I have been involved in higher education, in one form or another, for 35 years, first as an undergraduate, then as a graduate student, a professor, and now as a senior academic administrator. I am no stranger to debates about who gets to call themselves “Doctor.” Along with parking and office space, it is the issue that most defines us as an industry.

Even by the standards of normal academic posturing, however, the recent dust-up about Jill Biden has been remarkably petty — both in the assertion that people who earn doctorates in things other than Medicine should not call…


Though it is mostly true, it is not completely true that Donald Trump is swinging around wildly trying to stay in power. He has a playbook, or at least his advisors do. It is an old playbook that has only worked once, but when it worked, it produced the most controversial election results in American history.: the election of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden.

The 1876 election was the first national contest since 1860 that was not essentially about the Civil War. In his two terms as President, Ulysses S. Grant had made “Reconstruction” a…


It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans. The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.
— President-Elect Joe Biden, November 7, 2020

When Abraham Lincoln gave his First Inaugural Address, the nation was, for all intents…


Politics, Elections 2020

Here, in a nutshell, is the Law of Bad Numbers: In an election involving millions of votes, it will always be possible to find reasons to dispute results that you don’t want to accept, and none of them will affect the final tally.

Think about the enormity of the task. In a typical American national election, more than a hundred million people will vote in thousands of different places. Some people will vote on election day. Some will vote early. Some will vote by mail-in ways that require the cooperation of a postal system. Others will fill out provisional ballots…


The executives at Fox News didn’t create the false equivalency between “fair” and “balanced,” but they certainly turned it into a national catchphrase before abandoning their network tag line in 2016. The phrase itself invokes an intuitive human belief that fairness means treating all sides of a dispute equally. This is flat-out wrong, but it can sometimes lead to better reporting by encouraging journalists to compensate for their own biases — which is indeed an important element of critical thinking. …


In a two-party system, political parties are not really coherent ideologies. There are simply too many ideological positions in a large republic for two parties to represent. Parties are ideological coalitions that come together out of the electoral necessity of narrowing the choices down to two, ensuring that someone will win something resembling a majority.

There is no inherent reason that abortion opponents and gun enthusiasts should belong to the same party. Or that labor unions and environmentalists should back the same candidates. These are alliances of political necessity, as are the larger, defining ideological partnerships that make up our…


Politics, Elections 2020

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates — seven engagements that occurred in different Illinois cities between two candidates for the US Senate in 1858— remain the gold standard for political debates in our nation. Partly this is because of the format. A one-hour opening speech, a 90-minute rebuttal, and a 30-minute response from the first speaker. But part of it too was the content. Lincoln and Douglas actually disagreed about how to value a certain set of agreed-upon facts.

If Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had not debated the morality of slavery — and brought two different moral propositions to the table to…


“Originalism” may be a reasonable way to interpret 99.99% of Constitutional questions that come up. But the Supreme Court exists to handle the other .01%. Justices of our highst court need to have more than one tool in their belt.

  1. “Originalism” pretends to distinguish itself from other theories of interpretation but really doesn’t. And it creates an imaginary opponent called “Living Constitutionalism,” which (originalists pretend) means judges who disregard the plain meaning of the text and just make the Constitution mean anything they want it to mean. This is just silly. …


The current conservative shibboleth “we’re a republic, not a democracy” is deeply flawed as both history and as contemporary English usage. The modern term “democracy” completely includes what our 18th-century Founders meant by the term “republic,” and the eighteenth-century definition of “democracy” describes a kind of state that has not existed in 2,000 years (if it ever really existed at all). If the United States is not a democracy, as the term is understood in the 21st century — we need to try harder to be one.

When politicians like Mike Lee play the “republic, not a democracy” card, what…


Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. Article II, Section One of the US Constitution

The “We’re-a-Republic-Not-a-Democracy” crowd really likes the Electoral College. It is, they believe, the last vestige of republican rule in the United States. The argument goes something like this: “the United States was designed…

Michael Austin

Michael Austin is a former English professor and current academic administrator. He is the author of We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition

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