Is America Still in the Wild West?

In just these past couple of years, America has gone through conflict and turmoil at almost every level. From the violent insurrection at our Capitol to the desperate protest rallies from a hurting ethnicity, America has experienced it all recently. However, a widely unacknowledged question remains. Why does America, a first-world country and the beacon of democracy, seem to have such little control over the chaos that has been stirred up in recent years?

Although this question has no definitive answer, it does bring light to the fact that perhaps America is not as civilized as we think. Is it possible that we are closer to the behaviors of the “wild west”, actions of lawlessness and brutality than we previously imagined? The purpose of this article is not to call every American uncivilized. Instead, the point of this article is to bring light to the fact that several issues in this country have seen little to no progress since those late frontier days commonly referred to as the Wild West era.

The Wild West was historically the expansion from eastern America to the widely uncharted Native American lands of the west. This expansion started as early as the 17th century, but popular culture only focuses on the period between 1850 and 1900. Sadly, there have been many films and other media on the Wild West that have created racist and false stereotypes. But, the one thing the books and the films both agree on is the air of lawlessness and lack of fairness and order that is one of the era’s most defining traits. Yet, what exactly would we call the recent horrors that have befallen America? A riot and domestic attack against our capital in 2021, a mass shooting at both a high school in 2018 and a church in 2015. These horrible events are not isolated cases. They are the result of America refusing to acknowledge the lawlessness and disorder that we have allowed to follow us through harsh frontier days of the Wild West. The Wild West was a turbulent time for our country. In attempting to conquer the Native Lands of the West, it was only expected that lawlessness would follow. However, we live in the 21st century. We have a strong central government, technological advancements, and much more. So, why is this sense of lawlessness still around?

A Picture of the U.S. Soldiers responsible for the Massacre at Wounded Knee. (Oxford University Press)

I believe the true reason is due to power politics. The government and the wealthy can all get away with either committing or not committing atrocious acts. Two correlating events show the need to fight against this deeply rooted system. The first is one of the most well-known atrocities in Wild West history, The Wounded Knee Massacre. On this tragic day (Dec. 29, 1890), a contingent of American soldiers shot and killed over 200 Lakota tribe men, women, and children, all because of a deaf Lakota tribesman not wanting to give up his new rifle, and an old man performing a sacred Lakota dance. These army men were sadly not held accountable but instead given medals of honor. However, the American justice system has thankfully progressed since 1890. But, we still see cases like Erick Garner, a man who in 2014 shared George Floyd’s words “I Can’t Breath” after being choked to death by a New York officer, being given little to no justice. When we see cases like these being dismissed as if the victims’ lives were unimportant, many Americans can’t help but look back down the road in history and ask themselves has anything actually changed? Minorities are still targets by police and other authorities. People in power who are considered better or more important because of wealth or skin color seem to get passes when they discriminate against others. Just like those army officers in Wounded Knee, there are too many people in positions of authority committing atrocious deeds in 2021.

However, this problem is not hopeless. All we as a country need to do to start fixing it is to acknowledge that this system exists, and then address how to fix it. The first step to solving a problem is to know what the problem is. The people of America need to stay informed and stay aware of the state that our country is in. Countless areas need fixing, but if we come together and let our voices be heard, we can finally start to move forward from the lawless frontier days of the Wild West.