BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

More like "when stuff went wrong" with America ...

This is a really awesome book, one of the best scores from the Dollar Store in quite a while (although, admittedly, I bought it almost two years prior to getting around to reading it). Larry Schweikart's Seven Events That Made America America: And Proved That the Founding Fathers Were Right All Along is a great read, and way more engaging than what I'd assumed when letting it linger in my to-be-read piles for as long as I did.

I suppose I should, perhaps, offer up one caveat here: it you're of the left/liberal persuasion, you'll probably not be happy with this, because the author is working from the other side of the fence, and a lot of stuff that you might think is “progress(ive)”, is what he (and I) consider the destruction of America. This is not, however, a political rant, but an vivid and informative look at various historical “events” (a term that's sort of broadly used here) that changed the course of our country's history to assorted extents (some of this is more about tone or tenor of the culture, or directions on policy, etc.).

The book starts with fairly “old news”, looking back to the time of Martin Van Buren … and a cast of characters that include such currency-enshrined folks as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton … in an era when the entire Federal budget was a mere $10,000,000.00! The initial chapter is nominally about the birth of “big government”, but some of the more fascinating bits are about electoral politics, starting with:
At the time, it wasn't necessary for individual politicians to resist “big government” because the system the Founders had established fought against it in myriad ways on its own. One important restriction came in the requirement that most voters still had to own property, hence they were reluctant to suffer high taxes or accept burdensome regulations. Property requirements also ensured high voter turnout because voters had a stake in the system.
While it's hard to advocate for a return to suffrage being limited to “landed white males” (despite how appealing that might be to those of us who are “landed white males”), one has to admit the system was originally set up to make sure there was a level of “ownership” (and responsibility) amongst the electorate that has not been seen in a long time.

One of the most intriguing parts here is, in the wake of Van Buren's establishment of the “Jacksonian Democrats” party, and the counter-establishment of the Whigs (both, arguably, established to avoid an outright national debate on slavery - “on the assumption that principles were for sale”), the creation of a matrix of political corruption still with us today (helllloooo Chicago):
The structure of the new party … employed a division of national, state, county, district, ward, and precinct division of the electorate, assigning to each level a partisan director charged with getting out the vote. Electoral success was then rewarded with promotion, in which ward captains became district directors, and so on, until all possible job holders in the party organization were appointed to paid government positions … the across-the-board process of handing out positions to custom collectors, sheriffs, county clerks, and hundreds of other plum political jobs. Since the total number of government jobs remained small, however, the bureaucracy grew slowly – a few thousand new jobs per every state and general election – concealing the corrosive dynamic at work.
I was further surprised to find how long-standing the corruption of the news media has been. I thought the current monolithic Leftist slant of the MSM was a poison of recent vintage, however:
... at the time “newspapers” emerged as a driving force in American political life, they had almost nothing to do with objective news. To the contrary, they deliberately slanted every report and openly advertised their partisan purposes through their names. Partisanship was their primary raison d'etre. Editors viewed readers as voters who needed to be guided to appropriate views, then mobilized to vote. {One paper} flatly condemned neutrality as an absence of principles, and overall, editors increasing discarded news in favor of propoganda.
Sounds like they're talking about CNBC! Anyway, the effort to keep slavery out of debate failed, and this moves into the second chapter, dealing with the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, which helped to push the new (anti-slavery) Republican party to the forefront (quickly replacing the Whigs), and resulting in the Civil War. This chapter is fascinating in its legal analysis (and “following the money”), but without much to directly quote, aside from the comment “What is clear is that the Founders did not favor a supremely powerful, activist judiciary.”, and goes on to describe numerous instances where the courts have created massively bad results from their decisions.

The next chapter deals with the devastating flood that hit Johnstown, PA in 1899, killing 2,200 people and displacing 27,000 … and focuses on the differences of how local, non-governmental, help is vastly more efficient than when government gets involved. In the case of the Johnstown flood, the chairman of the local NCR – National Cash Register – company almost single-handedly took control of the situation in the initial hours and early days, and threw all the resources at his disposal at helping remediate the situation well in advance of when the government (the local government proved useless) could respond. This goes on to look at how government involvement kept (over-) reaching into more and more areas, from the New Deal programs and on into the nightmares of FEMA inadequacies on up through the response to Hurricane Katrina and the total debacle of New Orleans.

