Archive for January, 2017

“We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”—Ayn Rand

The torch has been passed to a new president.

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have been inherited by Donald Trump.

Whatever kind of president Trump chooses to be, he now has the power to completely alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.

He has this power because every successive occupant of the Oval Office has been allowed to expand the reach and power of the presidency through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements that can be activated by any sitting president.

Those of us who saw this eventuality coming have been warning for years about the growing danger of the Executive Branch with its presidential toolbox of terror that could be used—and abused—by future presidents.

The groundwork, we warned, was being laid for a new kind of government where it won’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office at the time—thinks. And if he or she thinks you’re a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you’ll be locked up with no access to the protections our Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.

Our warnings went largely unheeded.

First, we sounded the alarm over George W. Bush’s attempts to gut the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, carry out warrantless surveillance on Americans, and generally undermine the Fourth Amendment, but the Republicans didn’t want to listen because Bush was a Republican.

Then we sounded the alarm over Barack Obama’s prosecution of whistleblowers, targeted drone killings, assassinations of American citizens, mass surveillance, and militarization of the police, but the Democrats didn’t want to listen because Obama was a Democrat and he talked a really good game.

It well may be that by the time Americans­—Republicans and Democrats alike—stop playing partisan games and start putting some safeguards in place, it will be too late.

Already, Donald Trump has indicated that he will pick up where his predecessors left off: he will continue to wage war, he will continue to federalize the police, and he will operate as if the Constitution does not apply to him.

Still, as tempting as it may be, don’t blame Donald Trump for what is to come.

If this nation eventually locks down… If Americans are rounded up and detained based on the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their political views… If law-and-order takes precedence over constitutional principles…

If martial law is eventually declared… If we find that there really is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the surveillance state’s prying eyes and ears… And if our constitutional republic finally plunges headlong over the cliff and leaves us in the iron grip of totalitarianism…

Please, resist the urge to lay all the blame at Trump’s feet.

After all, President Trump didn’t create the police state.

He merely inherited it.

Frankly, there’s more than enough blame to go around.

So blame Obama. Blame Bush. Blame Bill Clinton.

Blame the Republicans and Democrats who justified every power grab, every expansion of presidential powers, and every attack on the Constitution as long as it was a member of their own party leading the charge.

Blame Congress for being a weak, inept body that spends more time running for office and pandering to the interests of the monied elite than representing the citizenry.

Blame the courts for caring more about order than justice, and for failing to hold government officials accountable to the rule of law.

Blame Corporate America for taking control of the government and calling the shots behind the scenes.

Most of all, blame the American people for not having objected louder, sooner and more vehemently when Barack Obama, George W. Bush and their predecessors laid the groundwork for this state of tyranny.

But wait, you say.

Americans are mobilizing. They are engaged. They are actively expressing their discontent with the government. They are demanding change. They are marching in the streets, picketing, protesting and engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

This is a good development, right? Isn’t this what we’ve been calling on Americans to do for so long: stand up and push back and say “enough is enough”?

Perhaps you’re right.

Perhaps Americans have finally had enough. At least, some Americans have finally had enough.

That is to say, some Americans have finally had enough of certain government practices that are illegal, immoral and inhumane.

Although, to be quite fair, it might be more accurate to state that some Americans have finally had enough of certain government practices that are illegal, immoral and inhumane provided that the ruling political party responsible for those actions is not their own.

Yes, that sounds about right. Except that it’s all wrong.

We still haven’t learned a thing.

Imagine: after more than eight years in which Americans remained largely silent while the United States military (directed by the Obama Administration) bombed parts of the Middle East to smithereens—dropping nearly three bombs an hour, and left a trail of innocent civilian deaths in its wake—suddenly, Americans are outraged by programs introduced by the Trump Administration that could discriminate against Muslim refugees. Never mind that we’ve been killing those same refugees for close to a decade.

Certainly, there was little outcry when the U.S. military under Obama carried out an air strike against a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Doctors, patients—including children—and staff members were killed or wounded. There were also no protests when the Obama Administration targeted Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen in Yemen, for assassination by drone strike. The man was killed without ever having been charged with a crime. Two weeks later, Obama—the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize—authorized another drone strike that killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also an American citizen.

Most recently, picking up where President Obama left off, President Trump personally authorized a commando raid on a compound in Yemen suspected of harboring Al Qaeda officials. Among those killed were “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13,” including Nora, the 8-year-old sister of the teenager killed by Obama years before.

