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“Every day I ask myself the same question: How can this be happening in America? How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination.”—Philip Roth, novelist

It is easy to be distracted right now by the circus politics that have dominated the news headlines for the past year, but don’t be distracted.

Don’t be fooled, not even a little, no matter how tempting it seems to just take a peek.

We’re being subjected to the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

We are being ruled by a government of scoundrels, spies, thugs, thieves, gangsters, ruffians, rapists, extortionists, bounty hunters, battle-ready warriors and cold-blooded killers who communicate using a language of force and oppression.

Our nation of sheep has, as was foretold, given rise to a government of wolves.

The U.S. government now poses the greatest threat to our freedoms.

More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, even more than the perceived threat posed by any single politician, the U.S. government remains a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us.

This has been true of virtually every occupant of the White House in recent years.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed for the better since Donald Trump ascended to the Oval Office.

Indeed, 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.

As American satirist H.L. Mencken predicted almost a century ago:

“All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

In other words, nothing has changed, folks.

The facts speak for themselves.

We’re being robbed blind by a government of thieves. Americans no longer have any real protection against government agents empowered to seize private property at will. For instance, police agencies under the guise of asset forfeiture laws are taking Americans’ personal property based on little more than a suspicion of criminal activity and keeping it for their own profit and gain. In one case, police seized $53,000 from the manager of a Christian rock band that was touring and raising money for an orphanage in Thailand. Despite finding no evidence of wrongdoing, police kept the money. Homeowners are losing their homes over nonpayment of taxes (for as little as $400 owed) and municipal bills such as water or sewer fees that amount to a fraction of what they have invested in their homes. And then there’s the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been searching train and airline passengers and pocketing their cash, without ever charging them with a crime.

We’re being taken advantage of by a government of scoundrels, idiots and cowards. Mencken calculated that “Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons.” By and large, Americans seem to agree. When you’ve got government representatives who spend a large chunk of their work hours fundraising, being feted by lobbyists, shuffling through a lucrative revolving door between public service and lobbying, and making themselves available to anyone with enough money to secure access to a congressional office, you’re in the clutches of a corrupt oligarchy. Mind you, these same elected officials rarely read the legislation they’re enacting, nor do they seem capable of enacting much legislation that actually helps the plight of the American citizen. More often than not, the legislation lands the citizenry in worse straits.

We’re being locked up by a government of greedy jailers. We have become a carceral state, spending three times more on our prisons than on our schools and imprisoning close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners, despite the fact that crime is at an all-time low and the U.S. makes up only 5% of the world’s population. The rise of overcriminalization and profit-driven private prisons provides even greater incentives for locking up American citizens for such non-violent “crimes” as having an overgrown lawn.  As the Boston Review points out, “America’s contemporary system of policing, courts, imprisonment, and parole … makes money through asset forfeiture, lucrative public contracts from private service providers, and by directly extracting revenue and unpaid labor from populations of color and the poor. In states and municipalities throughout the country, the criminal justice system defrays costs by forcing prisoners and their families to pay for punishment. It also allows private service providers to charge outrageous fees for everyday needs such as telephone calls. As a result people facing even minor criminal charges can easily find themselves trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of debt, criminalization, and incarceration.”

We’re being spied on by a government of Peeping Toms. The government is watching everything you do, reading everything you write, listening to everything you say, and monitoring everything you spend. Omnipresent surveillance is paving the way for government programs that profile citizens, document their behavior and attempt to predict what they might do in the future, whether it’s what they might buy, what politician they might support, or what kinds of crimes they might commit. The impact of this far-reaching surveillance, according to Psychology Today, is “reduced trust, increased conformity, and even diminished civic participation.” As technology analyst Jillian C. York concludes, “Mass surveillance without due process—whether undertaken by the government of Bahrain, Russia, the US, or anywhere in between—threatens to stifle and smother that dissent, leaving in its wake a populace cowed by fear.”

We’re being ravaged by a government of ruffians, rapists and killers. It’s not just the police shootings of unarmed citizens that are worrisome. It’s the SWAT team raids gone wrongmore than 80,000 annually—that are leaving innocent citizens wounded, children terrorized and family pets killed. It’s the roadside strip searches—in some cases, cavity searches of men and women alike carried out in full view of the public—in pursuit of drugs that are never found. It’s the potentially lethal—and unwarranted—use of so-called “nonlethal” weapons such as tasers on children for “mouthing off to a police officer. For trying to run from the principal’s office. For, at the age of 12, getting into a fight with another girl.”

