On the normalization of Donald Trump

Something that might get lost in the daily political-information overload is a thought-provoking historical article in yesterday’s LA Review of Books by Ron Rosenbaum, the author of “Explaining Hitler.” Rosenbaum writes that initially he had declined to write or speak about potential links between Hitler and Trump prior to the election because he did not wish to water down the atrocities committed by Hitler and compare them to someone who had not yet been elected and who seemed to simply be “childishly vindictive.”

And yet. Post-election, Rosenbaum’s views have changed, and he worries about the normalization of of Donald Trump and his administration. The way he chooses to broach this subject is incredibly compelling – through the story of the long fight by the Munich Post to attempt to hold Hitler accountable before, during, and after his rise to power. It is a story of a small newspaper refusing to normalize Hitler, defiant in their rejection of the lies and diversions that had been accepted by others.

…The Munich Post never stopped investigating who Hitler was and what he wanted, and Hitler never stopped hating them for it.

As Hitler sought to ingratiate himself with the city’s rulers (though never giving up the threat of violence), the Post reporters dug into his shadowy background, mocking him mercilessly, exposing internal party splits, revealing the existence of a death squad (“cell G”) that murdered political opponents and was at least as responsible for Hitler’s success as his vaunted oratory.

Set aside twenty minutes to read this piece. It serves as a strong reminder to continue to think critically and ask questions in the face of an onslaught of lies and diversions in this administration. This is, as Rosenbaum writes, not normal.


Hi Readers,

Just a quick note that I won’t be writing about Season 6 of Downton Abbey. I’ve enjoyed writing about the show and reading your comments and questions over the past few seasons, but unfortunately I don’t have time to reprise the series again this year. You can find links to all my previous Downton Abbey posts here.

I hope you enjoy the final season of the show!




Economics of Downton Abbey: Echoes of Marx

(Season Five, Episode Seven)

Portrait of Karl Marx taken in 1875.
Portrait of Karl Marx taken in 1875.

While watching episode seven, I kept thinking about how it could be used to teach some of Karl Marx’s fundamental principles.  Marx is a polarizing figure in a lot of ways – most economists don’t think much of his economic theory – but many of his observations on inequality and exploitation retain a powerful impact. Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, Marx continues to be cited in contemporary academic works exploring issues of class, wealth accumulation, economic inequality, and labor.

There are several directions to take this analysis – Downton Abbey is a gold mine for examination of everything Marx saw wrong with capitalism – but I’ll stick with three topics that stood out in Episode Seven: labor, ruling ideas, and property. Continue reading Economics of Downton Abbey: Echoes of Marx

Economics of Downton Abbey: Not Just a Haircut

(Season Five, Episode 6)

If any are tempted to rail against modernism there is a vague, anticipatory comfort in the thought that when another half-century has passed our present surroundings will have taken on a rich stain of the antique.

…Our great-nieces will laugh, and we shall sigh, while we tell of the ancient battle of Bob and Shingle, and how bold their great-aunt felt when first she was fashionably shorn.

– The Times, September 22, 1924

In this episode of Downton Abbey – where the women seem to be finally taking charge of something, be it big or small, upstairs or down – Mary decides to chop her hair into a bob. This wasn’t a coincidence. Historian Mary Louise Roberts looks at the politics of women’s fashion, including bobbed hair, in 1920s France. She argues that the bob was interpreted as “visual fantasy” of female liberation. Mary’s decision to cut her hair resonates with this argument. Earlier in the episode Mary makes a remark that Lord Gillingham doesn’t think she can know her own mind, ostensibly because she is a woman. By chopping her hair she is outwardly asserting her independence and challenging the traditional view of a how a woman should behave.

Short hairstyles are prominent in this 1926 Vogue cover by artist Eduardo Benito
Short hairstyles are prominent in this 1926 Vogue cover by artist Eduardo Benito

Roberts writes that in France, a woman’s bob, along with her modern “boyish” dress, presented a “visual language for upheaval and change and figured in a political struggle for the redefinition of female identity” (p. 684). In Great Britain, a similar redefinition was occurring: women’s organizations were on the rise to fight for equal pay and equal franchise and young women gleefully shocked their elders through their dress and actions (Horn [1995] 2010).  As Mabel remarks in this episode, Mary seems “more than able to choose which laws to keep and which to break” – and she is doing just that. Continue reading Economics of Downton Abbey: Not Just a Haircut

Economics of Downton Abbey: A Place for Ms. Bunting

Sarah Bunting
Sarah Bunting, played by actress Daisy Lewis, on Season Five of Downton Abbey

(Season Five, Episode Five)

On Episode Five we watch Sarah Bunting say her goodbyes. A polarizing figure in the Downton universe, she deserves her own post for her final appearance on the show. So today, I’m making my case for her to join a teachers’ union.

First, a little background: In the 1920s women’s employment opportunities rested in a narrow band of job options.Ms. Bunting was one of the lucky women who made it into the professional ranks. The majority of women worked in the service industry – mainly in domestic service – and those lucky enough to join professional fields were pushed toward “caring positions;” 90% of female professionals worked as teachers, nurses and midwives (Horn 2010 [1995]).   Continue reading Economics of Downton Abbey: A Place for Ms. Bunting