“I know there are a lot who suggest getting rid of firing squad is more humane but we’ve had the firing squad since statehood and it’s effective.”
- Utah State Sen. David Thomas (R)
“Decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created an unacceptable situation.”
- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R)
The New West often looks just like the Old West. Not just Monument Valley, Mojave Desert and the other natural movie sets that have formed our concepts of the American West. But the politics, society and just the way things are done out here because they’ve always been done that way.
Two events from the American West are causing the rest of the country to shudder: Arizona’s new, more restrictive and borderline (pardon the pun) unconstitutional immigration law and the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer by firing squad in Utah. Both are cases where states are not only doing what they’ve always done but turning up their noses at other states and the federal government as if to say “what are you going to do about it?”
For as “wild” as the Wild West was, these cases illuminate one common denominator between them and the Old and the New West: the overwhelming, relentless desire for self-order and self-sufficiency. The reason the Old West was what it was is because the people who went there were looking for all these things- for themselves and those like them. But ironically, to establish a place to exercise THEIR rights, they violated virtually everybody else’s: using violence, discrimination, and deception to keep out their neighbors and governmental authority, and pointlessly routing the Native Americans who’d lived there for centuries, stealing their land, and assisting the biggest genocide in the history of civilization.
It’s this history and tradition of the pre-eminence of the individual, the resulting moral selectivity, violence and hatred that are at the heart of both of these current issues. Six-gun justice, corruption, kangaroo courts, racism, rustling, greed, lynchings, massacres, environmental destruction and other atrocities are enduring legacies of the Old West: ones not only most Westerners but white America as a whole are still sadly proud of. The Arizona immigration law and Utah’s firing squad are reminders that you can take the cowboy out of the West, but you can’t take the West out of the cowboy. And heaven help the federal agent or fancy, Eastern city slicker who tries either.