MSM: American Pravda

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One can always count on the perspicacious Victor Davis Hanson to put the issues of the day into sharp perspective.

And he’s right as rain on this one: The MSM’s refusal to soldier on in its traditional role as nonpartisan muckraker is deeply troubling.

A Hanson observes, “High-tech corporations have acquired massive power and wealth, dwarfing the might of the robber barons of the past.” Yet, MSM seem to have abrogated their traditional role of investigating corporations whose influence threaten the very sinews of a free society.

Yet, this seems to reflect the wholesale decline of media standards in general.

I watched part of the Anderson Cooper’s Stormy interview and was deeply appalled and, yes, troubled. As Sean Hannity recently observed, it sounded like a Jerry Springer interview. It was simply red meat thrown to the MSM’s liberal base. And ponder, for a moment, the outrage that the left would have expressed if Fox News had employed the same voyeuristic treatment of one of Clinton’s detractors some 20 years ago.

Yes, right-wing media have their own problems with marching in ideological lockstep, but, honestly, MSM’s editorial practices are coming to bear a striking resemblance to Pravada’s in the last years of the Soviet Union – simply put, they seem to regard facts as true only so long as the right people (the accredited segments of society) say that they’re true.

Jefferson as Post-National Prophet

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The Jefferson Memorial (Photo: Courtesy of SamsonSimpson20)

A recent column in Vox explores the decline of dominant American identity and the ways that this identity could be rebuilt amid widespread demographic division and economic distress.

Ezra Klein, the author, contends that the vibrant, effusive American identity that prevailed throughout the 20th century was forged primarily on the basis of two world wars and the 70-year threat of Soviet communism.

I’m inclined to take a slightly different view. The modest imperial standing America acquired in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War formed a critical component of 20th century America identity too. Millions of Americans were carried on a wave of imperial euphoria, confident that the acquisition of a modest, backwater empire heralded our virtually unimpeded ascent to national greatness. And much of this was bound up in the war’s success in re-enlisting the defeated South in nation- and empire-building that followed in the aftermath of this war.

Up to that time, many people in the former Confederate states spent the Fourth of July commemorating the fall of Vicksburg rather than celebrating American Independence.

At the turn of century, some 35 years after one of the bloodiest struggles in history, the South reasoned that if it couldn’t have its own nation, it at least could participate in the building of a nation destined to ascend to the front ranks of global leadership.

This was a fortuitous turn of events for the American national enterprise: The post-Civil War South ended up supplying this nation not only with a significant share of its patriotic ballast but also a generous portion of men and women to guard the outposts of the global American empire that emerged after World War II.

Yet, we seem to be reaching an critical juncture, if not a major impasse, in defining American identity. And one wonders: How much practical value is derived from doubling down on one-nation rhetoric and insisting on more dialogue?

In the view of a growing number of heartland Americans, the only rhetoric deemed unifying by our ruling classes is that which conforms to the agenda of the left.

Moreover, another vital adhesive of American identity, centralized federalism, seems to be losing its efficacy too. Americans seem less inclined than ever to operate off the same page on issues that were once seen as vital to national security, such as regulating immigration and guarding our borders. Some on the left are even calling for the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE).

Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, we seem to be rapidly approaching a cultural impasse that surprisingly few pundits have considered: namely, how this country will manage to soldier on when it is no longer regarded by ordinary Americans as standing at the pinnacle of the world’s most successful and exceptional nations.

So much of American unity and national identity is bound up with its perceived greatness and singularity.

A recent study ranked tiny Finland and several of the other Scandinavian countries as the world’s happiest, although the United States failed to rank in the top ten. Indeed, the results of the study point out a remarkable anomaly: Despite the United States possessing the world’s largest economy, millions of its citizens grapple with rising levels of obesity, substance abuse and high rates of depression, not unlike the problems that plagued the Soviet Union in the years leading up to its collapse.

Some on the left have expressed a desire to build a new national identity on the basis of socialism and identitarian politics, with the long-term goal of ridding the country of what they characterize as a historically evil and malignant white patrimony that has existed since the nation’s founding.

Given all these deep divisions over how to define the American enterprise in the future, perhaps we will return to some version of Thomas Jefferson’s 18th century vision of an American Empire: a continent of smaller states, either loosely tied or wholly independent of each other, sharing some degree of historical and cultural affinity.