The fourth event is covered in the chapter “Ike Has A Heart Attack, Triggering Dietary Nannyism” which looks at governmental meddling into what we eat, and other health issues … frequently based more on political concerns (like the vile stuff being pushed by the current FLOTUS), and not so much on anywhere near solid science. Eisenhower's supposed heart attack (there seems to be some doubt even about that) launched a spiral of “we must do something” lunacy among the political and media classes … and resulted in the on-going war on meat consumption and cholesterol – which is looking more and more like a misguided crusade.
It is true that coronary cases seemed to increase dramatically between 1940 and 1970 – but this was entirely because other diseases were being conquered and thus were not as rampant. A quarter of all men died of coronary disease in 1910, for example, and another quarter died from infections, parasites, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, or tuberculosis, virtually all of which were eliminated or greatly suppressed by 1970. Cancer, meanwhile, went from eighth on the list to number two, and the rate of heart disease “doubled”. Simply put, modern medicine had conquered so many diseases over the previous century that people lived long enough to encounter (and die from) new or rare diseases. Cancer and heart disease, which took longer to manifest themselves than, say, smallpox, became the leading killers. … Even the World Health Organization acknowledged that “much of the apparent increase in [heart disease] mortality may simply be due to improvements in the quality of certification and more accurate diagnoses ...
Heart disease was only the first salvo, as nearly every political faction has its own “food fetish” (remember when Chicago banned foie gras?) and year after year more and more idiotic regulations are put in place to salve some social activist's personal pet peeve in the area of food … devolving into the current politics-trumping-reality morass of the climate crusaders (a topic the author gets into a good bit in here as well).
Tom Paine once said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression.” In the decades after Eisenhower's heart attack, intrusions on economic liberty were common … but perhaps the most insidious threat of all was the erosion of freedom in the name of “a person's own good.” At the very time that some well-meaning, but myopic, Americans sought to limit everyone's freedoms – to choose what to eat, what to drink, even what to drive – under the auspices of “helping” them become “healthier,” Paine would have screamed “Someone guard them from oppression!” Edmund Burke seemed to have the government's diet police and global warming in mind when he wrote in 1784, “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.”
Chapter 5 is primarily about rock and roll and the fall of Communism in Europe. The author is a former rock drummer (his band Rampage was an opening act for Steppenwolf and numerous other groups back in the day), and his enthusiasm for the subject is evident in this (aided by his access to many rock luminaries for background interviews). However, it is also about how big government has muscled into arenas that the Founders never intended:
Rock and roll's contribution to the collapse of communism provides one more piece of evidence that the human soul longs for freedom in all areas. It was a principle the Founders understood when they limited government's ability to intrude on arts, speech, and business. … Overall, though, the Founders were cautious in their support for government aid to any sort of art or entertainment, aware that with money came strings, and with strings, political agendas. With a few exceptions, they favored keeping government out of human affairs wherever possible.
The sixth chapter deals with an “event” in as much as it pivots on the bombing of the Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983, but it's a much more convoluted look at the descent of the Middle East into a destabilized mess in the wake of WW2 (and the colonial powers ceding control to local factions), how Reagan got coerced into getting the U.S. involved in the region, and how the current wave of radicalized Islam arose, spread, and performed terrorist attacks that the mainstream media for decades insistently white-washed as “criminal acts” and not “acts of war” and/or terrorism. This is dense, though informative, and ends with a question:
What would George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson make of militant Islam ...? It's difficult to say … In the case of the Barbary pirates, however, whose actions did constitute the terrorism of the day, Jefferson's response was quick, substantial, and sharp. He sent the entire U.S. Navy to crush all the Barbary States, not just Tripoli (the only one to declare war on the United States).
Finally, the book looks at the media, with the “event” being the election of the current POTUS (and associated "thrills up the leg"), who benefited from nearly start-to-finish support from the MSM. Here Schweikart returns to his previous looks at the historical context of the American press. This is fascinating, but it largely serves to provide context for a look at how one-sided “news” has become:
When those influencing others' political choices were members of the media, a significant in-breeding started to develop. Contrary to the notion that the elites were always “conservative,” in journalism the predominance of the peer group ensured that primarily liberal views would triumph. … Journalism's homogeneity went beyond a commonly shared view among reporters about gaining, and extending, the authority of the news media. Rather than diversifying, media elites homogenized even further. From 1964 to 1976, the percentage voting for the Democratic candidate in national elections never fell below 81 percent.
The author goes into a lot of research into how the Left/liberal candidate or story regularly received 5x or so “positive” stories.
Increasingly, all “news” credibility disappeared. Major newspapers and especially television “news” programs had become entirely propagandistic … Nor did the news organizations seem concerned about losing their audience and readers, because … “the mainstream media's audience is the mainstream media.” Reporters {write} for each other, to impress each other, to generate prestige points at cocktail parties and social affairs, and, of course, for access to the levers of government when that government was in Democratic hands.
Further …
The protections that the Founders put in the Constitution for freedom of speech were meant to specifically ensure freedom of political dissent by the press – but what happens if the press, for its own purposes, refuses to serve as a check on government? In their well-deserved focus on protecting political speech, the Founders never addressed the possibility that the Fourth Estate would find itself in bed with government itself.
Needless to say, Seven Events That Made America America is wide ranging in its subject matter, but is presented in a very readable style, and is extensively supported by significant end notes. This is definitely one of those books that I wish everybody would read.

As noted, I got this at the dollar store almost two years ago (so it's pretty much certainly off of those shelves by now), but it is still in print (in a paperback edition), so should be easy enough to find or order. You can also get copies from the new/used guys for as little as 1¢ (plus shipping) for a “like new” copy of the hardcover or a new copy of the paperback. Again, this is an “all and sundry” recommendation from me … it's a great read and throws a cold hard light on some of horrible things that have been trying to make America less like the America we deserve.

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