What’s The Matter with Los Angeles?

Thomas Frank asked what was the matter with Kansas. Why did lower-middle class whites vote for the GOP when the Republicans did little for such voters economically. The interests of Kansans economically were supposed to be much more Democrat than Republican. But conservatives in the GOP used social issues — abortion, marriage, etc. — to attract support.

Frank’s argument makes me wonder the same about the Hollywood stars who live in the greater Los Angeles area. Simply on economic grounds, why would people worth millions vote for a party that wants to raise taxes on them?

Then there is the art-makes-viewers-more-humane-and-empathetic argument. Don’t actors in Hollywood play all sorts of American character types, from people who vote for Republicans to business owners, cops (how many cop shows and movies are there?!?), angry white men, and Christian nationalists? If art is supposed to help us see how others see the world, why are Hollywood actors like Meryl Streep so clueless about how so many Americans other than movie stars live?

Not to mention that in the aftermath of Debbie Reynolds’ and Carrie Fisher’s death, the missus and I watched Meryl Streep give a very fine performance in Postcards from the Edge (foul language trigger warning). She plays a Hollywood star who is a drug addict and whose life is hardly stable? If you play that kind of character — and I imagine Hollywood has more people like this than among the rest of the millionaire demographic — do you really get on a soapbox and instruct the rest of the country about how insensitive and vicious regular Americans are (with a straight face)? Don’t you perhaps remember that Hollywood types have their own clay feet (even if outfitted in Prada)?

One last anomaly. Meryl Streep has far more in common with Donald Trump than Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz. Streep and Trump are both loaded, live lives becoming the rich and famous, cultivate celebrity, and are not overly concerned about abortion, gays, or sex outside marriage. Trump is one of Streep’s tribe.

And now the press can see how hollow and shallow Trump’s way of life is:

Trump understands one thing. In business, on TV and in conducting a presidential campaign, all that matters is making the news. He was famous and infamous, but most of all he was a media tsunami. He was not to be avoided. Fame is Donald Trump’s drug of choice. Being famous gives a person an automatic market value, a faux-virtue that comes from virtual supremacy.

Didn’t they understand that when Katy Perry and Beyonce were headlining for either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton?

John T., Philip B., and D.G.

I am (all about me) a pretty big fan of Julie and Julia. For one thing, it’s a movie about food and I like to eat. Second, it’s about cooking and I like to cook because I like to eat. For another, it features Meryl Streep as Julia Child, which is a remarkable performance. How many actors have played such various roles?

My affection for the movie has inspired thoughts about a daily blog about one of my different responsibilities. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Julie decides to cook through the all the recipes of (I believe) Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she blogs virtually daily about the trials and successes of this marathon.

This premise has made me think about blogging my way through Robert Murray McCheyne’s schedule to read the Bible in one year, not just the edification that accompanies reading the word, but also the challenges to schedules, the odd juxtaposition of texts and life’s circumstances, and the failed days which require reading 30 chapters in one weekend before the guests arrive. Another thought is to blog about talk-show radio, to follow the topics and screeds that govern sports-talk shows, Rush Limbaugh, and Phil Hendrie over the course of one year and see what that reveals about the American people.

One other possibility is to blog about the writing of a book, from the stage of drafting a proposal for a contract, through the ups and downs of research and writing, to the soul-enslaving chore of revising and editing. The problem with this idea is that it would give an editor too much information about whether the author is goofing off. It would also give future readers a chance to see the real flaws in the book — such as that point when you cannot nail down the argument but decide on a strategy that let’s you fudge it. If you let on that you didn’t have time to go to the archives for a particular section of the book, the way that Julie admitted she overcooked the beouf bourgignon, then your editor is likely going to make you go to the archives, thus delaying the book and prolonging the blog for another year.

All of this is a long-winded way of mentioning that I turned in what I believe to be the final manuscript for Calvinism: A Global History, which if production schedules go well and if the Lord tarries, should be published next spring by Yale University Press. I have been working on this for almost five years — sometimes in fits and starts — but for the last eighteen months in a concerted way, and it is a great relief to have the manuscript “in the can.” This also means that I have been communing for the last five years in various ways with John T. McNeill, author of The History and Character of Calvinism (1954), and Philip Benedict, whose book Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (2002), broke the mold for studies of Reformed Protestantism. My book is somewhere in between McNeill’s and Benedict’s. Like the former, mine tries to cover the entire range of Reformed communions in various settings since the sixteenth century. Like Benedict, I look at the institutional, political and social history of Calvinism but extend his narrative (in a much less comprehensive way) beyond 1700, where his book stops.

So far, I don’t think I have revealed anything that I haven’t already written for my editor or readers. Nor do I think I have exposed potential weaknesses for reviewers ready to pounce. And to give readers an additional peek into the book, I include an excerpt from the introduction:

Although Calvinism was flagging, Froude, Kuyper, and Beattie were not simply overcompensating with their praise for Reformed Protestantism. Various students of modern societies in the West, with no particular stake in the survival of Calvinism, made similar claims about the faith’s political and economic contributions. Alexis de Tocqueville had observed during his visit to the United States that representative government was the fruit of English Calvinism’s seed. In New England among the Puritans, he wrote, “Democracy more perfect than any of which antiquity had dared to dream sprang full-grown and fully armed from the midst of the old feudal society.” George Bancroft in his History of the United States of America asserted that “the fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty, for in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was a part of his army, and his most faithful ally in the battle.” Positive appraisals of Calvinism as a generator of a better world were not simply the product of nineteenth-century amateur intellectuals. Max Weber’s argument about the influence of Calvinism on economic productivity became a staple in the analysis of capitalism. Several decades later, Robert K. Merton extended Weber’s analysis to show that Calvinism was decisive in the English scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. These assessments of Calvinism reveal that Froude, Kuyper and Beattie were not delusional. As much as they hoped to inspire, they also employed arguments that many non-Calvinists would have found plausible.

As natural as global assessments have come to students of Calvinism, this book despite its title, Calvinism: A Global History, takes a different outlook. Instead of exploring Calvinism’s contribution to the workings of the modern world, this study takes a modest approach. It examines how a variety of western Christianity that started in opposition to Rome in obscure small cities in central Europe eventually distinguished itself from other forms of Protestantism and established institutional outlets not only across Europe but also in North and South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Too much scholarship during the last century has exposed the overdrawn and sometimes faulty analysis of earlier assessments of Calvinism. What is needed now is less an account of Calvinism’s role in the forces of globalization and more a narrative of how Calvinism became a global faith. Reformed Protestantism did indeed circumnavigate the planet. But it did so not by underwriting or inspiring the West’s political and economic forces. Calvinism spread around the globe through unlikely historical developments that perhaps only the sovereign God whom Reformed Protestants worshiped could pretend to control. This book is about how Calvinism became a global faith. As it is, the how of Calvinism’s expansion is key to understanding why.