Vic Henningsen

Commentator

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.

For commentaries from Vic from before April 2013, visit the VPR Archive.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

It seems that the President is again considering a national emergency declaration as a way of circumventing Congress to secure funding for his border wall. And while it may be technically legal, presidential use of national emergency power to secure funds without Congressional approval sets a dangerous precedent.

Daniel Ochoa de Olza / AP

The Shutdown is forcing both sides to embrace possible solutions to a problem neither particularly wants to solve. President Trump demands a border wall - what some have called a “toy” - a big display that won’t address the major challenges of immigration and border security. Democrats claim to respond with tools: targeted programs that might ease at least some of the problems along our southern border.

Portrait by Alonzo Chappel / AP Photo

President Trump made a mistake going after Chief Justice John Roberts in a recent Twitter storm. When the president denounced a member of the Ninth Circuit as an “Obama judge”, Roberts defended the ideal of an independent judiciary – saying that regardless of who appointed them, judges try their best to administer equal justice under the law.

Vic Henningsen

It was a tough year for apples on this side of the hill, but a banner year for squirrels.

Tom Williams / Pool Photo via Associated Press

The Kavanaugh confirmation drama reminds me of a capsule movie review of Dead Reckoning, a deservedly forgotten Humphrey Bogart thriller: “Everyone gets double-crossed – especially the audience.”

Alex Brandon / AP

For the most part, the formal Kavanaugh hearings were a poor example of our democracy at work.

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Nearly identical appeals come from both Left and Right. “Only your contribution NOW can stop Brett Kavanaugh from savaging your rights!” Or, “Only your contribution NOW can stop those who would stop Brett Kavanaugh from protecting your rights!”

In 1793, the ruler of the Earth’s richest and most powerful nation met with a delegation from what was then part of the developing world seeking to establish trade relations.

When History Rhymes

Jul 2, 2018

In troubled times, people often turn to history for guidance: surely, they think, the past has some instructive message for the present.

Theodore Roosevelt called the Presidency “a bully pulpit” – a wonderful platform from which to proclaim policy and influence major events and issues.

Initially, I thought of “America First” as a return to 1930’s isolationism.But in practice, it now seems more consistent with unilateralism: defining and pursuing American interests regardless of their impact overseas.

Henningsen: Embargo

Apr 2, 2018

President Trump’s recent effort to protect American industry by imposing prohibitive tariffs on Chinese imports isn’t the first time an American president has attempted to translate economic ideology into public policy. And I hope current efforts don’t turn out as poorly as they did then.

The volcanic eruption of Tambora, in today’s Indonesia, produced an early modern example of climate change, causing catastrophic weather events that gave 1816 the title “year without a summer.”

It’s Town Meeting time. But so what? Why should we care?

Historian Kenneth Clark argued that, to survive, a civilization requires one thing above all: confidence. Confidence in itself; confidence in its culture and laws; confidence in the individual and collective capacities of its citizens to shape the future.

Soon after the Pilgrims landed, Plymouth’s William Bradford described a colony beset by dangers: What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men. . . [A]ll things stand upon them with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue.

Joel Ryan / AP

Searching for perspective on today’s national climate of reckless self-interest some historians find an apt comparison in another decade of unparalleled greed and corruption, the so-called “Roaring Twenties."

When cultural historian Kenneth Clark sought to highlight the most representative example of the 18th century Enlightenment, he singled out a twenty-eight volume French reference work with the unwieldy title Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts. It was an extraordinary accomplishment - a readily accessible summary of the range of human knowledge at the time.

When cultural historian Kenneth Clark sought to highlight the most representative example of the 18th century Enlightenment, he singled out a twenty-eight volume French reference work with the unwieldy title Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts. It was an extraordinary accomplishment - a readily accessible summary of the range of human knowledge at the time.

Troubled times lead to grand schemes.

Recently, pundits like David Brooks of The New York Times have called for a new national history to be taught in schools as a way preserving American unity.

Pages