Joshua Claybourn's "Our American Story" includes essays from Rep. Jim Banks, Cass Sustein, Eleanor Clift, former Sen. John Danforth and Markos Moulitsas.
Joshua Claybourn's "Our American Story" includes essays from Rep. Jim Banks, Cass Sustein, Eleanor Clift, former Sen. John Danforth and Markos Moulitsas.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

EVANSVILLE – Joshua Claybourn describes himself as a “relatively unknown lawyer from the Midwest.” But on June 1, his book “Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative” goes on sale, and the lineup of contributors is impressive.

Included are historians, including Pulitzer Prize winners David W. Blight, Alan Taylor along with Gordon Wood; lawyers Cass Sustein, Richard E. Epstein, Ilya Somin and  Gerard N. Magliocca of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Political scientists and analysts include Spencer Boyer, Eleanor Clift, Nikolas Gvosdev, Jason Kuznicki, Markos Moulitsas, James V. Wertsch and Ali Wyne. And there are the politicians, including U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and former Sen. John Danforth.

Claybourn, an Evansville attorney and Howey Politics Indiana contributor, explains, “Over the past few decades, the complicated divides of geography, class, religion, and race created deep fractures in the United States, each side fighting to advance its own mythology and political interests. We lack a central story, a common ground we can celebrate and enrich with deeper meaning. Unable to agree on first principles, we cannot agree on what it means to be American. As we dismantle or disregard symbols and themes that previously united us, can we replace them with stories and rites that unite our tribes and maintain meaning in our American identity?”

He explains in the book’s foreward: “We’ve seen these factional clusters deepen, harden, and separate, leading in turn to anger, misunderstanding, and hostility. Meanwhile, trust in institutions — government, business, the media, and higher education — continues to erode. Cultural warfare further splits our society, exposing fundamental differences about our views of justice and human nature. Unable to agree on first principles, we cannot agree on what it means to be American. As a result, we share few of the touchstones that, in the past, contributed to our national mythology."

“The diverse responses expand our possible narratives and remind us that if a unifying story can be achieved at all, then more than one may be feasible or even necessary,” he continues. “If you insist on common threads or conclusions, then we leave them to you to discover, and we hope you find these contributions important and illuminating. Ultimately, I aim for this project to prompt much-needed conversation and reflection.”

Claybourn told HPI on Wednesday, “I began to wonder what kind of stories could unite our various fractions and tribes so we could restore our American identity. I got a great response.”

Claybourn continued, “It’s a very ideologically diverse group from all over the country. I felt this was an important conversation. Were there any common stories? Buy the book to find out. This is a conversation we need to have. These are good people to help prompt that conversation.

“There are a few folks that took a skeptical approach,” Claybourn explained. “Some don’t think a shared American story is possible or even necessary.” 

Sustein, a former Notre Dame Law professor, brings the reader to Concord: “In 2017 I moved from New York to Massachusetts. My wife and I chose to live in Concord, even though we are not working there. That wasn’t the most practical decision, but still, it made some sense. Concord is breathtakingly beautiful. It is also historic. It’s where the Revolutionary War started on 19 April 1775, when about 700 British soldiers were given what they thought were secret orders to destroy colonial military supplies being held in Concord. That’s where Paul Revere rode, where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, where dozens of people died and dozens were badly hurt, and where our nation started to be born. 

“Know the phrase ‘The shot heard round the world’? If you’d asked me in 2016, I would have said, with complete confidence, that the it referred to Bobby Thomson’s game-winning home run in 1951, which won the pennant for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Wrong answer.”

Banks, an Indiana University classmate of Claybourn, writes of “Society and Service,” beginning: “People often complain of an America run by elites of wealth and power. There is certainly some truth to this viewpoint, but it fails to provide the entire picture. Our nation’s virtue is steeped in the foundational principle of governance ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ This indispensable component of our country’s DNA largely remains intact, and its perseverance through generations has helped the United States grow into the greatest nation in world history. Yet today it is unraveling and under attack.”

Banks continues: “When I was growing up, our family was not exactly a political family, and politicians usually were not spoken of favorably in our working-class home. So it came as a surprise to many that I ascended through the ranks of local, state, and national politics in a span of about 10 years. The uniqueness of our political system allowed me to do just that with a dream and inspiration to serve.”

Near his conclusion, Banks explains, “We must raise the level of decency in the American political system. I recently toured the Ronald Reagan Library with a veteran and imminently respected member of Congress. When I asked him about his favorite memory of working with President Reagan, he paused and remarked, ‘I just hope our country can find another leader like him.’ We need more Reaganesque kindness and optimism in today’s conversation.”

You can order “Our American Story” by clicking here.