“She was asked what she had learned from the Holocaust, and she said that 10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80 percent could be moved in either direction.”—Kurt Vonnegut
Please spare me the media hysterics and the outrage and the hypocritical double standards of those whose moral conscience appears to be largely dictated by their political loyalties.
Anyone who believes that the injustices, cruelties and vicious callousness of the U.S. government are unique to the Trump Administration has not been paying attention.
No matter what the team colors might be at any given moment, the playbook remains the same. The leopard has not changed its spots. Scrape off the surface layers and you will find that the American police state that is continuing to wreak havoc on the rights of the people under the Trump Administration is the same police state that wreaked havoc on the rights of the people under every previous administration.
While we squabble over which side is winning this losing battle, a tsunami approaches.
Case in point: in Charlottesville, Va.—home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, champion of the Bill of Rights, and the nation’s third president—city councilors in a quest for so-called “equity” have proposed eliminating Jefferson’s birthday as a city holiday (which has been on the books since 1945) and replacing it with a day that commemorates the liberation of area slaves following the arrival of Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan.
In this way, while the populace wages war over past injustices, injustice in the here and now continues to trample innocent lives underfoot. In Charlottesville, as in the rest of the country, little is being done to stem the tide of the institutional racism that has resulted in disproportionate numbers of black Americans being stopped, frisked, shot at, arrested and jailed.
Just recently, in fact, Phoenix police drew their guns, shouted profanities, assaulted and threatened to shoot a black couple whose 4-year-old daughter allegedly stole a doll from a dollar store. The footage of the incident—in which the cops threaten to shoot the pregnant, young mother in the head in the presence of the couple’s 1- and 4-year-old daughters—is horrifying in every way.
Tell me again why it’s more important to spend valuable political capital debating the birthdays of dead presidents rather than proactively working to put a stop to a government mindset that teaches cops it’s okay to treat citizens of any color with brutality and a blatant disregard for their rights?
It doesn’t matter that Phoenix and Charlottesville are 2100 miles apart. The lethal practices of the American police state are the same all over.
No amount of dissembling can shield us from the harsh reality that the danger in our midst is posed by an entrenched government bureaucracy that has no regard for the Constitution, Congress, the courts or the citizenry.
We’ve got to get our priorities straight if we are to ever have any hope of maintaining any sense of freedom in America. As long as we allow ourselves to be distracted, diverted, occasionally outraged, always polarized and content to view each other—rather than the government—as the enemy, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny (or government corruption and ineptitude) in any form.
Mind you, by “government,” I’m not referring to the highly partisan, two-party bureaucracy of the Republicans and Democrats. Rather, I’m referring to “government” with a capital “G,” the entrenched Deep State that is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and has set itself beyond the reach of the law.
This is the hidden face of a government that has no respect for the freedoms of its citizenry.
So stop with all of the excuses and the hedging and the finger-pointing and the pissing contests to see which side can out-shout, out-blame and out-spew the other. Enough already with the short- and long-term amnesia that allows political sycophants to conveniently forget the duplicity, complicity and mendacity of their own party while casting blame on everyone else.
This is how evil wins.
This is how freedom falls and tyranny rises.
This is how good, generally decent people—having allowed themselves to be distracted with manufactured crises, polarizing politics, and fighting that divides the populace into warring us vs. them camps—fail to take note of the looming danger that threatens to wipe freedom from the map and place us all in chains.
Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware. Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware. And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.
The world has been down this road before.
As historian Milton Mayer recounts in his seminal book on Hitler’s rise to power, They Thought They Were Free:
Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people‑—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’, without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.
We are no longer living the American Dream. We’re living the American Lie.
Indeed, Americans have been lied to so sincerely, so incessantly, and for so long by politicians of all stripes—who lie compulsively and without any seeming remorse—that they’ve almost come to prefer the lies trotted out by those in government over less-palatable truths.
The American people have become compulsive believers: left-leaning Americans are determined to believe that the world has become a far more dangerous place under Trump, while right-leaning Americans are equally convinced that Trump has set us on a path to prosperity and security.
Nothing has changed.
The police state is still winning. We the people are still losing.
In fact, the American police state has continued to advance at the same costly, intrusive, privacy-sapping, Constitution-defying, heartbreaking, soul-scorching, relentless pace under the current Tyrant-in-Chief as it did under those who occupied the White House before him (Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.).
Police haven’t stopped disregarding the rights of citizens. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip, shoot and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials are no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace. Indeed, they continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies and slaves rather than citizens.
SWAT teams haven’t stopped crashing through doors and terrorizing families. Nationwide, SWAT teams continue to be employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activities or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession. With more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans for relatively routine police matters and federal agencies laying claim to their own heavily armed law enforcement divisions, the incidence of botched raids and related casualties continue to rise.
The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security haven’t stopped militarizing and federalizing local police. Police forces continue to be transformed into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. In training police to look and act like the military and use the weapons and tactics of war against American citizens, the government continues to turn the United States into a battlefield and “we the people” into enemy combatants.
Schools haven’t stopped treating young people like hard-core prisoners. School districts continue to team up with law enforcement to create a “schoolhouse to jailhouse track” by imposing a “double dose” of punishment for childish infractions: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court. In this way, the paradigm of abject compliance to the state continues to be taught by example in the schools, through school lock-downs where police and drug-sniffing dogs enter the classroom, and zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior.