Likewise, while most Americans failed to show much opposition to the government’s disregard for Americans’ bodily integrity, shrugging their collective shoulders dismissively over reports of their fellow citizens being subjected Americans to roadside strip searches, virtual strip searches, cavity searches and other equally denigrating acts, hundreds of thousands mobilized to protest policies that could be advanced by the Trump administration that might demean or deny equal rights to individuals based on their gender or orientation or take away their reproductive planning choices. Similarly, while tens of thousands have gathered annually for a March for Life to oppose abortion, many of those same marchers seem to have no qualms about the government’s practice of shooting unarmed citizens and executing innocent ones.

This begs the question: what are Americans really protesting? Is it politics or principle?

Or is it just Trump?

For instance, in the midst of the uproar over Trump’s appointment of Steven Bannon to the National Security Council, his detractors have accused Bannon of being a propagandist  nationalist, and a white supremacist. Yet not one objection has been raised about the fact that the National Security Council authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process, a practice frequently employed by Obama.

The message coming across loud and clear: it’s fine for the government to carry out secret, targeted assassinations of American citizens without due process as long as the individuals advising the president aren’t Neo-Nazis.

Of course, this national hypocrisy goes both ways.

Conveniently, many of the same individuals who raised concerns over Obama’s “lawless” use of executive orders to sidestep Congress have defended Trump’s executive orders as “taking us back to the Constitution.” And those who sounded the alarm over the dangers of the American police state have gone curiously silent in the face of Trump’s pledge to put an end to “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”

We can’t have it both ways.

As long as we continue to put our politics ahead of our principles—moral, legal and constitutional—“we the people” will lose.

And you know who will keep winning by playing on our prejudices, capitalizing on our fears, deepening our distrust of our fellow citizens, and dividing us into polarized, warring camps incapable of finding consensus on the one true menace that is an immediate threat to all of our freedoms? The U.S. government.

In her essay on “The Nature of Government,” Ayn Rand explains that the only “proper” purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights. She continues: “The source of the government’s authority is ‘the consent of the governed.’ This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose.”

When we lose sight of this true purpose of government—to protect our rights—and fail to keep the government in its place as our servant, we allow the government to overstep its bounds and become a tyrant that rules by brute force.

As Rand explains:

Instead of being a protector of man’s rights, the government is becoming their most dangerous violator; instead of guarding freedom, the government is establishing slavery; instead of protecting men from the initiators of physical force, the government is initiating physical force and coercion in any manner and issue it pleases; instead of serving as the instrument of objectivity in human relationships, the government is creating a deadly, subterranean reign of uncertainty and fear, by means of nonobjective laws whose interpretation is left to the arbitrary decisions of random bureaucrats; instead of protecting men from injury by whim, the government is arrogating to itself the power of unlimited whim—so that we are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.

Rule by brute force.

That’s about as good a description as you’ll find for the sorry state of our republic.

SWAT teams crashing through doors. Militarized police shooting unarmed citizens. Traffic cops tasering old men and pregnant women for not complying fast enough with an order. Resource officers shackling children for acting like children. Citizens being jailed for growing vegetable gardens in their front yards and holding prayer services in their backyards. Drivers having their cash seized under the pretext that they might have done something wrong.

The list of abuses being perpetrated against the American people by their government is growing rapidly.

We are approaching critical mass.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it may already be too late to save our republic. We have passed the point of easy fixes. When the government and its agents no longer respect the rule of law—the Constitution—or believe that it applies to them, then the very contract on which this relationship is based becomes invalid.

So what is the answer?

Look to the past if you want to understand the future.

Too often, we look to the past to understand how tyrants come to power: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; Hitler’s transformation of Germany into a Nazi state; the witch hunt tactics of the McCarthy Era.

Yet the past—especially our own American history—also teaches us valuable lessons about the quest for freedom. Here’s Rand again:

A free society—like any other human product—cannot be achieved by random means, by mere wishing or by the leaders’ “good intentions.” A complex legal system, based on objectively valid principles, is required to make a society free and to keep it free-a system that does not depend on the motives, the moral character or the intentions of any given official, a system that leaves no opportunity, no legal loophole for the development of tyranny. The American system of checks and balances was just such an achievement. And although certain contradictions in the Constitution did leave a loophole for the growth of statism, the incomparable achievement was the concept of a constitution as a means of limiting and restricting the power of the government. Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals—that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government—that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.

You want to save America? Then stop thinking like Republicans and Democrats and start acting like Americans.

