Think of this as Volume 17, Number 4 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
It's the point where the old thesis realizes the jig is up and goes crazy.
If you're of a certain age, like me, you may identify this as the 1973 Game. This was the point where the drug scene shifted decisively away from things like pot and LSD, drugs meant to expand the mind, and toward things like cocaine and heroin, which gave a more immediate, physical rush and had a higher physical cost.
This was where a lot of people decided that dropping out was silly, and that they should get serious about careers. I saw this clearly as I went through college – each successive incoming class was more conservative in outlook than the one before it, more focused on money, family, and personal issues, less focused on society and the wider world.
It was a cynical time, but the Nixon Thesis was a cynical idea to begin with. Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you, tell me true. (I moved south in 1973.)
Of all those periods, it's 1865 that should hold the most resonance for those looking at current events, because that's the kind of attitude we're fighting. I spent a recent weekend talking with a man I came to learn was a gun nut, and his ultimate argument was “I need my guns to defend me against the government,” followed by “I need my guns to overthrow the government.”
This attitude is common. It's been fed to millions of people, not just by the NRA, but by the many organizations to its political right. And it's just as dangerous as what we saw in the 19th century, the filibusters becoming the Confederacy and, then, the Ku Klux Klan. You will recall that the Klan succeeded in “keeping the niggers down,” in Randy Newman's words, for a century. And the Republican South isn't that much different today – notice how all the Mississippi legislators promising to defy any anti-gun law are white? In a state that's 35% black?
TPM editor Josh Marshall wrote recently of belonging to the “non-gun tribe.” The key word in that is tribe. The people running to gun shops each time someone speaks of gun control are doing so out of a tribal solidarity. Tribes are more cohesive than even nations are. They are also more dangerous.
Personally, the most moving part of Ken Burns' epic “The Civil War” came near the end, when historian Barbara J. Fields said that “the Civil War is still going on, and it can still be lost.” Sounded like a throwaway, but it's not. Because the Civil War was a tribal struggle, just as the battle over guns is a tribal struggle.
In many ways the gains of the Civil War were lost by the generation that fought it, because the “Confederate Tribe” was so persistent, so dedicated to overturning history's verdict through all their lives, and they eventually succeeded. D.W. Griffith's “The Birth of A Nation” is testament to their success. The musical “Parade” is another testament to their success. For 100 years we lost the Civil War because we found other things to do, we took our eyes off the ball and let the more dedicated tribe fight on alone.
That can't happen this time. We have seen, over the last three decades, what happens when we let the “gun tribe” rule Washington. They have organized, informally, as an army against civil society. They destroyed the Murrah Federal Office Building, and the reputation of the Atlanta Olympics. They remain out there, heavily armed and dangerous. They need to be seen for what they are, terrorized and terrorists both. Driven mad by the same fear of being surrounded that Osama bin Laden used on his followers, the same dreams of revenge, and ready – when pushed – to take the same kinds of actions. Worse, they're your neighbors. They're Americans.
What the political success of our crisis does is give us a new chance to confront the evil within, the tribal identity that wraps itself in the flag but which, in the end, fails to accept what that flag stands for. Putting those people onto the other side of the law will be a huge struggle, but thanks to the last 5 years it's one we should be able to win.
Just don't underestimate the difficulty, even after passing some laws. Because the Civil War is still going on in 2013. And it can still be lost.