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The Big American Tent

The Big American Tent

The previous posting described the six major crises of the Fourth Turning as battles between distributed and concentrated power. But a point that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the cycle doesn’t just spin in one place like our washing machines. This cycle moves. So we’re not entirely living Groundhog Day after all. Sort of. But not completely.

Step back and consider the class of People whose power increased dramatically as a result of each succeeding crisis: the family of Henry Tudor (War of the Roses), the Protestant male clergy (Spanish Armada Crisis), passionate male religious leaders (Glorious Revolution), land-owning militia males (American Revolution), African American males (Civil War), and males of the labor class (Great Depression and World War II).

What do you notice about this pattern? What does this pattern say about the notion called “America”?

Well, for one thing, it seem pretty clear that … it’s a man’s world, baby! Yay, for us men! The world is our oyster! (Just kidding, just kidding.)

The other thing to notice is that if America is a tent in which the empowered are housed, the tent is gradually filling up. Each succeeding crisis brought forth a new class of men into the tent. After 500 years, I’ll bet that tent full of men is getting pretty smelly.

Also, realize that the “Big Tent” metaphor is a major theme of the Republican Party today. Now some naysayers think that’s just a scam and that the Republicans are really just closet racists and out-of-the-closet homophobes. But look at the cabinet circa 2003. An African American man. And an African American woman. Right up there at the top.

Now some might say that those particular African American folks “don’t count” because they’re just “puppets” of a certain white guy who many People don’t like. But hey, if you believe these folks are not exactly “credits to the African American People”, do you think Messrs. Bush, Cheney, and Clinton are exactly “credits to the white People”?

The point is that the American tent is a big one, and it has gotten even bigger since the last major crisis. In fact, in 2003, it’s hard to think of any type of Person in America who is barred from that tent.

Now we could quibble about homeless People. Are they welcome in the American tent? Some might point out that the homeless are not exactly the most empowered folk. But is that because of a social barrier? Or is it because of the “choices” made by homeless People? It’s an interesting question.

What about gays? “Don’t ask, don’t tell” suggests that the gays have one foot in the tent and one foot out. So this particular “battle” to get under the American tent of power is still “live”. But stepping back for a broader perspective, the forces of history seem inexorable. It’s just a matter of time.

Well, we could try to look all around America and search for “disempowered” groups and argue about whether the American tent is or is not open to them. But I’ll suggest that that exercise is not the most useful one for us People in 2003. A more useful exercise is to consider not which People are outside of the tent, who should be in, but rather which People are inside of the tent, who should be out.

“Whoa,” you’re thinking. “This guy is a [fill-in-the-blank]ist!”

I respond: Yes, I am a [fill-in-the-blank]ist. I believe there some People that we should kick out of the tent. These People are alien to us. Unlike the rest of us who came in legitimately, these People snuck into the tent. And now they’re crowding the tent. They’re leaving almost no room left for us natives. If we don’t start kicking them out, pretty soon there will be no room left for us.

Who are these People? These People are …

Ha! Tricked you! You thought I was going to say “the immigrants”. Hell no! I believe the immigrants are the driving force behind this inexorable march of American history toward decentralizing power and distributing it among the People. Greece may be the Land of the Hellenes. Germany the Land of the Teutons. Ireland the land of the Celts. But America is the Land of the Immigrants.

There are no natives here in America. Not even the “Native Americans”. They came over here only 40,000 years ago or so. Hey, 4 years and 40,000 years are both under 1% of the 4 million year history of humanity. We’re all strangers in a strange land.

Well, that’s true if one believes the “mythology” of the archaeologists. But of course, following this same reasoning, every human in the world would be a stranger in a strange land.

Of course. In fact, that's my point. But it is we in the Land of the Immigrants who are the ones who can see this point most clearly.

Nope, the People I’m talking about here aren't the immigrants. The People I'm talking about are the Corporations. The Corporations are the elephants who snuck their way into the American tent. Our tent is big, but it’s not that big. These Corporation elephants are leaving huge elephant patties all over the place. The rest of us People can hardly breathe.

“Hey,” you say. “That’s cheating. You said you were talking about a certain class of People, not just any kind of entity. I mean, Corporations aren’t People.”

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. Well, I must confess, that’s what I thought too, until recently. Hey, I went to law school, and even I don’t remember learning that, under American law, Corporations Are People Too. But it’s Constitutional and everything. Just like Mr. Bush’s presidency.

Yep it’s true. Legally speaking, Corporations are People just like the rest of us (only WAY more powerful). I’ll have much more to say on that topic in some later postings. But for now, let’s finish up with Strauss & Howe.

[posted: 12/13/03]

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