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
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
The point of all my writing on history
is that there is precedent for this. In 1937 a lot of well-heeled
Republican businessmen started flirting seriously with Naziism. In
1901 populism made its turn toward out-and-out racism and religious
intolerance. And in 1865 they drove old Dixie down.
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
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?
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
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
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
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.