The only thing that will save us now is a concerted, collective commitment to the Constitution’s principles of limited government, a system of checks and balances, and a recognition that they—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the police, the technocrats and plutocrats and bureaucrats—work for us.

WC: 2381

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

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“Most Germans, so far as I could see, did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their splendid culture was being destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work were being regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation … On the whole, people did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous tyranny. On the contrary, they appeared to support it with genuine enthusiasm.” ― William L. Shirer, The Nightmare Years 1930-40

For too long now, the American people have allowed themselves to be persuaded that the government’s job is to take care of us: to feed us, clothe us, house us, educate us, raise our children, heal our infirmities, manage our finances, protect us from our enemies, guard us against all dangers (real and imaginary), and provide for our every need.

Where Americans go wrong is in failing to recognize that there’s always a catch to such devil’s bargains purportedly carried out for the good of all society.

You want free education for your children? The government can take care of it. In exchange for free public schools, however, your children will be molded and indoctrinated into compliant, obedient citizens who reflect the government’s values rather than your own.

You want free health care? The government can take care of that, too. In exchange, your medical decisions—how you live and die—will ultimately be determined by corporations to whom you are little more than a line item impacting their profit and loss margins.

You want to be insulated from all things that might cause offense? That’s not a problem for the government. Its thought police will use hate crime laws to criminalize speech, thought and actions that may be politically incorrect.

You want a guarantee of safety? Sure, but your local police will also have to be militarized and trained in battlefield tactics, your communities and communications will be subjected to round-the-clock surveillance, and you—the citizenry—will be treated as suspects and enemy combatants.

You want to root out domestic extremism and terrorism? That’s just fine. But in the process of identifying and targeting terrorists, the government will have the power to label anyone who disagrees with its policies as an extremist/terrorist and subject them to indefinite detentions.

Are you starting to get the picture?

This is the terrible price—the loss of our freedoms and the enslavement of future generations—that must eventually be paid for the goods and services rendered by a government whose priorities are the acquisition of ever-more power, control and money.

As the old adage warns: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

Unfortunately, we’ve been on the receiving end of the government’s taxpayer-funded handouts—and its deceptively well-intended dictates—for so long that many Americans have forgotten what it is to think for themselves, provide for themselves, and govern themselves.

Indeed, this age of entitlement is a far cry from the kind of constitutional republic America’s founders envisioned.

Gone is the proud, independent-minded, pioneering spirit of early Americans like my parents who rejected what they called “hand-outs,” worked hard for whatever they had, protected their homes and families, and believed the government’s job was to govern based on the consent of the governed and not dictate.

Contrast those fiercely-independent, early Americans who took to heart James Madison’s admonition to distrust all those in power with today’s citizens who not only expect the government to care for their needs but have blindly entrusted the government with vast, growing powers.

By giving the government the green light to act in loco parentis and treat the citizenry as children in need of caretakers, “we the people” have allowed ourselves to be demoted and infantilized, reduced from knowledgeable, independent-minded, capable masters of a republic to wayward, undisciplined, dependent, vulnerable children incapable of caring for ourselves.

It’s time to grow up.

Incredibly, despite the fact that we allowed the government to become all-knowing, all-powerful and all-mighty in the mistaken belief that it would make our lives safer, easier and more affluent, we’re still shocked when that power and might is used against us.

It’s time to stop being so gullible and so trusting.

Even when the headlines blare out the news about SWAT team raids gone awry, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside cavity searches of young women, children being shackled and tasered, and Americans jailed for profit in private prisons, we still somehow maintain our state of denial until suddenly we’re the ones in the firing line being treated like suspects and criminals, having our skulls cracked, our doors smashed, our pets shot, our children terrorized, and our loved ones jailed for non-offenses.

It’s time to remove those rose-colored, partisan-tinted glasses and wake up to the fact that our nation of sheep has given rise to a government of wolves.

Even though, deep down, we have suspected that the system is run by an elite who views the citizenry as little more than cattle destined for the slaughterhouse, we’re still shocked to find ourselves treated like slaves and economic units.

How could we not have seen it coming?

How long has the writing been on the wall?

How could we have been so blind, deaf and dumb to the warnings all around us?

Unfortunately, it happens this way in every age, in every place where freedom falls and tyranny flourishes.

As Aldous Huxley recognized in his foreword to Brave New World: “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.”

This is how the seeds of authoritarianism are planted and watered and cultivated into aggressive, invasive growths that can quickly dominate an environment.

Remember, tyrants don’t always come to power in a show of force. Often, they sweet-talk their way to absolute power, buoyed along by a wave of populist demand for someone to save the country from economic, military and political crises.

