About a week ago I turned 48 years old, for the very first time. The country of my origin, the United States of America, turned 48 for exactly the 5th time less than a week later. When that thought occurred to me – in a public place, waiting to pay for beer and coffee – I smiled suddenly in the way that makes people around me nervous. I am passionate about sublimity and there’s something sublime about my journey coinciding so elegantly with the journey of a nation. How often are we in such perfect division with our origins?
So when I got home I left the beer and coffee in the car and did some research. I love to research nearly as much as I love to write, especially when a bat gets stuck in the belfry and can’t get out. I am driven by crazy obsession. Here’s what I learned:
The last time America turned 48, in 1968, the United States was embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam. The nation was likewise entrenched in a culture war at home; it was a violent year for the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot dead that year, the latter mere weeks before I was born. Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president, and Richard Nixon became president instead. Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders circled the moon, becoming the first human beings ever to leave Earth orbit. The Packers won the second Super Bowl. NBC cut off the end of a Raider game to show Heidi. Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura shared TV’s first interracial kiss.
That was a really big deal at the time.
48 years before that, 48 years before I was born, Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees. Women got the right to vote. Warren Harding became president. Alcohol was illegal. The National Football League was formed. The United States Postal Service outlawed sending children via mail. Really, that was a thing. The Roaring Twenties had just begun, and it was fun to be an American. Jazz thrived.
In 1872, 48 years earlier, Susan B. Anthony cast her vote and was arrested for it. 776 buildings were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire. America was reconstructing itself in the wake of a bloody civil war. Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park. A woman ran for president for the first time, 48 years before she could vote for herself. Everyone rushed to Wyoming and Colorado for a faux diamond rush. Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy.
He had 25 wives.
The first time America turned 48, in 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected president by the Congress, despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular vote. This very young United States was still struggling with frontiers, battling both a proud native populace and the continuing intervention of European powers. The Monroe Doctrine gave voice to manifest destiny only one year before, cementing the idea of American exceptionalism. That idea gave birth to the American superiority complex that shaped not only domestic policy throughout the 19th Century, but international policies today.
The next time America turns 48 will be the year 2064. I’ll be 96. By some accounts we’ll be the 2nd smartest species on the planet by then, outgrown by our own creations. We’ll have microscopic computers in our bloodstream, keeping our vitals vital. Everything we want or need will be manufactured for free at home using nanotechnology. Borders will disappear, scarcity will vanish, poverty will be a footnote in history, and money will be a thing of the past. By some accounts.
By other accounts we’ll be living underground, chased there by our own failing biosphere or by bombs we couldn’t help but drop. Or we’ll be extinguished by those robots we create. Or maybe nothing at all will change. Chelsea’s kid Aidan will be 48 in 2064; maybe he’ll be the Clinton to spread manifest destiny to the stars.
I think I’ll open a warm beer from the car and contemplate that thought for a while.
Cheers, America. Happy revolutions to you.