The American Experiment: Findings | The New Yorker


Can a large republic, rooted in principles of self-government, individual freedom, and ubiquitous tortilla-chip availability, survive despite its founders’ hypocritical embrace of slavery, subjugation of women, and annihilation of indigenous groups, the violent ramifications of which will echo through said republic’s entire existence?




Constitutional amendments: 27

Civil wars: 1

Times an “s” was written like an “f” in an important founding document: 298

Presidential assassinations: 4

Memorable Presidential assassinations: 2

Supreme Court Justices: 116

Supreme Court Justices named John: 13

Supreme Court Justices who weren’t white males: 8

Wars of 1812: 1

Instances when the person in charge of adding new stars to the flag muttered, “Seriously? Again?”: 26

Great Depressions: 1

Things to fear besides fear itself: 93,045

Shelf life, in years, of the Voting Rights Act: 48

Latin American governments overthrown: [Redacted]

African governments overthrown: Stop asking questions, O.K.?

Middle Eastern governments overthrown: You’re coming with us.

National losses of innocence: 74

Direction the moral arc of the universe bends toward: Unclear

Plymouth Rocks: 1

Plymouth rocks: 85,949,302,228


The numbers paint a mixed picture. On the one hand, every President has been elected by a democratic majority. On the other hand, “democratic majority” has had many meanings, including “whatever white landowners want” and “let Chief Justice Rehnquist decide.” Additionally, while the government has been subjected to only one violent coup attempt, that attempt was carried out less than two years ago by a political faction whose power is only growing. So, y’know, fingers crossed there. Finally, the nation has numerous names—hoagie, sub, grinder, hero—for what is essentially the same sandwich, which we researchers take as a grim sign of social instability.


After two hundred and forty-six years, the country shows several typical signs of old age, from creaky public transit to a downright senile forgetfulness about the status of bodily autonomy as a right. Still, there have been moments of brilliantly creative invention (jazz, pizza bagels) and of genuine moral progress (the Nineteenth Amendment, that “Seinfeld” episode in which everyone thinks that George and Jerry are gay and it’s seen as a quirky misunderstanding rather than grounds for imprisonment). In all, the nation appears at odds with itself. George Washington famously advised against wading into foreign entanglements; today, the U.S. maintains military bases in more than seventy nations, and probably a few on the moon. Moreover, the country is mired in indecision and gridlock. Should its wealthy inhabitants contribute financially to the common welfare? Should the government take steps to make the planet habitable for future generations? Should fascism be given a whirl? These are just some of the questions on which the nation’s leaders disagree. Therefore, at the risk of editorializing in what is intended to be a dispassionate scientific study, this research team cannot help but say: yikes. ♦

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