As historian Jim Powell writes for Forbes:

Hitler didn’t take over a small government with an effective separation of enumerated, delegated and limited powers.  He took over a large welfare state… He dealt with unemployment by introducing forced labor for both men and women.  Government  control of the economy made it virtually impossible for anyone to seriously threaten his regime. Hitler added secret police, death camps and another war machine. The German educational system, which had inspired so many American progressives, played a major role in all this… the government gained complete control of schools and universities, and their top priority was teaching obedience. The professorial elite promoted collectivism.  The highest calling was working for the government.

It can easily happen here.

In fact, the early signs of this downshift are all around us if you only know where to look.

You can smell it in the air: there’s danger coming. A recent New Yorker article reveals the lengths some of the wealthiest in America are going to in order to survive an apocalyptic breakdown of society: isolated refuges, bunkers, gas masks, generators, solar panels, ammunition, etc.

You can see it in the changes taking place all around you: the government is preparing for something ominous. For example, the Pentagon is using a dystopian training video to prepare special forces to deal with the urban challenges of megacities: criminal networks, illicit economies, decentralized syndicates of crime, substandard infrastructure, religious and ethnic tensions, impoverishment, economic inequality, protesters, slums, open landfills, over-burdened sewers, and a “growing mass of unemployed.”

You can hear it in the news coming out of the independent media: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches have already weakened our long-established bulwarks against tyranny by their constant undermining of the Constitution and the president’s amassing of imperial power.

We are no longer a constitutional republic.

The American dream is turning into a living nightmare.

We are fast moving towards full-blown fascism.

So what’s the answer?

The powers that be can—and will—continue to distract us with electronic gadgets and entertainment news, they can seduce us with promises they have no intention of keeping, they can drug us with politics packaged to resemble religion, and they can use the schools to breed a populace of compliant slaves.

In the end, however, the choice of whether to keep drinking the Kool-Aid or reject the false prophets and promises of the police state—a.k.a. fascism or totalitarianism or tyranny—rests with “we the people.”

After all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it was “we the people” who struck this devil’s bargain in the first place, trading our liberties for dubious promises of prosperity, security and advancement.

Battlefield_Cover_300Through our inaction, our apathy and our unwillingness to do the hard work of holding the government accountable, perhaps “we the people” have been the greatest menace to freedom.

Perhaps all of this is our fault.

My parents’ advice was that if you made a mess, you had to clean it up.

No one else is going to clean this mess up for us, certainly not anyone on the government’s payroll.

As Jim Powell rightly concludes: “Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly.”

So let’s stop buying into the fairytale that politicians are saviors, capable of fixing what’s wrong with our communities and our lives.

Let’s stop expecting the government to solve all our problems.

Stop playing the partisan game that paints anyone not of your political persuasion as evil.

Stop defending the insanity of an immoral system of government that sees nothing wrong with bombing innocent civilians, jailing innocent citizens, and treating human beings as little more than cattle.

Stop validating a system of laws, tactics and policies that are illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

While you’re at it, start taking responsibility for your lives—and your freedoms—again. And maybe, just maybe, there will be some hope for tomorrow.

WC: 1731

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque. No one needs to be reminded that our world is now marred by many prison-cultures…. it makes little difference if our wardens are inspired by right- or left-wing ideologies. The gates of the prison are equally impenetrable, surveillance equally rigorous, icon-worship pervasive…. Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours…. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”— Professor Neil Postman

Donald Trump no longer needs to launch Trump TV.

He’s already the star of his own political reality show.

Americans have a voracious appetite for TV entertainment, and the Trump reality show—guest starring outraged Democrats with a newly awakened conscience for immigrants and the poor, power-hungry Republicans eager to take advantage of their return to power, and a hodgepodge of other special interest groups with dubious motives—feeds that appetite for titillating, soap opera drama.

After all, who needs the insults, narcissism and power plays that are hallmarks of reality shows such as Celebrity Apprentice or Keeping Up with the Kardashians when you can have all that and more delivered up by the likes of Donald Trump and his cohorts?

Yet as John Lennon reminds us, “nothing is real,” especially not in the world of politics.

Much like the fabricated universe in Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is the basis for an elaborately staged television show aimed at selling products and procuring ratings, the political scene in the United States has devolved over the years into a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize and control a population.

Indeed, Donald Trump may be the smartest move yet by the powers-that-be to keep the citizenry divided and at each other’s throats, because as long as we’re busy fighting each other, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny in any form.