Jefferson, it seems, may prove to a prophet of post-national American unity. At least, one can hope, amid all of this national division and rancor, that we can muster some semblance of mutual affinity and continental unity.

Whatever the case, a socialist, identitarian America should hold no appeal for any decent person, irrespective of race or ethnicity, who cherishes ordered liberty and constitutional government.

But if, God forbid, such an America emerges in the next 30 years, I suppose I’ll be one of those passing my autumn and winter years in a socialist gulag, at least, deriving a measure of solace that I will be living among what remains of sane people in America.

The Limits of Identitarianism

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Photo: Courtesy of Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

I have consumed a lot of  blog space lately discussing the horrifying totalitarian undertones of identitarian politics.  And I’m surprised by the increasing number of left-of-center news outlets that have been cornered into confronting the implications of this ideology.

One of the more prominent ones, The Guardian, recently served up a reasonably balanced exploration of this topic.

What many ordinary Americans simply do NOT get  – yet, at least – is that the expansion of identity politics virtually assures the end of the civil society that has held this uniquely American experiment in self-government together for roughly the last quarter millennium. (Read Alexis de Tocqueville’sDemocracy in America” for more details.)

The left has predictably hoisted itself on its own petard. It’s one thing to talk about equality under the law – to express a wish to be assimilated into the broader American matrix, which was Martin Luther King’s officially expressed view. But when exclusivist rhetoric, reflected in the demonization of other groups as a means of refining and enhancing identity, becomes the quasi-official policy of a major political party and the orthodoxy of the predominant culture – well, you can rest virtually assured that things are going to take a very ugly turn.

We are approaching a point similar to the post-WWI abandonment of the Hapsburg monarchy, the symbolic adhesive that kept sundry tribes at peace among each other within the bounds of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  And this has brought us to a crossroads.  We either undertake a systemic reform of the American federal system to reflect the new realities in this country – namely, the deep cultural, political and ethnic divisions that threaten to sunder us apart – or we prepare ourselves for a new centralized and increasingly authoritarian order aimed a keeping these highly fissiparous tendencies in check.

Yet, as history has demonstrated time and again, the second option ultimately runs against the grain of human nature.  It will only engender more tribal animosities, which will spark calls on the left for more educational efforts, coupled with more subdued (or, as the case may be in the future, overt) forms of authoritarianism to redress these increasing divisions.

Reflecting on all of this, I recall an observation posited some 35 years ago by one of my graduate school professors, a self-described Marxisant.  As he observed, federal policymakers and jurists in the mid-1960’s operated on the premise that while they could never alter the hearts and minds of racists, they could legislate changes in overt behavior.

We seem to have moved a long way past this.  Our ruling class seems to think with with a doubling down of cultural warfare and federal policy we can still finesse this – we can still make it work.  Even in the face of rankly exclusivist ideology, we can somehow still manage to inculcate future generations of Americans, particularly whites, with new hearts and minds.

We’ve been down this road before.  We appear to be confronted with a zealotry that bears more than a passing resemblance to the one that gave rise to efforts toward building Home Sovieticus.

In the end, though, this whole project is inimical to human freedom, at least, as freedom historically has been understood within the Anglo-American context. And it runs against the very grain of human nature.  And one must remember that rank-and-file Soviet citizens came to regard efforts to build new Soviet man with profound cynicism and contempt.  Sooner or later, likely sooner, will prove to the the case here in America, too – of that I have no doubt.

 

Remembering an Academic Outlier

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Melvin E. Bradford. Photo: Courtesy of the Fort Worth Independent School District.

Something got me thinking last night about  one of the nation’s late, great academic outliers and mavericks, the late M.E. Bradford, and how, if he had survived into his 80’s, would be regarded today as a pariah on most U.S. college campuses. Bradford was regarded as a “paleoconservative,” one of the leading intellectual lights of the paleocon movement.

 

He was a student of the old Southern Agrarian tradition and a vocal and intrepid defender of the Constitution and the Old Republic.  He was also a searing critic of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and the 16th president’s efforts to consolidate the American Republic. And while in intellectual terms he was considered an outlier, Bradford was one of a number of traditionalist conservative academics who, once upon a time in America, were valued for the role they served in leavening and balancing out academic discourse. He taught at several prestigious academic institutions, including the U.S. Naval Academy, and served as president of the Philadelphia Society.

