By John W. Whitehead
“What’s past is prologue.” ― William Shakespeare, The Tempest
What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year this has been.
Endless wars. Toxic politics. Violence. Hunger. Police shootings. Mass shootings. Economic downturns. Political circuses. Senseless tragedies. Loss. Heartache. Intolerance. Prejudice. Hatred. Apathy. Meanness. Cruelty. Poverty. Inhumanity. Greed.
Here’s just a small sampling of what we’ve suffered through in 2016.
After three years of increasingly toxic politics, the ruling oligarchy won and “we the people” lost. The FBI’s investigation of Hillary’s emails ended with a whimper, rather than a bang. FBI director James Comey declared Clinton’s use of a private email server to be careless rather than criminal. Bernie Sanders sparked a movement only to turn into a cheerleader for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election. Donald Trump won the White House while the American people lost any hope of ending the corporate elite’s grip on the government.
The government declared war on so-called “fake news” while continuing to peddle its own brand of propaganda. President Obama quietly re-upped the National Defense Authorization Act, including a provision that establishes a government agency to purportedly counter propaganda and disinformation.
More people died at the hands of the police. Shootings of unarmed citizens (especially African-Americans) by police claimed more lives than previously estimated, reinforcing concerns about police misconduct and the use of excessive force. Police in Baton Rouge shot Alton Sterling. Police in St. Paul shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Ohio police shot 13-year-old Tyre King after the boy pulls out a BB gun. Wisconsin was locked down after protests erupt over a police shooting of a fleeing man. Oklahoma police shot and killed Terence Crutcher during a traffic stop while the man’s hands were raised in the air. North Carolina police killed Keith Lamont Scott, spurring two nights of violent protests. San Diego police killed Alfred Olango after he removed a vape smoking device from his pocket. Los Angeles police shot Carnell Snell Jr. after he fled a vehicle with a paper license plate.
We lost some bright stars this year. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s death left the court deadlocked and his successor up for grabs. Joining the ranks of the notable deceased were Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Fidel Castro, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, John Glenn, Merle Haggard, Harper Lee, George Michael, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Janet Reno, Elie Wiesel, and Gene Wilder.
Diseases claimed more lives. The deadly Zika virus spread outwards from Latin America and into the U.S.
The rich got richer. The Panama Papers leak pulled back the curtain on schemes by the wealthy to hide their funds in shell companies.
Free speech was dealt one knock-out punch after another. First Amendment activities were pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship varied widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remained the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”
The debate over equality took many forms. African-Americans boycotted the Oscars over the absence of nominations for people of color, while the Treasury Department announced its decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. North Carolina’s debate over transgender bathrooms ignited a nationwide fury. Meanwhile, the U.S. military opened its doors to transgender individuals. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed a Texas law that counts everyone, not just eligible voters, in determining legislative districts. The nation’s highest court also upheld affirmative action, while declaring a Texas law on abortion clinics to be an unnecessary burden on women.
Environmental concerns were downplayed in favor of corporate interests. Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water was declared a state and federal emergency, while thousands protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its impact on water sources.
Technology rendered Americans vulnerable to threats from government spies, police, hackers and power failures. The Justice Department battled Apple in court over access to its customers’ locked, encrypted iPhones. Microsoft sued the U.S. government over its access to customers’ emails and files without their knowledge. Yahoo confirmed that over half a billion user accounts had been hacked. Police departments across the country continued to use Stingray devices to collect cellphone data in real time, often without a warrant. A six-hour system shutdown resulted in hundreds of Delta flights being cancelled and thousands of people stranded.
Police became even more militarized and weaponized. Despite concerns about the government’s steady transformation of local police into a standing military army, local police agencies continued to acquire weaponry, training and equipment suited for the battlefield. In North Dakota, for instance, police were authorized to acquire and use armed drones. Likewise, the use of SWAT teams for routine policing tasks has increased the danger for police and citizens alike.
Children were hurt. A 17-year-old endangered silverback gorilla was shot preemptively after a 3-year-old child climbed into its zoo enclosure. In Disney World, an alligator snatched a 2-year-old boy off one of the resort’s man-made beaches. A school bus crash in Tennessee killed five children. And police resource officers made schools less safe, with students being arrested, tasered and severely disciplined for minor infractions.
Computers asserted their superiority over their human counterparts, who were easily controlled by bread and circuses. Google’s artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, defeated its human opponent in a DeepMind Challenge Match. Pokemon Go took the world by storm and turned users into mindless entertainment zombies.
Terrorism took many forms. Brussels was locked down in the wake of terrorist attacks that killed dozens and wounded hundreds. A shootout between a gunman and police wrought havoc on a gay nightclub in Orlando. Terrorists armed with explosives and guns opened fire in Istanbul Airport. A trucker drives into a crowd of revelers on Bastille Day in France. Acts of suspected terrorism take place throughout Germany, including attacks using axes, knives and machetes. Japan undergoes a mass killing when a man armed with a knife targets disabled patients at a care facility. Syria continued to be ravaged by bomb strikes, terrorism and international conflict.
Science crossed into new frontiers. Doctors announced the birth of the first healthy three-parent baby created with DNA from three separate people. Elon Musk outlined his plan to populate Mars.
Tragedies abounded. An Amtrak train derailed outside of Philadelphia. A commuter train crashed through a barrier in New Jersey. Floods in Texas killed nine soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. Heatwaves swept the southwest, fueling wildfires. Flash floods and heavy rain devastated parts of Maryland and Louisiana.
The government waged a war on cash. Not content to swindle, cheat, scam, and generally defraud Americans by way of wasteful pork barrel legislation, asset forfeiture schemes, and costly stimulus packages, the government and its corporate partners in crime came up with a new scheme to not only scam taxpayers out of what’s left of their paychecks but also make us foot the bill. The government’s war on cash is a concerted campaign to do away with large bills such as $20s, $50s, $100s and shift consumers towards a digital mode of commerce that can easily be monitored, tracked, tabulated, mined for data, hacked, hijacked and confiscated when convenient.
The Deep State reared its ugly head. Comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes, this government within a government is the real reason “we the people” have no real control over our so-called representatives. It’s every facet of a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics. These are the key players that drive the shadow government. They are the hidden face of the American police state that has continued past Election Day.
The U.S. military industrial complex—aided by the Obama administration—armed the world while padding its own pockets. According to the Center for International Policy, President Obama has brokered more arms deals than any administration since World War II. For instance, the U.S. agreed to provide Israel with $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years, in exchange for Israel committing to buy U.S. weapons.
Now that’s not to say that 2016 didn’t have its high points, as well, but it’s awfully hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.
Frequently, I receive emails from people urging me to leave the country before the “hammer falls.” However, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is nowhere in the world to escape from the injustice of tyrants, bullies and petty dictators. As Ronald Reagan recognized back in 1964, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth.”
Let’s not take the mistakes of 2016 into a new year with us. The election is over. The oligarchs remain in power. The police state is marching forward, more powerful than ever. All signs point to business as usual. The game continues to be rigged.
The lesson for those of us in the American police state is simply this: if there is to be any hope for freedom in 2017, it rests with “we the people” engaging in local, grassroots activism that transforms our communities and our government from the ground up.
Let’s get started.