This is the magic of the reality TV programming that passes for politics today.

It allows us to be distracted, entertained, occasionally a little bit outraged but overall largely uninvolved, content to remain in the viewer’s seat.

The more that is beamed at us, the more inclined we are to settle back in our comfy recliners and become passive viewers rather than active participants as unsettling, frightening events unfold.

Reality and fiction merge as everything around us becomes entertainment fodder.

We don’t even have to change the channel when the subject matter becomes too monotonous. That’s taken care of for us by the programmers (the corporate media).

For instance, before we could get too worked up over government surveillance, the programmers changed the channels on us and switched us over to breaking news about militarized police. Before our outrage could be transformed into action over police misconduct, they changed the channel once again to reports of ISIS beheadings and terrorist shootings. Before we had a chance to challenge what was staged or real, the programming switched to the 2016 presidential election.

“Living is easy with eyes closed,” says Lennon, and that’s exactly what reality TV that masquerades as American politics programs the citizenry to do: navigate the world with their eyes shut.

As long as we’re viewers, we’ll never be doers.

Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit that it’s all reality TV—the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.

“We the people” are watching a lot of TV.

On average, Americans spend five hours a day watching television. By the time we reach age 65, we’re watching more than 50 hours of television a week, and that number increases as we get older. And reality TV programming consistently captures the largest percentage of TV watchers every season by an almost 2-1 ratio.

This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day, whether it’s fake news peddled by government agencies or foreign entities.

Those who watch reality shows tend to view what they see as the “norm.” Thus, those who watch shows characterized by lying, aggression and meanness not only come to see such behavior as acceptable and entertaining but also mimic the medium.

This holds true whether the reality programming is about the antics of celebrities in the White House, in the board room, or in the bedroom.

It’s a phenomenon called “humilitainment.”

A term coined by media scholars Brad Waite and Sara Booker, “humilitainment” refers to the tendency for viewers to take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation, suffering and pain.

Humilitainment” largely explains not only why American TV watchers are so fixated on reality TV programming but how American citizens, largely insulated from what is really happening in the world around them by layers of technology, entertainment, and other distractions, are being programmed to accept the brutality, surveillance and dehumanizing treatment of the American police state as things happening to other people.

The ramifications for the future of civic engagement, political discourse and self-government are incredibly depressing and demoralizing.

This not only explains how a candidate like Donald Trump with a reputation for being rude, egotistical and narcissistic could get elected, but it also says a lot about how a politician like Barack Obama—whose tenure in the White House was characterized by drone killings, a weakening of the Constitution at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties, and an expansion of the police state—could be hailed as “one of the greatest presidents of all times.”

This is what happens when an entire nation—bombarded by reality TV programming, government propaganda and entertainment news—becomes systematically desensitized and acclimated to the trappings of a government that operates by fiat and speaks in a language of force.

Battlefield_Cover_300Ultimately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality shows, the entertainment news, the surveillance society, the militarized police, and the political spectacles have one common objective: to keep us divided, distracted, imprisoned, and incapable of taking an active role in the business of self-government.

If “we the people” feel powerless and apathetic, it is only because we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that the duties of citizenship begin and end at the ballot box.

Marching and protests have certainly been used with great success by past movements to foment real change, but if those marches and protests are merely outpourings of discontent because a particular politician won or lost with no solid plan of action or follow-through, then what’s the point?

Martin Luther King Jr. understood that politics could never be the answer to what ailed the country. That’s why he spearheaded a movement of mass-action strategy that employed boycotts, sit-ins and marches. Yet King didn’t march against a particular politician or merely to express discontent. He marched against injustice, government corruption, war, and inequality, and he leveraged discontent with the status quo into an activist movement that transformed the face of America.

When all is said and done, it won’t matter who you voted for in the presidential election. What will matter is where you stand in the face of the injustices that continue to ravage our nation: the endless wars, the police shootings, the overcriminalization, the corruption, the graft, the roadside strip searches, the private prisons, the surveillance state, etc.

Will you tune out the reality TV show and join with your fellow citizens to push back against the real menace of the police state, or will you merely sit back and lose yourself in the political programming aimed at keeping you imprisoned in the police state?

WC: 1346

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

“This light of history is pitiless; it has a strange and divine quality that, luminous as it is, and precisely because it is luminous, often casts a shadow just where we saw a radiance; out of the same man it makes two different phantoms, and the one attacks and punishes the other, the darkness of the despot struggles with the splendor of the captain. Hence a truer measure in the final judgment of the nations. Babylon violated diminishes Alexander; Rome enslaved diminishes Caesar; massacred Jerusalem diminishes Titus. Tyranny follows the tyrant. Woe to the man who leaves behind a shadow that bears his form.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Let’s talk about President Obama’s legacy, shall we?

