“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam...”
(poem and song published in 1870s)
Round em up, round them up
The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of the American Western. It was also one of our most popular exports. Television shows like Bonanza, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Have Gun, Will Travel and Maverick were among the most highly rated programs on television. I recently watched the 1959 TV pilot of Rawhide, where Clint Eastwood made his first appearance, about cowboys on a cattle drive.
It's quintessentially American … sort of. Stoic white men and go-it-alone kind of guys solve problems, protect children and the women folk and aren't afraid to use their guns, which of course are omnipresent. This view was in fact part of the West but only one small part, the part that has always been most comfortable to white people, who decided how the West “was won.”
The real story is of course much broader, much more ambiguous and oftentimes far darker, literally and figuratively, and the laconic lone cowboy was more often than not an unremarkable cog in a much bigger system. It is also about how large corporations and politicians first colluded on a large scale to plunder the resources of the West and where the ends justified the means.
The state of Idaho is sponsoring a Killing Competition on National Forest Lands. The contestants will be competing for cash prizes. The prizes go to those that kill the most wolves, coyotes and other wild life. To paraphrase Rap Brown, blood lust “is as American as cherry pie.”Yeah, it's about continued disrespect and disconnect but more important it's about mass delusion.
It's part of an old story about taming the frontier. Ranching interests today in the western states are the ones behind most of the shooting, trapping and poisoning of millions of animals. Ranchers drove the Mexican gray wolf to extinction and continually oppose any recovery efforts. Grazing on public lands has threatened or endangered hundreds of species, and thousands of miles of rivers have been polluted by livestock waste
Politicians in the western states love to talk about their Libertarian roots and how they are the “true” protectors of the environment and the authentic America. It's once again about white America making up stuff on a grand scale. No doubt many of these characters and their constituents actually believe the claptrap they utter—but why wouldn't they.
I hear the chickens are coming home
“You didn't hear about the terrorists planning to blow up the subway in Paris?” I had not. “Do you think it's safe to fly to New York”? I said I thought it was perfectly safe.
We had one of the lowest voter turnouts in years (36%) for our recent mid-term elections, terrible even by the dismal American standard, yet some $3.6 billion was spent to “buy the election.” The low voter turnout wasn't because of widespread contentment among the citizenry. But who did vote were the older, whiter, wealthier and more conservative voters. And who they voted into office at both the national and state level will guarantee all of us “interesting times” come January 2015.
I suspect the next two years will be unpleasant for a great many Americans, especially for those of us that don't want to revisit the 1950s let alone the nostalgic era of President William McKinley, 1897-1901.
“What do those people want?” “You ought to open an account in the Caymans, only the ignorant pay more taxes than they should.” “Stopping the system of dependency in this country is the most important thing we can do.” “We're the real victims.” “Next time we'll have a President who is, well, you know.”
I happened to run across a particular group of tennis players this past summer, who I ended up playing with periodically. They were white men, all over the age of 55, middle class, some of whom were retired … engineers, business types, one or two had worked in the public sector, with grown children and grandchildren. I listened to what they had to say.
They were a subset of white America but have always been an influential constituency and certain about their place in the order of things, until recently. It's about a world they know that seems to be now unraveling, difficult for many of them to comprehend. The television and radio info-entertainers tell them that, while they're in the right, they also ought to be afraid—of virtually everything. And they are resisting the inevitable changes, sometimes mindlessly.