Whether you consult John Adams in 1775 or Desus and Mero two weeks ago, it’s remained an American truism that we have always been a multiple people bound in a single state. On a recent podcast, the two Bronx comedians entertained the possibility of national dissolution. “There’s no way [America would] still be one country” were the centralizing power of the federal government removed, predicted Desus Nice. “Oh, hell no,” Mero immediately concurred, offering that New York and California would naturally secede from whatever political entity West Virginia was a part of. “It’d be, like, six countries,” speculated Desus. Little…

Chapter Seven: Postmodern War

“That’s the way it was scheduled,” said President Bush to one of his aides as the nation’s nightly news broadcasts were interrupted, right on cue, by the American bombardment of Baghdad on January 17, 1991. The Gulf War, dubbed “Operation Desert Storm,” was the first war to be literally scheduled programming, a TV war, with reporters and cameras ready to broadcast the air assault in real time. No one on earth had ever experienced this, watching war televised as it occurred, the new high-tech “stealth” aircraft hidden until their total visibility. Bush and his team arranged it to be this…

Chapter Six: The Mother of All Battles

Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia was vacationing in the United States in the summer of 1990, staying in Washington, D.C. One evening he decided to take in a movie. It was August, still time to catch one of the big summer blockbusters. Despite a few hit stand-alone features, it had unfortunately been the year of sub-par sequels and franchise extensions in Hollywood, with movies like Back to the Future III and The Godfather Part III both dimming the trilogies. Moviegoers were similarly disappointed in Predator 2, Robocop 2, Rocky V and Child’s Play 2. …

Chapter Five: Agreeing to Disaggregate

While the American political system during the 1990s was hardening into deep, often paralytic dysfunction, it was in fact the remaining agreement in Washington that threatened the stability and cohesion of the country as much as the rancor. It was true that the cultural and racial divides were forming two increasingly distinct Americas, each now with its own political party and, as the decade proceeded, its own divergent media environments. A new sort of foreignness marked partisan opponents in Washington and their constituent bases at home. But despite that growing enmity in Washington, a newly emerging bipartisan consensus would do…

Part Four: Secessions

Reverberations of the 1960s rumbled the culture as the 1990s began. Throughout American education, from elementary school to postsecondary institutions, the wave of cultural and political changes begun in the mid-century were finally becoming encoded in curriculum and instituted in educational policy. Largely gone were the campus building occupations and confrontations with riot police of the ’60s (the Atlanta University Center after the Rodney King verdict is one notable exception), but the effects of that campus tumult a generation prior were finally being instituted. After the wave of campus protests subsided in the late ’60s, many American campuses returned to…

Chapter Three: The Culture War Begins

Complete with its own urban uprising of the sort not seen since the 1960s, the ’90s can be seen as a sort of epilogue to the ’60s, or even an extension of that momentous and tumultuous mid-century decade. The ’90s sees the completion of the great changes initiated in the ’60s (and during the civil rights era generally). School integration, for instance, doesn’t finally reach its peak level until just before the decade’s start, in 1988, 34 years after Brown v Board of Education and two decades after a series of Supreme Court mandates were issued to finally force integration…

Chapter Two: Dicey in D.C.

Without the visible tumult seen in the former Soviet sphere after the Cold War, Americans’ relationship to their government and to each other were radically altered in the early decade. Without a mortal enemy at gates, instability and uncertainty were allowed to reign in electoral politics. After the unlikely election of Bill Clinton election in 1992, only the second Democratic winner in nearly a quarter century, voters then turned around and politically kneecapped the new president with an oppositional congress in 1994, the first of its kind in 40 years. It was political whiplash, one precedent broken after another. Without…

The grisly murder and torture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has captured the world’s attention and drawn new scrutiny of Washington’s special relationship with the Saudi royal government, especially its apparent strengthening during the early tenure of President Trump. Trump has been seen to soft-pedal official rebuke of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, roundly believed by intelligence agencies to have ordered the killing.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Republican White House work to cover up a brutal torture and murder. In fact, so far the Khashoggi affair doesn’t even appear to be the most egregious…

Part five: Millions of Rays

Since the spring of 1963, Wallace and King had publicly fought as proxies for the central discord present in the country since its founding. The American democratic impulse has always been met and measured by an authoritarian one, and in 1968 King represented the former: accelerated and expanded democracy, the redistribution of political and economic power to accompany the voting franchise extended to black Southerners. Conversely, Wallace emerged onto the national stage to lead the reactionary response and in so doing inaugurated the Southernization of American conservative politics. Eventually named the “Southern Strategy,” the Republican Party would go on to…

Part four: Fear of a Black Planet

Ray arrived in Los Angeles a few weeks before the Pentagon meeting. After the languor of a lengthy stay in Mexico, where Ray contemplated permanent emigration, Ray returned to the US for what appears to be an attempt to remake himself. Ray arrived in Los Angeles, that city of reinvention, for what looks like an earnest attempt at a new beginning. Ray enrolled in bartender school and began dancing lessons. Ray was notoriously wooden and clumsy in his dancing, which the lessons reportedly did little to correct. He joined a lonely hearts club, a dating service, and pursued the arcane…

Matt Pulver

Writer — bylines at Salon, Alternet, McSweeney’s, Flagpole Magazine

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