NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Rutgers University may tout its global reach, but this weekend one of its professors went to bat for its Jersey roots.
Brian Murphy, a history professor and director of the Honors College at Rutgers' Newark campus, wrote a column on August 5 for Politico Magazine on the Garden State, its presidential history and its rich — if often mocked — culture.
The sharp-tongued story didn't come without provocation.
National media began throwing jabs at New Jersey after news of President Donald Trump's two-week vacation in Bedminster, down the road in Somerset County, hit the airwaves. Most notably, the Boston Globe tarred the state, labeling it “the land of spray tans” and quoting befuddled public officials who couldn't imagine why anyone would turn their cheek to the pricey and exclusive shores of New England. The piece was just one of several condescending attacks on Jersey in the press and social media.
But Murphy wasn't having it.
Channeling anger expressed by many New Jerseyans on Twitter, Murphy quickly noted the state's long history as a presidential getaway. He counted James Garfield, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, William McKinley, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and, of course, Woodrow Wilson among the nation's leaders who once vacationed here.
The Scarlet Knight history buff also listed some of the state's impressive history. John Philip Sousa, he noted, wrote the “Congress Hall March” after playing a week of concerts in 1882 with the Marine Corps Band in Cape May.
Yet perhaps the most powerful part of Murphy's takedown centered not on academics and history, but on his own Jersey grit.
He wrote that he believes Trump is breaking norms and undermining faith in institutions and “probably doesn't really deserve a vacation” based on his lack of accomplishments.
“But the idea that a president vacationing in New Jersey is itself a sign of national decline? Please spare me,” Murphy added.
“The real point [the Boston Globe writers] are making isn't really a historical one about presidential travel,” the Paterson native said. “Instead it's about how exclusive some of these past retreats have been.”
The problem outsiders have with New Jersey, Murphy argues, is that it isn't etched into the American consciousness as some ritzy, glamorous hideaway. Its “beautiful state parks” and public beaches are affordable and often easily accessible, he said. Diners can opt for high-end seafood dishes or a greasy cheese steak, and they can put 'em down while binge-watching “The Sopranos,” one of TV's all-time greats.
And Murphy's opinion on spray tans, muscle shirts and the MTV show “Jersey Shore” and its cast? No biggie. Most of them are from out of state anyway.