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Our Dynamic and Beautiful Nation
Today I reflect on an America that is constantly changing and growing as the summer wanes. Enjoy!
Westward Expansion and Its Brutal Cost
America has been a tale of dynamism and democratization. By so many different indicators, our country has changed and progressed towards becoming the diverse and restless world giant we see today.
Since our beginnings, the American nation has grown and developed at a rate that has garnered the fascination of others around the globe. Fledgling colonies once resisted British imperialism through guerilla tactics and military action. Despite (for the most part) colonial leaders practicing authoritarian power structures within their own lands, those colonies grew more democratic and traveled westward. It culturally fostered a mythological western frontier that promised freedom and renewal. The dark reality, however, was it facilitated practices and genocidal actions that undermined Native American land and culture. This was originally their home.
As the Upper and Lower Midwest, along with the Appalachian States and parts of the Plains began to be settled by interloping Americans, a ferocious debate over the economic destinies of these new lands caused the eruption of a mind-boggling bloody Civil War between the states.
Were these colonized lands to be slave-based feudal territories or were they to be gripped by growing industrial aristocracies as another phase of the Industrial Revolution swept the nation?
Obviously, we know the answer, and thus a new birth of freedom caused a national metamorphosis. Now we were the United States of America rather than these United States of America.
Even after war and devastation, there was a yearning for freedom by much of the American people. Unfortunately, class structures had formed through the development and distribution of economic power. This was heightened within the period following the nation’s rebirth. But out of these societal traumas (brought on by a crystallizing industrial aristocracy), a progressive gene within America began to metastasize.
Towards a Better Democracy and World
With a renewed nation came the need to transport humans and goods while simultaneously developing new structures and technologies to harness the continent’s power and potential. With raw materials and energy sources, like the liquid gold being stripped out of the earth, American labor transformed the lifeblood of so many economies around the young nation. Even with this onset of people power, a small group of Americans controlled the production processes and utilization of economic forces through monopolies spanning from the railroads to steel manufacturing. This was reflected in the financial markets being speculated on within an expanding place (and set of institutions) called Wall Street.
Despite all of this consolidation, a larger democratization process always undergirded America. For the most part, that process has only benefitted a subset of the population, but its presence and energy opened up the floodgates for America to become a place that raises awareness for the rights of all of its citizens.
By the way, this is a place that would face its own ongoing process of democratization as the 20th century rolled forward:
In the days following the Civil War, unions attempted to form as populations swelled to drive massive labor forces that propelled the development of modern 20th-century industrial projects and the major metropolises. These developments would awe citizens from all over the globe who had only recently wondered the nation would survive its morbid civil conflict.
An influx of immigration from various parts also added a new dimension to the idea of who and what was American, while at the same time, the descendants of former slaves formed organizations and partnerships that sought to crystallize America’s democratic promises. Not only did progressive politics change civic structures as the new century dawned (like how we elect Senators), but it also laid the foundation for charitable giving and awareness of poverty within cities and also out in rural backwaters.
Since the end of the Civil War, parts of America were still underdeveloped and nascent. Much of the South remained this way and the consequences were power structures that benefitted a few while oppressing the majority of the population. Much of the Southwest and Western Mountains remained arid desert and/or impenetrable landscape despite steadily growing populations.
But this would all change with the onset of the Interwar period. World War I and World War II were climactic and dramatic culminations of an era of general global conflict, political upheaval, and organized state-sponsored violence. An old world of absolute monarchies, colonial exploitation, and religious mysticism was being challenged by populist movements all over the globe - many failing and captured by warlords and/or demagogues.
However, the result of this period was the transfer of global hegemony to the young (and still democratizing) American nation- now spanning from sea to shining sea. Though, it still practiced its own brand of colonialism in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Central to Southern America).
The refuge of the founding fathers was now full of budding metropolises, diverse populations, and new laws that spread political suffrage to many more citizens - namely women.
The Commercial Empire
Turns out that the nation was also destined to become a commercial empire that sought to influence smaller nations through its goods and markets. This didn’t mean the American military wasn’t involved or its use of covert intelligence and security forces to influence the destinies of nations, old and new. American foreign policy became increasingly complex and, arguably, moved closer to what John Quincy Adams meant by warning America of going “abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Quincy’s viewpoint found new life as America entered a new global era powered by its military-industrial complex which influences many aspects of American economic life from its modern population movements to, arguably, the health of its democracy and social safety.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell warning about the rising military-industrial complex is analyzed:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
-President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Present Ronald Reagan on Increasing the National Defense Budget:
President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Security Act of 2002:
President Barack Obama’s speech on his Counterterrorism Strategy. It put drones at the center of its policy:
America, a Land of Seeming Perpetual Comfort and Growth
But at home, since the interwar period, a nation that had once been in constant development was now in hyper development. Suburbanization spanned the country as well as the population, social, and commercial growth of once isolated regions. Once isolated corners of the nation now featured fast food restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping malls. Disneyland rose out of an orange grove in Anaheim, California as a symbol of the American commercial dream, which had evolved out of once rural people. Massive highway systems roamed a nation now fostering a love affair with its automobiles - making it easier for populations and communities to form in what were once fringes and backwaters.
Finally, the onset of local investment, growth of high-tech industries, and the invention of air conditioning expedited America’s development into the geographic and conceptual Sunbelt, thus revitalizing the Southeastern and Southwestern corridors in order to build an expansive network of urban sprawl from Los Angelos to Miami (while restructuring America’s political consensus in the process):
Today, Millenials and Generation Z inherit a nation that has relatively been in a constant state of development, growth, and change. The “American West” is saturated (over 125 years after “the frontier” was deemed closed):
Our constant pushes for equality, our concerns over a loss of economic mobility, and our much valid fears of a revanchist cult forming within the country must remain constant as well.
It does help to step back and reflect on the way America has grown. This allows us to remember why the onset of Trumpism and the denigration of right-wing politics is so problematic.
We need population consensus and cohesion to continue this dynamic process of uplift and improvement. Without those things, we begin to regress. The results will force our predecessors to inherit a worse nation than the one we were gifted.
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