"... there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods ... These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists." - George Orwell, from The Freedom of the Press
I will warn the readers of this blog: my tone from now on is going to be a bit harsher than it has been in the past. That's because I think, nay, sincerely believe that democracy is in danger, and I find it difficult to not call things as I see them. I think I owe democracy that much.
Yesterday, Mr. Greenwald wrote a post about the necessity of Democrats to restore right of habeus corpus which was overturned in the Military Commision Act of 2006, which gave the power to the president to torture and incarcerate anyone (including US citizens) he sees fit to do so, so long as he designates them enemy combatants.
The Military Commissions Act was written with Guantanamo specifically in mind, so let's pause for a moment to consider what Gitmo is .... it's a concentration camp.
There I said it. The Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, Michelle Malkins, and Fox News pundits in the world can howl in protest all they like, but that is what Guantanamo is. It was built in Cuba so that the facility would escape U.S. law. The administration has argued from the beggining that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those held there, so in fact the administration has maintained that the facility is beyond any law known to man.
Most of the people held there were held in error, but our government kept them there anyway, to avoid having to say it made a mistake. We also know that most of those held there were not al Qaeda terrorists, but regardless, we know that all those detained have been denied what would be considered basic levels of due process and justice. But what's even more, the camp is not generating actionable intelligence, the reason for which it was supposedly created (I think a larger reason it was created, was to project the notion that America would be tough on terrorism so that al Qaeda would not think Americans were "soft")
On top of our concentration camp at Guantanamo, our CIA had created a secret Gulag system of prisons which also outside any law known to man and in which the administration had authorized the use of torture. And additionally, the US government has kidnapped individuals and dropped them off in repressive human rights violating nations to be tortured. Some of these individuals, such as Maher Arar, were innocent of any crime, but our government has denied them any right of redress, citing a "state's secrets" privelege.
Our current President is operating on the basis of a legal doctrine conceived of by John Yoo which appears to have a lower threshold for the abrogation of the rule of law than Article 48 of the the Weimar Republic's constitution (the article that was invoked to turn Hitler into a dictator) and has over 750 times in signing statements expressed his intention to ignore the laws passed by the representatives of the citizens of the United States of America. Additionally, he has used Executive Orders to create laws where none exist, and to overturn or work around existing laws. The President has authorized the NSA to spy on US citizens without a warrant, and the administration has essentially done everything it possibly can do to overturn the safeguards that were put in place to protect the rights of American citizens after the abuses of the Nixon regime were uncovered ... abuses that forced Nixon to resign to avoid impeachment.
These are totalitarian devices animated by totalitarian logic. Yet the public (at large) is generally ok with it. Is ambivalent. Much of the public says it has nothing to fear since they are not terrorists (Alonzo at the Atheist Ethicist demonstrates the utter stupidity of that statement) The public doesn't notice that the lawlessness abroad has already started to come home. That we are already less free because our government has argued for itself the right to take away not just the rights of terrorists or criminals, but our rights as US citizens.
The public doesn't notice that we now have a concentration camp on US soil, and that this facility has failed to allow a representative from the United Nations Human Right's council to inspect the facility. Once again, "transparency" rules in the Bush administration. The public doesn't notice that Halliburton has contingency contracts to build more concentration camps on US soil in the case that the president declares some sort of emergency.
Xenaphobia over a Marxist Mexican Reconquista invasion runs high (among many Americans, but by no means all), and the Militia Men - a group with origins in a protofascist movement - now patrols our borders and has garnered mainstream acceptance.
Leading GOP frontrunners for the 2008 presidential bid (Romney and Giuliani) when asked if they think that the US president should have the powers of a dictator did not answer in the negative. Romney said he'd have to consult some lawyers - Giuliani said he'd choose to use this power infrequently.
When watching the GOP presidential debate last week, the only thought going through my mind was which one of these gentlemen would be least likely to turn the United States into a theocratic banana republic. One promising (*sarcasm*) alternative was Texas Republican Ron Paul, whom I suspect would transfrom the U.S. into a right-wing anarchist state that would be a dream come true for the milita movement (and don't let me fool, you, Paul actually says a lot of things that I agree with, but I still don't trust the man given his pandering to the survivalist/supremacist movement and dissemination of New World Order conspiracies).
We have a media - attacked for its "liberal" bias - which helped the administration wage a psy-ops war on the American public in order to wage an illegal war (illegal on two counts: 1.fraud of Congress 2. violation of the U.N. Charter) which continues to promote the prevailing "Versailles" power structure of Washington and continues to head down the road to Foxification ... with the owner of the GOP's chief propaganda arm Fox News now set to purchase the Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.