This was a candidate who was ushered into office promising hope and change, pledging to put an end to the endless wars that were bankrupting the country (he was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of his efforts to bring about world peace), and vowing to put an end of the corporate revolving door that had turned our republic into an oligarchy.

After eight years in office, Barack Obama leaves our nation with a weakened Constitution that has been dealt one crippling blow after another by court rulings and government overreach, with more militarized police empowered to shoot first and ask questions later, with more SWAT team raids, with more government corruption, with more debt than ever before ($19 trillion and rising), with more racial tensions bubbling over into confrontations, with even greater surveillance intruding into the privacy of the citizenry, with less tolerance for free speech and thought, with taxpayers groaning under the weight of even more taxes disguised as fines and fees, with a more “imperial” president empowered to act unilaterally through the use of signing statements and executive orders, with a greater risk of blowback from military occupations, drone strikes and endless wars abroad, and with a citizenry more broken and oppressed than ever.

In other words, Obama leaves our nation worse off than when he took office.

You won’t hear any of this from Obama, who believes he would have been re-elected had he been permitted to run for a third term. Nor will you hear it from the celebrities who are quick to sing Obama’s praises, while likening Donald Trump to Hitler. And you certainly won’t hear it from those who are staging sit-ins, marches and acts of civil disobedience to protest Trump’s election, while having failed to voice even a whisper of protest over Obama’s long list of civil liberties abuses.

Yet the reality we must contend with is that the world is a far more dangerous place today than it was eight years ago, and Obama must shoulder some of the blame for that. As President Harry S. Truman recognized, “The buck stops here.”

How did we come to this?

How did a politician who showed such potential and managed to ignite such positive feelings among the citizenry, young and old alike, go from being a poster child for hope and change to being the smiling face of a government that is blind, deaf and dumb to the needs of its citizens?

Let me answer my own question in a roundabout way by quoting something Meryl Streep said recently in her recent Golden Globe acceptance speech.

Ostensibly taking aim at Trump for imitating a disabled reporter, Streep declared: “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Streep is right in one sense.

We all lose when the powerful inflict violence, humiliation, disrespect on others.

However, where Streep goes wrong is in failing to recognize that “we the people” have been on the losing end of this relationship long before Trump’s name was even being batted about as a possible candidate for the White House.

Indeed, the agents of the Obama administration—many of whom belong to that permanent government bureaucracy that is unaltered by elections and flows in a continuous line from one president to another—have been consistently and persistently inflicting violence, humiliation and disrespect on the citizenry for the past eight years.

Every time a SWAT team funded by government grants crashes through a door, that’s an infliction of violence. Every drone strike that kills innocent civilians is inflicting violence on the less powerful. Every roadside stop that ends with an unwarranted strip search is inflicting humiliation on the less powerful. Every law that criminalizes the speech or activities of those whose views may not jibe with the mainstream is tantamount to government-sanctioned bullying.

So for those lamenting the perils of a Trump presidency, who have been quick to blame racism, sexism and even the Russians for Trump’s electoral victory, you might want to consider the old Native American proverb that says “every time you point a finger in scorn—there are three remaining fingers pointing right back at you.”

As civil rights activist Cornel West concluded, “The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.”

West goes on to document the many missteps that contributed to Obama’s failed legacy: his allegiance to Wall Street, the drone strikes that have killed innocent civilians, the demonization of whistleblowers, the killing of U.S. citizens without due process, and his refusal to hold police accountable for excessive force and civil rights violations among others.

As West writes for The Guardian:

“[T]he mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow.”Battlefield_Cover_300

Let me also say that this is not only an indictment of all that Obama has failed to do in the past eight years. It is also an indictment of those administrations prior to Obama, Democrat and Republican alike, which have contributed to our present sorry state of affairs. And it is a warning to Trump as he begins to carve out a path for his own administration.

Every time I write one of these diatribes about the government, I’m always asked “what can I do to push back against the government?”

My answer, which I flesh out in greater detail in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is always the same: When all is said and done, politicians are only as effective, trustworthy and accountable as they are made to be. And they are only made to be effective, trustworthy and accountable when the citizenry stays engaged, informed and active in the workings of government.