 

I cherish two of Bradford’s works – “Remembering Who We Are” and “Original Intentions: On the Making of the Constitution – for providing me with critical foundational bricks in my intellectual development and maturation.

 

A vocal Reagan supporter in the 80’s, Bradford was tapped to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. However, due to fierce opposition from neoconservative elements, he ultimately was passed over for William Bennett, the neocons’ candidate, but not before receiving the endorsement of U.S. Senators from every geographic region of the country as well as by a number of prominent leading conservative intellectuals, including Russell Kirk, Jeffrey Hart, William F. Buckley and Harry Jaffa.

 
Bradford’s ignominious upending by the necons played a key role in deepening the already palpable ideological divide between paleocons and neocons intellectuals within the Reagan coalition that culminated in Pat Buchanan’s insurgent presidential candidacy against George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Bradford died while undergoing heart surgery at the relatively young age of 58 in 1993.  In a sense, he is fortunate not to have lived into his eighties to reflect on the intellectual wasteland that characterizes American academia today.

 

It’s one thing to be an outlier, quite another to be a pariah, which is precisely the way Bradford would be regarded today in America’s toxic academic environment. And this is remarkable considering that scarcely a generation ago, academic mavericks and nonconformists such as Bradford were still afforded a place, even an exalted place, in many American institutions of higher learning, valued for the role they served in refining intellectual inquiry and open discourse.

Reaping a Cultural Whirlwind

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Protester opposing “Trump/Pence Regime” in Portland. Photo: Courtesy of “Old White Truck.”

I’ve been something of a conservative cultural warrior for the last 30 years, albeit a weary and, at times, a very reluctant one.  For a long time, I essentially had thrown in the towel, happy to leave the struggle to younger warriors infused with a bit more zeal and encumbered with far less cynicism.

Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment galvanized me.  It reached deep into my psyche and activated some primordial something in me.  I resolved that, armed with my modest financial resources and meager rhetorical skills, I would fight to my dying breath the authoritarian social order that these reckless comments portended.

Actually, I saw where this was heading a long time ago.  A generation ago, I wrote extensively about the controversy over the Confederate flag.  As far back as the 1990’s, I and many others perceived that the left’s rage – or feigned rage – over Confederate symbolism ultimately would lead to an assault of the wider subject of American symbolism and ideals.  In the left’s view, after all, American symbols and ideas are, in moral terms, little removed from the patrimonial, slavocratic Confederacy.

Reflecting back on all of this, I’m reminded of what a prophet the late University of Georgia historian Eugene Genovese has proven to be.

Genovese predicted that in the course of the left’s sowing the wind, the entire nation would ultimately reap the whirlwind.  American society, he feared, ultimately would pay a price, perhaps an egregiously high price, for robbing white, predominantly working-class Southerners of their heritage and, in effect, rubbing their noses in the dirt.

Yes, I know,  a  legitimate argument can be made for eliminating government-sanctioned displays of the Battle Flag, which has all but been achieved within the last few years.  But there’s a difference between creating accommodating public spaces and asserting that Southerners who evince devotion to Confederate symbolism and the Lost Cause are little removed from reactionary racist pond scum.

There comes at point at which the quest for fairness degenerates into hitting below the below the belt.  The Obama administration’s twilight decision to remove displays of Confederate flags on fixed poles from National Cemeteries, even where Confederate veterans are buried and despite a previous decision by Congress not to impose this ban, was a malicious parting shot – a punch below the belt – by an administration sworn to “fundamentally transforming” America.

As Genovese predicted a generation ago, this denigration has only worked to augment the increasing sense of alienation among working-class whites.  They’ve grown weariy of being depicted as this nation’s problem demographic, especially considering that they have borne a disproportionate share of this nation’s imperial burdens, having filled enlisted ranks in every American military outpost in the world.

This sense of alienation will only intensify in the future.   The left has won the cultural war, but as Rod Dreher observes in a recent column, conservatism wields enormous political power and its adherents are still capable of marshaling a helluva lot of obstinance.

