Beautiful Country Burn Again

Although I will finish the year having read almost 60 books, two titles stand out. Bob Woodward’s Fear confirmed directly and inarguably what so many already suspected to be true. But Ben Fountain’s Beautiful Country Burn Again went extra distance revealing how political discourse and the most recent presidential election descended into darkness.

In a country that rightfully prizes freedom, many Americans aren’t feeling free, Fountain observes. His premise is “many millions of Americans implicitly, and not unreasonably, regard freedom as a finite thing: to the extent that any group, tribe, cohort has greater freedom, others must necessarily have less.” Consider the economic data and political histories he presents, and it becomes clear social, economic and political change is overdue.

But we’re stuck.

As Fountain notes, the Great Recession erased household wealth at record levels. Yet, who paid the price? Certainly not the 1% whose actions directly triggered the calamity.

Fountain reminds us, “the less freedom you have, the more readily you’re subject to economic plunder.” He essentially presents an American anthropological equation by which anyone who wishes can work the math for themselves: “profit proportionate to freedom; plunder correlative to subjugation.”

When the equation’s balance becomes precipitous, events inevitably correct for the imbalance.

As a result, Fountain confirms the U.S. twice previously required reinvention (ie, burning itself up in rebirth): once during the Civil War and again with the New Deal. Both events occurred about 80 years apart and about 80 years after the country was founded. Once again, Fountain notes, it’s been 80 years and wealth pressures and socio-economic circumstances resulting from the digital revolution match those from the industrial revolution and Emancipation eras.

Just what happens next no one knows. But twice before the U.S. has successfully resolved similar crises with impressive results.

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