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America Seems to Go Crazy Every 50 Years or So


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Jewish World Review

Michael Barone

March 24, 2023

Amid news that Donald Trump is about to be indicted by a hyperpartisan prosecutor and of his hysterical responses, and prompted by vagrant reading about the War of 1812 and Woodrow Wilson's violations of civil liberties in World War I, a thought occurred to me. America seems to go crazy every 50 years or so.

Start with the War of 1812, about 50 years after colonies' Stamp Act protests. There's a touch of absurdity here. Because of the slowness of trans-Atlantic communication, Congress declared war because of British restrictions on neutral shipping six days after the British repealed them. Americans won their major land victory in New Orleans, 15 days after the peace treaty had already been signed in Ghent.


Like Woodrow Wilson's propagandist George Creel, government agencies suppressed as "misinformation" speech and arguments, including many that turned out to be accurate.

Another symptom of America going crazy is presidential dysfunction. Fifty years ago, the highly intelligent and experienced Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were ousted at ages 60 and 61 because of Vietnam and Watergate. Now, despite repeated stumbles, the inexperienced and distractable Donald Trump and the (according to bipartisan Defense Secretary Robert Gates) nearly-always-wrong Joe Biden are seeking second terms they would complete at ages 82 and 86, respectively.

Having witnessed and written for publication during two 50-years-apart episodes of craziness, I seek consolation from Adam Smith's reflection, after Britain lost the 13 colonies, that "there is a great deal of ruin in a nation." But I hope America will do a better job, 50 years hence, of learning from this episode's mistakes.

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