And there are lots of mad, obstinate people out there. Dreher cites the growing numbers of white Americans increasingly drawn to white nationalist rhetoric. He quotes extensively from a self-described well educated white intellectual who confesses to being both repelled and attracted to white nationalist rhetoric.

I’m a white guy. I’m a well-educated intellectual who enjoys small arthouse movies, coffehouses and classic blues. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably mistake me for a lefty urban hipster.

And yet. I find some of the alt-right stuff exerts a pull even on me. Even though I’m smart and informed enough to see through it. It’s seductive because I am not a person with any power or privilege, and yet I am constantly bombarded with messages telling me that I’m a cancer, I’m a problem, everything is my fault.

 

For me, the CNN town meeting about gun violence – all the shouts of “Murderer!” and “Burn her!” – really put all of this into deep perspective.   I suspect it did for a lot of Americans.  I think it underscored to millions of us that a kind of Rubicon has been crossed and that the divisions in this country are only going to grow worse.

Frankly, I am surprised that the soft secessionist sentiment is largely confined to California and isn’t yet being expressed widely in red states. I think this a reflection of two factors: first, the conviction among blue-state “progressives” that they are now the dominant cultural force in America and that such talk is acceptable, so long it’s aimed at affirming and reinforcing progressive dogma; and, second, a stubborn perception among conservatives in red states that all eventually will be worked out – that America remains a singular nation and that we all will finally return to our senses.

In time, though, I think that many red state Americans will conclude that things in this country will become even more untethered – unstuffed, as the case may be – and that some form of devolution, perhaps even some desperate attempt at secession, ultimately may point the way out of this impasse.

And recall that Dreher, the creator of the Benedict Option, is a separatist of sorts.

A generation ago, I wrote extensively about how the South represented the most fertile soil from which a counterrevolution could be mounted. While my this conviction has wavered a bit in recent years, I still suspect that sooner or later, as these national divisions intensify, that the counterrevolutionary struggle will coalesce in the South.

Whatever the case, I think that conservatives should forget about cultural warfare.  Dreher is right to stress that the cultural war has ended with a resounding victory by the left. Our energies at this point should be invested in a devolutionary movement – or movements – not in fighting a rearguard cultural war, which has been irretrievably losts, at least, for the foreseeable future.

Exposing the Paddy Caligula Clan – Finally

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Hollywood will release Chappaquiddick, a movie Chronicling the sordid behavior of Massachusetts Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, next month.

It’s long overdue.  The movie will only underscore why I and millions of other conservatives around the country harbor such as deep loathing for our liberal ruling class.

Think about this for a moment: Following the incident on the bridge, Paddy Caligula IV (following in the footsteps of Joe, Jack and Bob), “walked back to his motel, complained to the manager about a noisy party, took a shower, went to sleep, ordered newspapers when he woke up and spoke to a friend and two lawyers before finally calling the police.

As it turned out, Mary Jo Kopechne survived for hours due to an air pocked in the car and then presumably died of slow asphyxiation. If he had called for help immediately after the incident, she conceivably would still be alive today.

Yet, thanks to a combination of three things – Kennedy money, media complicity and the herd mentality among the rank-and-file left – Lascivious Ted lived out his life as the apotheosis of American progressive liberalism. He was lionized not only as the heir of Camelot but even posed a serious intra-party challenge to incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Yes, his sexual predation apparently rivaled that of the notorious Harvey Weinstein, who inspired the #MeToo movement.  In fact, Kennedy’s lechery even exceeded his older siblings and his father, which is saying a lot.

And yet, the enlightened progressive voters of the Bay State overlooked all of this time and again.  A time or two in my life, I’ve been subjected to ribbing for coming from a state that idolized the likes of George Wallace and that even carried this adulation over to his ill-fated wife, Lurleen. Yet, it seems to have paled in comparison to the Kennedy cult of Massachusetts.

To be sure, there are certainly some very bad apples in conservative/Republican ranks, but I really would contend that they simply can’t get away with as much.

Honestly, if Ronald Reagan or one of the Bush siblings had run a woman off a bridge and waited hours to inform police, they not only would have been indicted but also would have faced utterly derailed political careers.