We’re being forced to surrender our freedoms—and those of our children—to a government of extortionists, money launderers and professional pirates. The American people have repeatedly been sold a bill of goods about how the government needs more money, more expansive powers, and more secrecy (secret courts, secret budgets, secret military campaigns, secret surveillance) in order to keep us safe. Under the guise of fighting its wars on terror, drugs and now domestic extremism, the government has spent billions in taxpayer dollars on endless wars that have notended terrorism but merely sown the seeds of blowback, surveillance programs that have caught few terrorists while subjecting all Americans to a surveillance society, and militarized police that have done little to decrease crime while turning communities into warzones. Not surprisingly, the primary ones to benefit from these government exercises in legal money laundering have been the corporations, lobbyists and politicians who inflict them on a trusting public.

We’re being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers: a standing army. As if it weren’t enough that the American military empire stretches around the globe (and continues to leech much-needed resources from the American economy), the U.S. government is creating its own standing army of militarized police and teams of weaponized bureaucrats. These civilian employees are being armed to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment; authorized to make arrests; and trained in military tactics. Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the government’s arsenal, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, and the speed with which the nation could be locked down under martial law depending on the circumstances.

Whatever else it may be—a danger, a menace, a threat—the U.S. government is certainly no friend to freedom.

To our detriment, the criminal class that Mark Twain mockingly referred to as Congress has since expanded to include every government agency that feeds off the carcass of our once-constitutional republic.

The government and its cohorts have conspired to ensure that the only real recourse the American people have to hold the government accountable or express their displeasure with the government is through voting, which is no real recourse at all.

Consider it: the penalties for civil disobedience, whistleblowing and rebellion are severe. If you refuse to pay taxes for government programs you believe to be immoral or illegal, you will go to jail. If you attempt to overthrow the government—or any agency thereof—because you believe it has overstepped its reach, you will go to jail. If you attempt to blow the whistle on government misconduct, you will go to jail. In some circumstances, if you even attempt to approach your elected representative to voice your discontent, you can be arrested and jailed.

You cannot have a republican form of government—nor a democratic one, for that matter—when the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution.

For too long, the American people have obeyed the government’s dictates, no matter now unjust.

We have paid its taxes, penalties and fines, no matter how outrageous. We have tolerated its indignities, insults and abuses, no matter how egregious. We have turned a blind eye to its indiscretions and incompetence, no matter how imprudent. We have held our silence in the face of its lawlessness, licentiousness and corruption, no matter how illicit.

Oh how we have suffered.

How long we will continue to suffer depends on how much we’re willing to give up for the sake of freedom.

It may well be that Professor Morris Berman is correct: perhaps we are entering into the dark ages that signify the final phase of the American Empire. “It seems to me,” writes Berman, “that the people do get the government they deserve, and even beyond that, the government who they are, so to speak. In that regard, we might consider, as an extreme version of this… that Hitler was as much an expression of the German people at that point in time as he was a departure from them.”

For the moment, the American people seem content to sit back and watch the reality TV programming that passes for politics today. It’s the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses, a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize and control a population.

As French philosopher Etienne de La Boétie observed half a millennium ago:

“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books.”

The bait towards slavery. The price of liberty. The instruments of tyranny.

Yes, that sounds about right.

“We the people” have learned only too well how to be slaves. Worse, we have come to enjoy our voluntary servitude, which masquerades as citizenship.

Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we won’t be able to sustain this fiction much longer.

“Things fall apart,” wrote W.B. Yeats in his dark, forbidding poem “The Second Coming.” “The centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… Surely some revelation is at hand.”

Wake up, America, and break free of your chains.

Something wicked this way comes.

WC: 2312

JWW BW CropABOUT 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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“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”― Frank Herbert

Power corrupts.

Worse, as 19th-century historian Lord Acton concluded, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a politician, an entertainment mogul, a corporate CEO or a police officer: give any one person (or government agency) too much power and allow him or her or it to believe that they are entitled, untouchable and will not be held accountable for their actions, and those powers will eventually be abused.

We’re seeing this dynamic play out every day in communities across America.

A cop shoots an unarmed citizen for no credible reason and gets away with it. A president employs executive orders to sidestep the Constitution and gets away with it. A government agency spies on its citizens’ communications and gets away with it. An entertainment mogul sexually harasses aspiring actresses and gets away with it. The U.S. military bombs a civilian hospital and a school and gets away with it.