One of the best models I know for a citizen who took the duties of citizenship to heart every moment of the day was my good friend, mentor and hero Nat Hentoff—one of the nation’s most respected, controversial and uncompromising writers and a lifelong champion of the First Amendment—who passed away on Saturday, January 7, 2017, at the age of 91.

Nat was a radical in the best sense of the word, a feisty, fiercely loyal, inveterate freedom fighter and warrior journalist with a deep-seated intolerance of injustice and a love of America that weathered the best and worst this nation has had to offer.

Nat didn’t live to see the last days of Obama’s reign, but he saw enough to describe the nation’s 44th president as “possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had.” A few years back, I asked Nat how he maintains his optimism in the face of the constant barrage of discouraging news about government corruption, civil liberties abuses, war, etc.

I’ll end with Nat’s answer as he inscribed it in the foreword to my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State:

Government officials like to claim that everything they are doing is for security, to keep America safe in the so-called war against terrorism. What they are really effectuating is a weakening of why we are Americans. A lot of Americans today have a very limited idea as to why they are Americans, let alone why we have a First Amendment or a Bill of Rights. People are becoming accustomed or conditioned to what’s going on now with the raping of the Fourth Amendment, for example. Too many Americans appear unconcerned about the loss of fundamental individual liberties—such as due process, the right to confront their government accusers in a courtroom, and the presumption of innocence—that are vital to being an American.  Yet the reason we are vulnerable to being manipulated by the government out of fear is that most of us do not know and understand our liberties and how difficult it was to obtain them and how hard it is to keep them.

I have spent a lot of time studying our Founders and people like Samuel Adams. What Adams and the Sons of Liberty did in Boston was spread the word about the abuses of the British. They had Committees of Correspondence that got the word out to the colonies. We need Committees of Correspondence now. The danger we now face is admittedly greater than any we have had before. If I were to judge what I do and write on the basis of optimism, I would probably go back to writing novels, but I figure you have to do what you feel you have to do and just keep hoping and trying to get people to understand why we are Americans and what we are fighting to preserve.

Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

WC: 1678

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Despite our best efforts, we in the American police state seem to be stuck on repeat, reliving the same set of circumstances over and over and over again: egregious surveillance, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, censorship, retaliatory arrests, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, indefinite detentions, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, etc.

Unfortunately, as a nation we’ve become so desensitized to the government’s acts of violence, so accustomed to reports of government corruption, and so anesthetized to the sights and sounds of Corporate America marching in lockstep with the police state that few seem to pay heed to the warning signs blaring out the message: Danger Ahead.

Remember, the Titanic received at least four warnings from other ships about the presence of icebergs in its path, with the last warning issued an hour before disaster struck. All four warnings were ignored.

Like the Titanic, we’re plowing full steam ahead into a future riddled with hidden and not-so-hidden dangers. We too have been given ample warnings, only to have them drowned out by a carefully choreographed cacophony of political noise, cultural distractions and entertainment news—what the Romans termed “bread and circuses”—aimed at keeping the American people polarized, pacified and easily manipulated.

However, there is still danger ahead. The peril to our republic remains the same.

As long as a permanent, unelected bureaucracy—a.k.a. the shadow government— continues to call the shots in the halls of power and the reach of the police state continues to expand, the crisis has not been averted.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the nefarious government programs we’ll be encountering on our journey through the treacherous waters of 2017.

Mandatory quarantines without due process or informed consent: Under a new rule proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, government agents will be empowered to indefinitely detain any traveler they suspect of posing a medical risk to others without providing an explanation, subject them to medical tests without their consent, and carry out such detentions and quarantines without any kind of due process or judicial review.

Mental health assessments by non-medical personnel: As a result of a nationwide push to train a broad spectrum of so-called gatekeepers such as pastors, teachers, hair stylists, bartenders, police officers and EMTs in mental health first-aid training, more Americans are going to run the risk of being reported by non-medical personnel and detained for having mental health issues.

Tracking chips for citizens: Momentum is building for the government to be able to track citizens, whether through the use of RFID chips embedded in a national ID card or through microscopic chips embedded in one’s skin. In December 2016, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation allowing police to track individuals suffering from some form of mental disability such as Alzheimer’s or autism by way of implanted chips.

Military training to deal with anti-establishment movements in megacities: The future, according to a Pentagon training video, will be militaristic, dystopian and far from friendly to freedom. Indeed, if this government propaganda-piece that is being used to train special forces is to be believed, the only thing that can save the world from outright anarchy—in the eyes of the government, at least—is the military working in conjunction with local police. The video confirms what I’ve been warning about for so long: in the eyes of the U.S. government and its henchmen, the battlefield of the future is the American home front.

