Increasingly, the US governments many police forces (often state and local ones as well) operate militarily and are trained to treat ordinary citizens as enemies. At the same time, the people from whom the government personnel take their cues routinely describe those who differ from them socially and politically as illegitimate, criminal, even terrorists. Though these developments have separate roots, the post-9/11 state of no-win war against anonymous enemies has given them momentum. The longer it goes on, the more they converge and set in motion a spiral of civil strife all too well known in history, a spiral ever more difficult to stop short of civil war. Even now ordinary Americans are liable to being disadvantaged, hurt or even killed by their government as never before.
Governments violent treatment of citizens has become generalized and unremarkable. Consider.
This month in Washington DC, Federal police riddled with bullets a woman suffering from post-partum depression who, had she been allowed to live, might have been convicted of reckless driving, at most. She had careened too close to the White House and Capitol, but had harmed no one and her car had stopped. In the same month, California sheriffs deputies killed a 13 year-old boy who was carrying a plastic toy rifle. It is not illegal to carry a rifle, never mind a toy one. America did not blink. A half century ago, Alabama sheriff Bull Connors use of a mere cattle prod to move marchers from blocking a street had caused a national crisis.
In a casual conversation, a friendly employee of the US Forest Service bemoaned to me that he was on his way to a US Army base, where he and colleagues would practice military tactics against persons who resist regulations. A forester, he had hoped to be Smokey the Bear. Instead, he said, we are now the Department of Provocation. In fact every US government agency, and most state and local ones now police their ever burgeoning regulations with military equipment, tactics, and above all with the assumption that they are dealing with people who should not be dealt with any other way.
Modern militarized government stems from the Progressive idea that society must mobilize as for war to achieve the greater good. Hence we have wars on everything from hunger and drugs and ignorance and global warming. Reality follows rhetoric. Since the health of the environment is a matter of life and death, the Environmental Protection Agency must deal with enemies of the planet with armored cars, machine guns, and home invasions. Apparently, even the Department of Education has SWAT teams.
The general population is increasingly inured to violence. The latest Grand Theft video game, for example, involves torturing a prisoner. Fun. That is only one step beyond the popular TV show 24 in which the audience cheered the heros torture of terrorist suspects. Contrast this with Dragnet, the most popular TV cops drama of the 1950s, whose Sergeant Joe Friday knocked on doors and said yes mam, no mam.
But governments, including ours, do not and cannot oppress citizens equally.
Persons who possess the greatest power have the larger opportunity to direct blame and distrust, even mayhem, onto those they like least. Since the mid- 1990s, authoritative voices from Democratic President Bill Clinton to Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, echoed by the media have intoned a familiar litany: America is beset by racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious obscurantism, by domestic abuse, greed, and gun owners. These ills are not so different from those found in backward parts of the world where we fight extremism in order to fight terrorism. Indeed these ills argue for fighting extremism, indeed for nation-building in America as well as abroad. Who in America embodies extremism? Who is inherently responsible for social ills, including terrorism? Who will have to be re-constructed? No surprise: the ruling class political opponents: the conservative side of American life.
This has deep roots. In 1963, the ruling class imputed President John F. Kennedys assassination to the climate of hatred in conservative Dallas, Texas even though the assassin was a Communist. No less than Chief Justice Earl Warren indicted right wing bigots. Today, computer searches find that the term extremist correlates in the major newspapers with conservative or right wing at twelve times the rate it does with liberal or left wing.
The focus on Homeland Security has only added terrorism to our ruling class excuses for going after conservative Americans. And so, the Department of Homeland Security uses its intelligence fusion centers to compile ominously worded dossiers against such groups as pro-lifers and such anti government activists as homeschoolers and gun owners. The FBI infiltrates the Tea Parties as it once did the Communist Party. DHS conducts its practice runs against mockups of these groups. The IRS audits conservative groups.
Why not? President Barack Obama called these very groups enemies of democracy, and Vice President Joseph Biden has called them terrorists. Obama Administration spokesmen have referred to them as jihadists, hostage takers, persons with bombs strapped to their chests, etc. Indeed a Rasmussen poll shows that 26% of the Obama Administrations supporterspossibly not the least influential among themregard the Tea Parties as the top terrorist threat to America.
No official act is needed for like-minded persons at the top of society to act in mutually pleasing ways. No law, no official policy, much less conspiracy is neededonly the prejudices and convenience, the intellectual, social, identity of those in power. Why should not officials all across the US government act according to their superiors opinions, to what they hear from the best people and what they read in the best media, indeed according to their shared beliefs?
|Angelo M. Codevilla is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University, and the author of the books, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, Informing Statecraft, War: Ends and Means (with Paul Seabury), The Character of Nations, and Between the Alps and a Hard Place: Switzerland in World War II and the Rewriting of History.|