The first American frontier, which is to say everything west of Richmond, was settled partly by the practice of collecting the scalps of dead and dying Native Americans. It began in Massachusetts, quickly spread to New York and Pennsylvania, and, by the 1750s, when the revolutionary spirit was beginning to stir among the upper classes, it had become general throughout the British colonies in America. As the country expanded westward, so did what became known as “hair-buying.” The laws governing bounty scalping—and “governing” is too nice a word entirely—were on the books long after the infamous practice faded. (Nova Scotia had one as recently as 2018.) It took an awfully long time for this country to decide that putting any price on human beings—even piecemeal—was not exactly consonant with the ideals that the United States proclaimed in its founding documents and its prideful memorials.
Comes now this historical moment, in which those ideals and memorials are facing an overdue tide of revision and honesty. And, at the same time, the news came last Friday that the President* of the United States knew that the Russian Federation was arranging the payment of bounties to Taliban fighters who killed American soldiers in Afghanistan, and that the President* of the United States has done nothing about it. The story broke in The New York Times late Friday and, by Sunday night, it had been confirmed through independent reporting from every outlet from the Washington Post to SkyNews. The White House spent three days trying to decide whether its most effective defense was that the Commander-in-Chief was actively negligent in this regard, or that the Commander-in-Chief was as plainly ignorant about this as he is about every other part of his job.