We have a press culture where pointing out facts when facts come down on the side of an issue is considered being ideological and partisan (see here and here); and that "normal, nonideological journalism" consists in "fair and balanced" reporting from organizations created to subtly promote a Republican agenda. We have a press culture accused of a "liberal" bias which continues to weave and internalize narratives that continue to shift American public discourse further to "the right" (I hate the right/left dichotomy but have found writing about such issues without using them is nigh impossible.)
On Nov. 2, 1787 "Cincinnatus" (that's pen name an allusion to this Roman figure) wrote that "It's an easy step from restraining the press to making it place the worst actions of government in so favorable a light that we may groan under tyranny and oppression without knowing from whence it comes."
That may be true, but I think that we're not getting much groaning from the public in the first place. I think that if the war in Iraq had gone well, we'd still have a country controlled by one party rule. Even now, where is the fiery defense of democracy from the Democrats? Sure, they are working to hold the administration to account and overturn some of its worse abuses, but they have been lame and timid this entire presidency ... and considering the grave abuses that have taken place, there should be national uproar. There should be full investigations. And finally, there should be impeachment.
More than placing the government activity in a favorable light, the problem is that the press doesn't place it in light at all. I believe we are seeing what Aldous Huxley recognized back in the 50s:
In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not forsee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies - the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.So our nation might not know the extent of which our liberties have eroded under this administration, and this nation certainly is not very well informed about what is going on in the world outside the United States, but we do know that Paris Hilton is going to jail, and that David Hasselhoff and Alec Baldwin might not be the best fathers. And we sure are broken up about the tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith ... so much so that we've already got a tele-movie of her life in production ... and nevermind that having turned Smith's freakshow life into national entertainment might, just might, have had something to do with driving her to her tragic end. It sure was entertaining. And the Warriors beat the Mavs! Can you believe that?
In Fascism: Past, Present, and Future by Walter Laquer, the author notes that the majority of people in Nazi Germany "fell in love, went to concerts, museums, and exhibitions; went on hiking tours in the mountains; swam in the sea; got drunk; celebrated holidays and anniversaries; and watched soccer matches and other sports - active participation in sports was greater than ever before: The number of tickets sold in 1942 was four times that in 1933." Laquer went on to state that "the less interest a person had in public affairs and the more he she ignored politics, the freer that person could feel in his or her private world."
I think that's sort of what is happening here. Americans are lost in their private world while the Washington power establishment is busy heading the nation over a cliff. We're not of course, living in a fascist state. But we are living in a time when our liberties are being washed away by an encroaching tide of anti-democratic forces like a castle made of sand, and we are doing little to protest it. And what's even worse, there is a significant portion of our population (at least 30%) that seems to crave to live in an authoritarian oligarchy or worse. And in the coming years, the conditions that incline people to submit to authority are only going to increase as the consequences of the Bush administration's ruinous two terms start to come to fruition (more on that at a later point.)
As Lewis Lapham observed cynically in his essay "On Message" where he lampoons the dissappearance of democracy from America's character
Eco published his essay [on fascism] ten years ago, when it wasn't as easy as it has since become to see the hallmarks of fascist sentiment in the character of an American government. Roosevelt probably wouldn't have been surprised. He'd encountered enough opposition to both the New Deal and to his belief in such a thing as a United Nations to judge the force of America's racist passions and the ferocity of its anti‑intellectual prejudice. As he may have guessed, so it happened. The American democracy won the battles for Normandy and Iwo Jima, but the victories abroad didn't stem the retreat of democracy at home, after 1968 no longer moving "forward as a living force, seeking day and night to better the lot" of its own citizens, and now that sixty years have passed since the bomb fell on Hiroshima, it doesn't take much talent for reading a cashier's scale at Wal-Mart to know that it is fascism, not democracy, that won the heart and mind of America's "Greatest Generation," added to its weight and strength on America's shining seas and fruited plains.
A few sorehead liberal intellectuals continue to bemoan the fact, write books about the good old days when everybody was in charge of reading his or her own mail. I hear their message and feel their pain, share their feelings of regret, also wish that Cole Porter was still writing songs, that Jean Harlow and Robert Mitchum hadn't quit making movies. But what's gone is gone, and it serves nobody's purpose to deplore the fact that we're not still riding in a coach to Philadelphia with Thomas Jefferson. The attitude is cowardly and French, symptomatic of effete aesthetes who refuse to change with the times.
As set forth in Eco's list, the fascist terms of political endearment are refreshingly straightforward and mercifully simple, many of them already accepted and understood by a gratifyingly large number of our most forward‑thinking fellow citizens, multitasking and safe with Jesus. It does no good to ask the weakling's pointless question, "Is America a fascist state?" We must ask instead, in a major rather than a minor key, "Can we make America the best damned fascist state the world has ever seen," an authoritarian paradise deserving the admiration of the international capital markets, worthy of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"? I wish to be the first to say we can. We're Americans; we have the money and the know‑how to succeed where Hitlerfailed, and history has favored us with advantages not given to the early pioneers.