Tag Archives: Jeremi Suri

Time for Re-Alignment in America

submitted by Jocelyn Riley

Jeremi SuriJeremy Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs and Professor of Public Affairs and History at UT-Austin and formerly a professor at UW-Madison, spoke to Rotarians virtually on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Professor Suri’s presentation began with his 15-year-old son, Zachary, reading a poem he’d written especially for Madison Rotarians, “I Remember When I Was Four,” about accompanying his father as his father voted in a gymnasium for Barack Obama.  Then Suri senior took over and outlined what he posits are the four major re-alignments in American history:  the post-Civil War period, the great depression of 1893, and the 1932 election (which followed the 1929 crash).  Suri predicts that we are in the middle of the fourth great alignment in American history because of four factors:  1) The party in power if abjectly failing to do what it promised; 2) Historical demographic changes; 3) The problem of race and a new consciousness of race; and 4) Institutions at all levels don’t work the way they used to and there is bound to be a re-alignment.

Suri thinks this re-alignment will manifest itself in three areas:  1) The health-care system, which is more expensive than most others with worse outcomes; 2) The economy, which is not as innovative as it used to be and is also inequitable. 3)

The issue of leadership (Suri said that he would exchange his students at both UT-Austin and UW-Madison for everyone in the two state legislatures and thinks that would improve the legislatures).

Suri ended his presentation on an optimistic note with a paraphrased version of Winston Churchill’s famous quip: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted every other option.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/h_gOfsqqons.

The Impossible Presidency

–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Dennis Cooley

Suri Jeremi 11 1 2017

Rotarian Janet Piraino with Guest Speaker Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri, professor of history at the University of Texas-Austin, and formerly (lamentably) at the UW-Madison, gave a boffo performance today as our speaker. He used history to demonstrate that the modern presidency has gotten too complicated for any person to do the job effectively.

There have been several “models” of the presidency. George Washington created the office: he conceived of his job as uniting the people into one nation, not as policy-making or leading a political party.

Lincoln changed the office, believing his chief purpose was to develop the country economically, to use the office to push economic development through the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grant Act, which created the land-grant universities in the Midwest, including the UW, to educate farmers and to promote the liberal arts (yes!), and by providing federal subsidies to the railroads, which led to the phenomenal growth of the American economy in the last third of the 19th century.

A third model was created by FDR. He was born to wealth, but he developed polio, which gave him an empathy with those who suffer. He viewed the president as a healer, someone to help those who did not thrive in the capitalist system, which inevitably has winners and losers. The president, FDR believed, had to make these people feel connected, to bring people together to find solutions to problems. FDR has been imitated and viewed as a model by modern leaders, especially by every American president since.

But since the Second World War, the expectations of the people and the responsibilities of the office have grown too large for anyone. So the office has become ill-suited to the world today.

Professor Suri’s solutions: (1) Our method of choosing leaders is defective; young people are not encouraged to get into the arena or even to vote, and the money in politics is overwhelming. (2) The electorate is not well informed; there are facts that people should know, but education has been under-funded. (3) There needs to be a conversation about the values of the nation, and these values have to inform our political life and our leaders. Our best people are not in politics or in leadership positions.

Professor Suri’s talk was very well received. President Donna commented that it was the best talk she has heard since she has been in Rotary. (If you missed the talk, check out the video.) Which raises a nice question: Why is Professor Suri, a man of ideas and a great speaker, not in the arena? Or is he more valuable as a public intellectual?