Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What was the American Experiment?

A couple of days ago, I proclaimed that "The American Experiment is over, was it worthwhile?". That got a lot of responses, some of which I'll address here.

The first one was, "oh sure, our government is doing lots of bad things right now, but what about McCarthyism?" Yeah, what ABOUT McCarthyism? At the very same time that McCarthy was doing his "Red Scare" stuff, blacks were getting equal rights in the armed forces and equal rights in schools and transportation, and full voting and housing rights were being held up only due to fillibusters by a small minority of Southern senators. You can't say that the McCarthy era was one in which the majority of Americans had fewer rights than in earlier eras, because it just isn't true.

Then there's the old, "oh sure, the government is doing lots of bad things right now, but they did lots of bad things before, too. Remember the Trail of Tears?". Yeah, and remember that slavery was once legal, too. But the whole point of the American experiment during its classic era that ended with the Presidency of Richard Nixon was that more and more Americans had that "freedom" and "liberty" stuff. In the beginning, only white male property owners had the right to vote, for example. That was progressively extended to more and more Americans over the decades, until finally all Americans over age 21 had the right to vote after 1965.

But that was the high water of American liberty. The late Hunter S. Thompson describes what happened next in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

By 1972, when Hunter penned those words, the vile and evil Richard M. Nixon had been President for three years and had just declared a "war on drugs", widely felt by most people under the age of 30 to actually be a "war on young people". The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy by supposed "lone gunmen" had been used as an excuse for a massive expansion of the power of the BATF and FBI. And over the next 30 years, it has become even worse, to the point where we acttually need to pass a law against torture -- something which even the vile and evil Richard M. Nixon would have been shocked to see, because even he, even as evil as he was, would not have condoned the torturing of captured enemy soldiers.

The wave indeed finally broke and rolled back, and has been rolling back ever since. Whereas the progression of freedom was overall increasing every year until 1968, since then the wave has peaked, and started receding -- receding even faster over the past five years, until nobody is surprised to find out that the NSA is spying on Americans without warrants (not that getting a FISA warrant is a big deal -- they hand'em out like monopoly money -- but the NSA isn't even bothering with getting a FISA warrant to spy on Americans).

So what was the American experiment, and why did it fail? Two questions, very interesting questions. I'll give my answer to the first, in tomorrow's installment (maybe). As for the second... you already know my answer to that one.

- Badtux the HST-quotin' Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 12/16/2005 03:05:00 PM  


I'm sure our fearless leader thinks the Great American Experiment is what he did with frogs and firecrackers.
# posted by John : 20/12/05 3:18 PM  

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