was no “Peyton Place”, which was also popular at the time and incited teen interest. “Grapes of Wrath” told in stark reality the brutality of life during the dust bowl and depression. My mother’s large family, led by my single grandmother at the time, was extremely poor and suffered as greatly as those depicted in the book. They came out of north British Columbia in a covered wagon at the same time as those depicted in the book, when the Canadian border was open.

      I will always be grateful to Mr. Steinbeck for giving me such a clear picture of the GREED that can destroy civilization and lives if WE THE PEOPLE do not step up to prevent it.

      • Joseph Cernik

        Interesting how easy it is to get a book banned. I wonder if the woman you referred to actually read it.

        • Grapes was my first Steinbeck and it knocked me on my ass. We were assigned to read it by our subversive/wonderful English teacher while we were stuck at home during a 2 week teacher’s strike. I’ve since read just about everything Steinbeck wrote. I don’t think it’s his best work (that’s East of Eden) or my favorite (Cannery Row), but it’s the one that can cause the most visceral reaction everytime I dip into and out of it. It’s a book you can’t read without catching your breath or grinding your teeth or dilating your nostrils. Some books bring tears, some bring laughter, Grapes Of Wrath is one of the very few that brings anger.

  17. I just read a wonderful book about a trek across America. It’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey. Rinker Buck, his brother Nick, and a smelly dog named Olive Oyl cross America in a covered wagon pulled by three endearing mules. The book is funny, full of history, and some of the situations they get into are so frightening that I had to keep reminding myself that they made it to Oregon. It’s a fun and intriguing read.

  18. What these authors do is to put you there on the road with them, experiencing life walking across America through their eyes.

  19. Jonathan

    Amazing stuff. For some reason, American critics downplay Steinbeck’s importance as an American writer. However, he’s one of our best twentieth century realists.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I always enjoyed Steinbeck. Thanks for reading my essay.

    • Steinbeck’s reputation died a death whilst he was still alive because he was such a passionate supporter of the Vietnam War.

      Granted, he died before the war escalated into a total bloodbath, but that meant he never got the opportunity to recant. He pretty much disappeared from the literary scene for 20 years, and it was only really when Reaganomics began to turn the clock back for the American working class (a process that isn’t yet over) that his earlier work has resonated with people who aren’t old enough to realise the existential schism Vietnam tore through America.

  20. If you want to read something really intelligent, I’d recommend Elisabeth Wiskemann’s (sadly out of print) books about Europe and the rise of fascism.

  21. Steinbeck work is one of the greatest books ever written. I can vividly recall how angry it made me feel about the world when I first read it; a valuable lesson for a middle class schoolboy in Edinburgh. I go back to it every few years to refuel.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I have done that with a few books–go back and reread them some years later. Well, I did that with Travels with Charlie. I think doing that helps to realize how we might have changed.

  22. Frances

    Thank you for reminding me about Travels with Charley. The most telling passage for me was that, in the Grapes of Wrath, television was mentioned only as an emerging and possibly promising technology.

    In “Travels”, many years later, the same Steinbeck describes a scene in his journey when he is in a suburban street at night where all he can see from home after home is a blue flickering from every living room window as the families are glued to the goggle box.

  23. Lawrence

    I’ve always thought there to be similarities between Thomas Hardy and John Steinbeck. Both were extraordinary.

  24. I hope that one day I finish all of Steinbeck’s books.

  25. Martin Hill

    Travels with Charley, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, what a wonderful novelist Steinbeck is.

  26. Will recommend this article to anyone with an interest in American cultural life and development.

  27. Steinbeck was such a brilliant writer, you just fall into his descriptions and become so attached to his characters.

    • Joseph Cernik

      I think his characters in Travels with Charlie were interesting but different than his novels–these were real people.

  28. Melissa

    Never heard about Richard Reeves. Will look him up.

  29. Bob Ross

    Reading Treptow’s book now. It has really peaked my motivation.

  30. With American Journey, I would have liked a more tightly concentrated study of the various places and regions he revisited instead of the skipping back and forth that he did.

    • Joseph Cernik

      Regarding the American Journey book, I’m planning an essay specifically related to Tocqueville and the 1980s PBS series on the American Journey book. Here, it was my intention to jump around using three different books from three different periods to discuss Trump. As it was, this essay ran almost 50 pages in Word.

  31. Be careful with Steinbeck’s self-mythologizing – a lot of what he said about himself and his writing process is also fiction.

  32. Heather

    Really fascinating journey through our history.

  33. Che Long

    We are forever grateful for this work of art from John Steinbeck.

  34. Travels With Charley’ is superb. A beautiful, elegiac travelogue, in the sundown years of the writer’s life, watching the America he knew disappear over the horizon

  35. Joseph Cernik

    I first enjoyed reading the book when it was contemporary affairs. It was odd writing about as a reference to the past while working on my essay. Thanks for reading my article.

  36. Grapes of Wrath had themes of travel as well.

  37. Very inspiring, well written

    • Joseph Cernik

      Thanks for enjoying my essay. I’m looking at a follow-on essay addressing Post-Trump America, or maybe Trumpism America. Sooner or later I’ll construct that essay.

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