They would not be lionized to the ends of their lives as paragons of conservative virtue.

Under the circumstances, isn’t it just a little easier to grasp the rage that Richard Nixon, American political history’s classic underdog, felt for the Kennedy siblings – all of whom essentially were entitled, spoiled brats who carried on the philandering, exploitative lifestyle of their father, Bootleggin’ Joe?

Southern-Style Self-Flagellation

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Alabama Capitol, Montgomery

Wayne Flynt, Auburn University emeritus professor of history,  has cultivated a reputation as Alabama’s progressive conscience. He is a prodigious writer who has published some 13 books on the history of Alabama and the South.

Predictably, he has weighed in on the upcoming Alabama Senate election, offering less than a savory view of Republican nominee Roy Moore.

Moore, Flynt contends, “represents the old Alabama of Robert E. Lee Ewell, of lynching and the sexual abuse of women.”

“Law to Moore is merely an instrument of exclusion and oppression, whether of women, teenage girls, African Americans, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, or homosexuals,” he contends.

I’m not surprised that Flynt regards Moore as the worst threat to Alabama’s reputation since Eugene “Bull” Conner.  But I do find it slightly irritating whenever Flynt raises these issues as an excuse to engage in another round of self-flagellation over what he perceives to be Alabama’s wretched political and cultural legacy, one for which Alabamians are obligated to atone.

I’ve never liked this sackcloth-and-ashes approach and that goes for countless other Alabamians.

I am far from a scion of the old South.  I come from simple old yeoman Southern stock, particularly on my father’s side. My paternal line and much of my maternal one were among the thousands of lumbers – desperately poor whites – who poured into this impoverished region in the early 1800’s simply because they had no place else to go.

Alabama was not only encumbered with legions of struggling poor whites but also with a slave economy that maintained a predominant hold in the Southern half of the state – one that collapsed after the close of the Civil War. Essentially we are talking about a deeply bifurcated state, culturally, politically and economically, that has been digging itself out of poverty and relative backwardness – imposed, incidentally by the Yankee equivalent of the British Raj – since the end of the Civil War.

One of the only socially redeeming factors on the Alabama frontier was evangelical religion, which dragged so many of our forebears away from a life of gambling, drinking and bare-knuckle fighting. This old religion, largely imported from New England, carried a strong Calvinist hue, and it carved out a place in the hearts of many Alabamians, even among apostates like me. It is deeply embedded in our DNA – as much as Catholicism is in Irish cultural DNA.

It’s not surprising that many of us identify with Moore’s public avowal of religious faith and propriety.

Alabama, like every other state in this Union, evolved out of a unique set of circumstances. And our politics and culture reflect many effects of that development.

Personally, there are many aspects of New England society that I find appallingly irritating and abhorrent and that have adversely affected the course of this country, especially after these tawdry shits became the cultural and economic hegemons after the war. Yet, they have enjoyed a free pass, largely because they remain our national and cultural hegemons.

Southerners, on the other hand, remain a special focus of animus among these people and their spiritual and intellectual progeny on the Left Coast. That is not all that surprising: As the world’s first propositional nation, Americans have always required a focus of animus, which the South has supplied, however unwittingly, since this country’s founding.

Consequently, every other ethnic group and region is afforded a pass for bad behavior stemming from its cultural inheritance EXCEPT the South, despite our region’s having inherited a cultural legacy with both good and bad elements like every other ethnic group and region in this nation and throughout the entire planet.

And honestly, given the unfortunate set of circumstances that fate has meted out to this region beginning with its initial settlement, why should we expect anything to have turned out differently – really?

Writer Jim Goad has argued – convincingly, I would contend – that Southerner and other poor Back Country whites provide elite American whites with a basis for conveniently passing off their collective guilt and insecurities.

I’ve grown weary of  this – and, quite frankly, it explains why I insist on flying only an Alabama flag on my property. It’s hard to think of myself as an American when this region of the country is treated as the national hind teat and relegated to sitting on a stool of everlasting repentance.

Yes, Professor Flynt, you have every right to bemoan the legacy of his native state – that’s your First Amendment right – but I and tens of thousands of Alabamians are tired of it.

