John Whitehead's Commentary
The State of the Nation: A Dictatorship Without Tears
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”—Aldous Huxley
There’s a man who contacts me several times a week to disagree with my assessments of the American police state. According to this self-avowed Pollyanna who is tired of hearing “bad news,” the country is doing just fine, the government’s intentions are honorable, anyone in authority should be blindly obeyed, those individuals who are being arrested, shot and imprisoned must have done something to deserve such treatment, and if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t care whether the government is spying on you.
In other words, this man trusts the government with his life, his loved ones and his property, and anyone who doesn’t feel the same should move elsewhere.
It’s tempting to write this man off as dangerously deluded, treacherously naïve, and clueless to the point of civic incompetence. However, he is not alone in his goose-stepping, comfort-loving, TV-watching, insulated-from-reality devotion to the alternate universe constructed for us by the Corporate State with its government propaganda, pseudo-patriotism and contrived political divisions.
While only 1 in 5 Americans claim to trust the government to do what is right, the majority of the people are not quite ready to ditch the American experiment in liberty. Or at least they’re not quite ready to ditch the government with which they have been saddled.
As The Washington Post concludes, “Americans hate government, but they like what it does.” Indeed, kvetching aside, Americans want the government to keep providing institutionalized comforts such as Social Security, public schools, and unemployment benefits, fighting alleged terrorists and illegal immigrants, defending the nation from domestic and foreign threats, and maintaining the national infrastructure. And it doesn’t matter that the government has shown itself to be corrupt, abusive, hostile to citizens who disagree, wasteful and unconcerned about the plight of the average American.
For the moment, Americans are continuing to play by the government’s rules. Indeed, Americans may not approve the jobs being done by their elected leaders, and they may have little to no access to those same representatives, but they remain committed to the political process, so much so that they are working themselves into a frenzy over the upcoming presidential election, with contributions to the various candidates nearing $500 million.
Yet as Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House shows, no matter how much hope and change were promised, what we’ve ended up with is not only more of the same, but something worse: an invasive, authoritarian surveillance state armed and ready to eliminate any opposition.
The state of our nation under Obama has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. Most of all, the government, already diabolical and manipulative to the nth degree, has mastered the art of “do what I say and not what I do” hypocrisy.
For example, the government’s arsenal is growing. While the Obama administration is working to limit the public’s access to guns by pushing for greater gun control, it’s doing little to scale back on the federal government’s growing arsenal of firepower and militarized equipment.
In fact, it’s not just the Department of Defense that’s in the business of waging war. Government agencies focused largely on domestic matters continue to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase SWAT and military-style equipment such as body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $2 million on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a “milo return fire cannon system,” armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control. The Food and Drug Administration purchased “ballistic vests and carriers.” The Environmental Protection Agency shelled out $200,000 for body armor. And the Smithsonian Institution procured $28,000 worth of body armor for its “zoo police and security officers.”
The national debt is growing. In fact, it’s almost doubled during Obama’s time in office to nearly $20 trillion. Much of this debt is owed to foreign countries such as China, which have come to exert an undue degree of influence on various aspects of the American economy.
Meanwhile, almost half of Americans are struggling to save for emergencies and retirement, 43% can’t afford to go more than one month without a paycheck, and 24% have less than $250 in their bank accounts preceding payday.
On any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. In fact, studies indicate that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S.
The American police state’s payroll is expanding. Despite the fact that violent crime is at a 40-year-low, there are more than 1.1 million persons employed on a full-time basis by state and local law enforcement in this country. That doesn’t include the more than 120,000 full-time officers on the federal payroll.
While crime is falling, the number of laws creating new crimes is growing at an alarming rate. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. This adds up to more than 4,500 federal criminal laws and an even greater number of state laws.
The prison population is growing at an alarming rate. Owing largely to overcriminalization, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled since 1980 to 2.4 million, which breaks down to more than one out of every 100 American adults behind bars. According to The Washington Post, it costs $21,000 a year to keep someone in a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 a year for a maximum-security federal prison. Those costs are expected to increase 30 percent by 2020. Translation: while the American taxpayer will be forced to shell out more money for its growing prison population, the private prison industry will be making a hefty profit.
The nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating. An estimated $1.7 trillion will be needed by 2020 to improve surface transportation, but with vital funds being siphoned off by the military industrial complex, there’s little relief in sight.
The expense of those endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion. That does not include the cost of military occupations and exercises elsewhere around the globe. Unfortunately, that’s money that is not being invested in America, nor is it being used to improve the lives of Americans.
Government incompetence, corruption and lack of accountability continue to result in the loss of vast amounts of money and weapons. A Reuters investigation revealed $8.5 trillion in “taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for.” Then there was the $500 million in Pentagon weapons, aircraft and equipment (small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies) that the U.S. military somehow lost track of.
Rounding out the bad news, many Americans know little to nothing about their rights and the government. Only 31% can name all three branches of the U.S. government, while one in three says that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own your own home, while one in four thinks that it guarantees “equal pay for equal work.” One in 10 Americans (12%) says the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.
If this brief catalogue of our national woes proves anything at all, it is that the American experiment in liberty has failed, and as political economist Lawrence Hunter warns, it is only a matter of time before people realize it. Writing for Forbes, Hunter notes:
The greatest fear of America’s Founding Fathers has been realized: The U.S. Constitution has been unable to thwart the corrosive dynamics of majority-rule democracy, which in turn has mangled the Constitution beyond recognition. The real conclusion of the American Experiment is that democracy ultimately undermines liberty and leads to tyranny and oppression by elected leaders and judges, their cronies and unelected bureaucrats. All of this is done in the name of “the people” and the “general welfare,” of course. But in fact, democracy oppresses the very demos in whose name it operates, benefiting string-pullers within the Establishment and rewarding the political constituencies they manage by paying off special interests with everyone else’s money forcibly extracted through taxation. The Founding Fathers (especially Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and James Monroe), as well as outside observers of the American Experiment such as Alexis de Tocqueville all feared democracy and dreaded this outcome. But, they let hope and faith in their ingenious constitutional engineering overcome their fear of the democratic state, only to discover they had replaced one tyranny with another.
So are there any real, workable solutions to the emerging American police state?
A second American Revolution will not work. In the first revolution, the colonists were able to dispatch the military occupation and take over the running of the country. However, the Orwellian state is here and it is so pervasive that government agents are watching, curtailing and putting down any resistance before it can get started.
A violent overthrow of the government will not work. Government agents are armed to the teeth and will easily blow away any insurgency when and if necessary.
Politics will not help things along. As history has made clear, the new boss is invariably the same as or worse than the old boss—all controlled by a monied, oligarchic elite.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is only one feasible solution left to us short of fleeing the country for parts unknown: grassroots activism that strives to reform the government locally and trickles up.
Unfortunately, such a solution requires activism, engagement, vigilance, sacrifice, individualism, community-building, nullification and a communal willingness to reject the federal government’s handouts and, when needed, respond with what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “militant nonviolent resistance.”
That means forgoing Monday night football in order to actively voice your concerns at city council meetings, turning off the television and spending an hour reading your local newspaper (if you still have one that reports local news) from front to back, showing your displeasure by picketing in front of government offices, risking your reputation by speaking up and disagreeing with the majority when necessary, refusing to meekly accept whatever the government dictates, reminding government officials—including law enforcement—that they work for you, and working together with your neighbors to present a united front against an overreaching government.
Unfortunately, we now live in a ubiquitous Orwellian society with all the trappings of Huxley’s A Brave New World. We have become a society of watchers rather than activists who are distracted by even the clumsiest government attempts at sleight-of-hand.
There are too many Americans who are reasonably content with the status quo and too few Americans willing to tolerate the discomfort of a smaller, more manageable government and a way of life that is less convenient, less entertaining, and less comfortable.
It well may be that Huxley was right, and that the final revolution is behind us. Certainly, most Americans seem to have learned to love their prison walls and take comfort in a dictatorship without tears.