Institute This

Summer, a time to unwind? To disengage, if only for a little while? Nonsense! It’s presidential campaign season! An unprecedented one. The person who’ll succeed President Barack Obama, himself an Oval Office occupant without precedent, is likely to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come, not to mention chart a course marked by walls or bridges, inclusion or exclusion, more hope or — judging by the campaign so far — iron-fisted, orange-haired fear.

 Alec Baldwin, the actor, political commentator, and Amagansett resident, has devoted himself to resurrecting the Hamptons Institute, a town hall-style discussion series launched in 2010 by East Hampton’s Guild Hall in collaboration with the Roosevelt Institute. The brainchild of Mickey Straus, Guild Hall’s longtime chairman, who died in 2014, the Institute’s been dormant for a couple of summers, but the crazy politics of 2016 have sparked its renewal.

 The revived Hamptons Institute’s program will run for three evenings in August, offering discussion on the presidential election (Aug. 15), the Supreme Court (Aug. 22), and President Obama’s legacy (Aug. 29). 

Silver-tongued Baldwin has never been shy about expressing his political views. He’s also close with many thought leaders, more than a few of whomspend time on the South Fork. Baldwin has rounded up a number of them for the Institute’s talks, among them: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Michael Keegan of People for the American Way, and the media superstars Katie Couric, Ken Auletta, John Podhoretz, Adam Liptak, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

And, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly.

“I want to see what O’Reilly says,” Baldwin said, referring to “The Obama Legacy,” the series-concluding panel that also features the conservative commentator Monica Crowley and writer and columnist Kurt Andersen, with Couric as moderator. “O’Reilly is very good at what he does. He’s a very talented man, a good broadcaster.… He’s powerful, confident. Everything you think about as a broadcaster, he has in spades.”

Fox consistently earns the highest ratings among cable news channels, yet is widely considered not just conservative, even right wing, but the voice of the Republican Party. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and news director Roger Ailes have shaped the modern TV media landscape, and Baldwin blames them for poisoning this political season.

Ailes, the onetime media adviser to Richard Nixon, “wanted to rev up all this hate and bile and dissatisfaction, and he assumed it was all going to feed into the Republican Party. But it’s slipped over into what Ailes couldn’t imagine”: the almost surreal ease with which Trump dispatched a crowded field of seasoned Republicans making their own bid for the White House.

 All that will be the topic of “Presidential Politics” on Aug. 15, moderated by Auletta.

 Baldwin himself will moderate the discussion of the Supreme Court, with a panel composed of Keegan, Liptak — The New Yorker Supreme Court correspondent — and Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. The discussion was conceived in February, before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death thrust the court back into the maelstrom of partisan politics.

 A few days after Baldwin spoke with East, Britons decided to exit the European Union, following a vicious campaign that culminated in the assassination of a pro-E.U. Member of Parliament.

 “That’s connected to this” political season, Baldwin said. “We need more cooperation. Maybe not the kind we’ve had; some things have to change. But we need more cooperation.” More info at

Christopher Walsh

Christopher Walsh was born in Manhattan and grew up in Montauk before moving back to the city, where he worked as a musician and journalist, including several years at Billboard magazine. In 2012, he returned to the South Fork, working as a longshoreman in Montauk before taking on a full-time gig covering politics and the environment for The Star. Occasionally, he comes out of music retirement to play guitar or piano with rock ’n’ roll bands.