For-profit private prisons haven’t stopped locking up Americans and immigrants alike at taxpayer expense. States continue to outsource prison management to private corporations out to make a profit at taxpayer expense. And how do you make a profit in the prison industry? Have the legislatures pass laws that impose harsh penalties for the slightest noncompliance in order to keep the prison cells full and corporate investors happy.
Censorship hasn’t stopped. First Amendment activities continue to be pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary 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 courts haven’t stopped marching in lockstep with the police state. The courts continue to be dominated by technicians and statists who are deferential to authority, whether government or business. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years have most often been characterized by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests.
Government bureaucrats haven’t stopped turning American citizens into criminals. The average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal, while reinforcing the power of the police state and its corporate allies.
The surveillance state hasn’t stopped spying on Americans’ communications, transactions or movements. On any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether it’s your local police, a fusion center, the National Security Agency or one of the government’s many corporate partners, is still monitoring and tracking your every move.
The TSA hasn’t stopped groping or ogling travelers. Under the pretext of protecting the nation’s infrastructure (roads, mass transit systems, water and power supplies, telecommunications systems and so on) against criminal or terrorist attacks, TSA task forces (comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams) continue to do random security sweeps of nexuses of transportation, including ports, railway and bus stations, airports, ferries and subways, as well as political conventions, baseball games and music concerts. Sweep tactics include the use of x-ray technology, pat-downs and drug-sniffing dogs, among other things.
Congress hasn’t stopped enacting draconian laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the NDAA. These laws—which completely circumvent the rule of law and the constitutional rights of American citizens, continue to re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t stopped being a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast.” Indeed, this is the agency that is notorious for militarizing the police and SWAT teams; spying on activists, dissidents and veterans; stockpiling ammunition; distributing license plate readers; contracting to build detention camps; tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices; carrying out military drills and lock-downs in American cities; using the TSA as an advance guard; conducting virtual strip searches with full-body scanners; carrying out soft target checkpoints; directing government workers to spy on Americans; conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers; carrying out Constitution-free border control searches; funding city-wide surveillance cameras; and utilizing drones and other spybots.
The military industrial complex hasn’t stopped profiting from endless wars abroad. America’s expanding military empire continues to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense.
The Deep State’s shadow government hasn’t stopped calling the shots behind the scenes. 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 continues to be 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.
And the American people haven’t stopped acting like gullible sheep. In fact, many Americans have been so carried away by their blind rank-and-file partisan devotion to their respective political gods that they have lost sight of the one thing that has remained constant in recent years: our freedoms are steadily declining. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.
So you can try to persuade yourself that you are free, that you still live in a country that values freedom, and that it is not too late to make America great again, but to anyone who has been paying attention to America’s decline over the past 50 years, it will be just another lie.
The German people chose to ignore the truth and believe the lie.
They were not oblivious to the horrors taking place around them. As historian Robert Gellately points out, “[A]nyone in Nazi Germany who wanted to find out about the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the campaigns of discrimination and persecutions need only read the newspapers.”
The warning signs were definitely there, blinking incessantly like large neon signs.
“Still,” Gellately writes, “the vast majority voted in favor of Nazism, and in spite of what they could read in the press and hear by word of mouth about the secret police, the concentration camps, official anti-Semitism, and so on. . . . [T]here is no getting away from the fact that at that moment, ‘the vast majority of the German people backed him.’”
Half a century later, the wife of a prominent German historian, neither of whom were members of the Nazi party, opined: “[O]n the whole, everyone felt well. . . . And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time. . . . We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”
In other words, as long as their creature comforts remained undiminished, as long as their bank accounts remained flush, as long as they weren’t being discriminated against, persecuted, starved, beaten, shot, stripped, jailed and turned into slave labor, life was good.
Life is good in America, too.
Life is good in America as long as you’re not one of the hundreds of migrant children (including infants, toddlers, preschoolers) being detained in unsanitary conditions by U.S. Border Patrol without proper access to food and water, made to sleep on concrete floors, go without a shower for weeks on end, and only allowed to brush your teeth once every 10 days.
Life is good in America as long as you don’t have to come face to face with a trigger-happy cop hyped up on the power of the badge, trained to shoot first and ask questions later, and disposed to view people of color as a suspect class.
Life is good in America as long as you’re able to keep sleep-walking through life, cocooning yourself in political fantasies that depict a world in which your party is always right and everyone else is wrong, and distracting yourself with bread-and-circus entertainment that bears no resemblance to reality.
Life is good in America as long as you’ve got enough money to spare that you don’t mind being made to pay through the nose for the government’s endless wars, subsidization of foreign nations, military empire, welfare state, roads to nowhere, bloated workforce, secret agencies, fusion centers, private prisons, biometric databases, invasive technologies, arsenal of weapons, and every other budgetary line item that is contributing to the fast-growing wealth of the corporate elite at the expense of those who are barely making ends meet—that is, we the 99%.
Life is good in America for the privileged few, but as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s getting worse by the day for the rest of us.
About the Author
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, where this article (The Jackboots Are Coming: Mass Arrests, Power Grabs and the Politics of Fear) was originally published. He is the author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State and The Change Manifesto.