An Alternative George Wallace

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George-Wallace-Portrait1An image of George Wallace turned up on my Facebook news feed yesterday. Seven years ago, I posted a photo along with speculation about how George Wallace’s political career would have turned out of he had somehow managed to chart a different course during the segregationist era. He was a moderate Democrat at heart with no serious animus toward blacks and no seriously vested interest in segregation – at least, no more than the average white Southerner of the time.

I’ve written many times about the Wallace legacy – I find him one of the most fascinating and enigmatic political figures in Southern and U.S. history – and I’ll probably keep thinking and writing about him for the rest of my life.  He was not only a gifted politician but also an uncharacteristically intelligent one.  He was also a visionary who transformed American politics despite coming from what was considered by pundits to be a provincial backwater.

He started out no conservative. His former close friend and fellow University of Alabama law student, U.S. Judge Frank Johnson, once related that arguing with Wallace essentially amounted to debating a New Deal socialist.

As a student at the University of Alabama, Wallace was an outsider.  His idol was Carl Elliott, a wonder kid from my native Alabama county of Franklin who worked his way through Alabama and eventually was elected student body president, beating the student establishment know as “The Machine,” which exists to this day.   Elliot is remembered as one of Alabama’s most progressive-leaning Alabama congressmen.

Wallace was a Democratic Party stalwart who refused to bolt the 1948 Democratic Convention over the party’s proposed civil rights plank in the party’s platform. As an Alabama circuit judge, he cultivated a reputation for affording black litigants courteous treatment in his courtroom. His bitter defeat in 1958 at the hands of John Patterson changed all of this, driving him to become an ardent segregationist.

In a very real sense he sold his political soul for the sake of political expediency.

I’ve always wondered how differently the Wallace legacy would have been if our 45th Alabama governor had somehow managed not to carry the segregationist legacy.

Moreover, I have also wondered about how differently Wallace’s fortunes may have turned out if he had avoided an assassination attempt. Would he have brokered some sort of John Connally-style arrangement with Nixon, perhaps even serving in a cabinet post? Could he have prevented Jimmy Carter’s assent in 1976? All of these historical what if’s are the grounds of lots of fascinating historical speculation.

Many American Republics Instead of One?

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Thomas Jefferson

The American Thinker recently painted a disturbing picture of the American future.  We are embroiled in a Civil War – for now, a cold one, though one that bears many hallmarks of one that eventually could run hot.

And from my perspective as a conservative, the left seems implacably opposed to compromise.  And why shouldn’t it be?  They control most of the institutions that define cultural hegemony:  the mainstream media, the arts, popular entertainment and higher education, not to mention, elements of the so-called Deep State.   As I have argued in this forum many times, a Democratic victory last year would have sealed its victory.

The rancorous divisions in this country have prompted some thoughts about an observation Jefferson offered throughout the post-revolutionary period of American history. He presumed that this continent was too big to encompass one American nation. He expected that settlers, as they spanned across broad American continent, would establish several republics, though all of them would share mutual affinities.

That was not to be.  As it turned out, our forebears essentially hewed a kind of middle way between the ideals of Jefferson and his arch ideological rival, Alexander Hamilton. We have tended to place great emphasis on the Jeffersonian fixation with individual liberties, while tacking more closely to the Hamiltonian ideal of a centralized federal union.

And I wonder: Could the case be made that this push toward centralization has simply prolonged the inevitable? Isn’t it natural for a country this big to develop distinct regional identities, even fissiparous ones? Would we be getting along better on this sprawling continent if we had been allowed to develop several polities, albeit with strong shared mutual affinities?

The Great Ethnicity Manufacturing Machine

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This article could be just as aptly titled “How the Ford Foundation Created an Ethnic Group out of Thin Air.”

And while I am at it, what the hell is “white” – really? Do, say, Italians and Armenians, even though they are Caucasian, share the same American experience and legacy as a WASP family from the historic Beacon Hill section of Boston? 

I even take umbrage with the term WASP. There is arguably not much WASPish about the lumbers (desperately poor whites) who settled much of the American Back Country. 

I think that we all could make a fresh start by resolving that our ruling class will no longer supply classifications to the rest of us.  And, incidentally, this increasingly tangled ethnic American web – this ruling class strategy to pit one group against another – is another legacy of Wilsonian federalism.