On Our Nation’s 240th Birthday

Robert Fowler

Robert Fowler

In the 1980’s, my pal Robert Fowler had a radio comedy show on SC Public Radio that aired on Saturday mornings called The Hog Breeders’ Gazette . I remember fondly one 4th of July program that featured a parody of a school assembly celebrating the founding of our great nation.

One of the contributions to the mock school assembly was a brilliant piece of doggerel that portrayed western expansion as nothing more than undesirables, miscreants, getting booted out of a series of towns forever westward until they reached the Pacific Ocean. I wish I could replicate it for you, but the cassette upon which I recorded it has been lost, and even if it hadn’t been lost, I have no machine upon which to play it, from which to transcribe those rollicking rhythms and clever rhymes.

Alas!

Anyway, the piece eloquently poked fun at the concept of American Exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is the New Jerusalem ordained by the Creator of the Universe as a shining city on a hill to provide the planet with a safe haven for individuals to live their lives in the open spaces that freedom provides. Fowler’s poem portrayed the early populace of these United States, not as idealists seeking religious sanctuary, but as the dregs of Europe, losers, crooks, neer-do-wells so out of synch with their original cultures that they’d risk the wild, treacherous stormy ride across the Atlantic in a desperate attempt to escape. These were the scalawags that inhabit The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, candidates for tarring and feathering, ungovernable, uneducated white people willing to do about anything to line their own pockets.

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Obviously, the truth lies somewhere in between. I suspect for every desperado there have been ten Irish or Vietnamese mothers sincerely seeking the honest opportunity of hard work and upward mobility, but the truth of the matter is that we are a difficult bunch to govern as the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge suggests.

Of course, we Americans have been indoctrinated to believe that our government’s fortunate birth in the Age of Enlightenment with its skeptical and rational check-and-balances insures stability, but now, given arcane and undemocratic rules of the Senate, it seems as if these checks-and-balances might result in paralysis, stagnation. In the current climate, we can’t even get that body to convene to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

And so, at least for now, both major political parties seem to be fracturing, heroin overdoses are all the rage among the middle class, victims of middle school bullying with shoulder-chips the size of Sisyphus’s boulder have easy access to automatic weaponry — but — and this is a very big but – there’s no more vibrant, alive, musically diverse, more interesting place on the planet, and I submit, we have immigration to thank for that and are very fortunate overall to call the United States home.

So happy 4th of July, dear readers.

 

2 thoughts on “On Our Nation’s 240th Birthday

  1. Your friends depiction of those who expanded westward has a ring of authenticity to it when you confine the image to the eastern failures and charlatans, debtors, and neer-do-wells who used the frontier as an escape mechanism. I am glad, however, that you also acknowledge the hardworking homesteader who brought civilization to the ‘wild west.’ The original occupants were probably a nondescript collections of riff raff, but those who followed west to found new homes confronted isolation, extremely hard work and the absence of law or medical help broach an element of heroism that can only be admired. Some, like my parents, who populated the cities were the antithesis of shiftless losers. Rather they were the ambitious, the driven, the impoverished, the persecuted, the victims of primogeniture who found the allure of America irrresistable. Perhaps it is these folks who contributed to the notion of exceptionalism of America as Oscar Handlin has indicated.

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