Government censorship of anything it classifies as disinformation: This year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which allocates $619 billion for war and military spending, not only allows the military to indefinitely detain American citizens by placing them beyond the reach of the Constitution, but it also directs the State Department to establish a national anti-propaganda center to “counter disinformation and propaganda.” Translation: the government plans to crack down on anyone attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights by exposing government wrongdoing, while persisting in peddling its own brand of fake news.

Threat assessments: Government agents—with the help of automated eyes and ears, a growing arsenal of high-tech software, hardware and techniques, government propaganda urging Americans to turn into spies and snitches, as well as social media and behavior sensing software—are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports aimed at snaring potential enemies of the state. It’s the American police state rolled up into one oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package.

War on cash: The government and its corporate partners are engaged in 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. As economist Steve Forbes concludes, “The real reason for this war on cash—start with the big bills and then work your way down—is an ugly power grab by Big Government. People will have less privacy: Electronic commerce makes it easier for Big Brother to see what we’re doing, thereby making it simpler to bar activities it doesn’t like, such as purchasing salt, sugar, big bottles of soda and Big Macs.”

Expansive surveillance: 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 the NSA or some other entity, will still be listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers who work with the government to monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. In such an environment, we are all suspects to be spied on, searched, scanned, frisked, monitored, tracked and treated as if we’re potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Militarized police: Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield. Now, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation’s police officers into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone extraction software, Stingray devices and so much more.

Police shootings of unarmed citizens: Owing in large part to the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, not a week goes by without more reports of hair-raising incidents by police imbued with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a battlefield approach to the communities in which they serve. Indeed, as a special report by The Washington Post reveals, despite heightened awareness of police misconduct, the number of fatal shootings by officers in 2016 remained virtually unchanged from the year before.

False flags and terrorist attacks: Despite the government’s endless propaganda about the threat of terrorism, statistics show that you are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack. You are 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane. You are 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack. You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack. And you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.

Endless wars to keep America’s military’s empire employed: The military industrial complex that has advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, is the very entity that will continue to profit the most from America’s expanding military empire. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with more than 3.2 million employees. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When you add in military efforts in Pakistan, as well as the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt, that cost rises to $4.4 trillion.

Attempts by the government to identify, target and punish so-called domestic “extremists”: The government’s anti-extremism program will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist. To this end, police will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist before they can become actual threats. This is pre-crime on an ideological scale.

SWAT team raids: More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, kill citizens, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and most often in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

Erosions of private property: Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Overcriminalization: The government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, has resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school.

Strip searches and the denigration of bodily integrity: Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women alike—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops.

Drones: As corporations and government agencies alike prepare for their part in the coming drone invasion—it is expected that at least 30,000 drones will occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry—it won’t be long before American citizens find themselves to be the target of these devices. Drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—will come in all shapes and sizes, from nano-sized drones as small as a grain of sand that can do everything from conducting surveillance to detonating explosive charges, to middle-sized copter drones that can deliver pizzas to massive “hunter/killer” Predator warships that unleash firepower from on high.

Prisons: America’s prisons, housing the largest number of inmates in the world and still growing, have become money-making enterprises for private corporations that manage the prisons in exchange for the states agreeing to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline.

Censorship: First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

Fascism: As a Princeton University survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. We are no longer a representative republic. With Big Business and Big Government having fused into a corporate state, the president and his state counterparts—the governors—have become little more than CEOs of the Corporate State, which day by day is assuming more government control over our lives. Never before have average Americans had so little say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution, put it best when he warned: “Take alarm at the first experiment with liberties.” Anyone with even a casual knowledge about current events knows that the first experiment on our freedoms happened long ago.

Battlefield_Cover_300We are fast moving past the point of no return when it comes to restoring our freedoms. Worse, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we can barely see the old America with its revolutionary principles and value for independence in the rear view mirror. The only reality emerging generations will know is the one constructed for them by the powers-that-be, and you can rest assured that it will not be a reality that favors individuality, liberty or anything or anyone who challenges the status quo.

As a senior advisor to George W. Bush observed, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

In other words, the government has been operating ten steps ahead for quite some time now, and we have yet to catch up, let alone catch our breath as the tides of change swirl around us.

You’d better tighten your seatbelts, folks, because we could be in for a rough ride in 2017.

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Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

PUBLICATION GUIDELINES / REPRINT PERMISSION

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.