Abuse of power—and the ambition-fueled hypocrisy and deliberate disregard for misconduct that make those abuses possible—works the same whether you’re talking about sexual harassment, government corruption, or the rule of law.

screen-shot-2015-05-28-at-3-00-10-pmFor instance, 20 years ago, I took up a sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of a young woman—a state employee—who claimed that her boss, a politically powerful man, had arranged for her to meet him in a hotel room, where he then allegedly dropped his pants, propositioned her and invited her to perform oral sex on him.

Despite the fact that this man had a well-known reputation for womanizing and this woman was merely one in a long line of women who had accused the man of groping, propositioning, and pressuring them for sexual favors in the workplace, she was denounced as white trash and subjected to a massive smear campaign by the man’s wife, friends and colleagues (including the leading women’s rights organizations of the day), while he was given lucrative book deals and paid lavish sums for speaking engagements.

William Jefferson Clinton eventually agreed to settle the case and pay Paula Jones $850,000.

Here we are 20 years later and not much has changed.

We’re still shocked by sexual harassment in the workplace, the victims of these sexual predators are still being harassed and smeared, and those who stand to gain the most by overlooking wrongdoing (all across the political spectrum) are still turning a blind eye to misconduct when it’s politically expedient to do so.

This time, it’s Hollywood producer Harvey Weinsteinlongtime Clinton associate and a powerhouse when it comes to raising money for Democrats—who is being accused of decades of sexual assaults, aggressively sexual overtures and harassment.

I won’t go into the nauseating details here. You can read them for yourself at the New York Times and the New Yorker.

Suffice it to say that it’s the same old story all over again: man rises to power, man abuses power abominably, man intimidates and threatens anyone who challenges him with retaliation or worse, and man gets away with it because of a culture of compliance in which no one speaks up because they don’t want to lose their job or their money or their place among the elite.

From what I’ve read, this was Hollywood’s worst-kept secret.

In other words, everyone who was anyone knew about it. They were either complicit in allowing the abuses to take place, turning a blind eye to them, or helping to cover them up.

It’s not just happening in Hollywood, however.

And it’s not just sexual predators that we have to worry about.

harvey-weinsteinFor every Harvey Weinstein (or Roger Ailes or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump) who eventually gets called out for his sexual misbehavior, there are hundreds—thousands—of others in the American police state who are getting away with murder—in many cases, literally—simply because they can.

The cop who shoots the unarmed citizen first and asks questions later might get put on paid leave for a while or take a job with another police department, but that’s just a slap on the wrist. The shootings and SWAT team raids and excessive use of force will continue, because the police unions and the politicians and the courts won’t do a thing to stop it. Case in point: The Justice Department will no longer attempt to police the police when it comes to official misconduct. Instead, it plans to give police agencies more money and authority to “fight” crime.

The war hawks who are making a profit by waging endless wars abroad, killing innocent civilians in hospitals and schools, and turning the American homeland into a domestic battlefield will continue to do so because neither the president nor the politicians will dare to challenge the military industrial complex. Case in point: Rather than scaling back on America’s endless wars, President Trump—like his predecessors—has continued to expand America’s military empire and its attempts to police the globe.

The National Security Agency that carries out warrantless surveillance on Americans’ internet and phone communications will continue to do so, because the government doesn’t want to relinquish any of its ill-gotten powers. Case in point: The USA Liberty Act, proposed as a way to “fix” all that’s wrong with domestic surveillance, will instead legitimize the government’s snooping powers.

Unless something changes in the way we deal with these ongoing, egregious abuses of power, the predators of the police state will continue to wreak havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives.

Police officers will continue to shoot and kill unarmed citizens. Government agents—including local police—will continue to dress and act like soldiers on a battlefield.

Bloated government agencies will continue to fleece taxpayers while eroding our liberties. Government technicians will continue to spy on our emails and phone calls. Government contractors will continue to make a killing by waging endless wars abroad.

And powerful men (and women) will continue to abuse the powers of their office by treating those around them as underlings and second-class citizens who are unworthy of dignity and respect and undeserving of the legal rights and protections that should be afforded to all Americans.

As Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the at the University of California, Berkeley, observed in the Harvard Business Review, “While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.”

59155d9c-703c-4662-93af9aa913da3ce8After conducting a series of experiments into the phenomenon of how power corrupts, Keltner concluded: “Just the random assignment of power, and all kinds of mischief ensues, and people will become impulsive. They eat more resources than is their fair share. They take more money. People become more unethical. They think unethical behavior is okay if they engage in it. People are more likely to stereotype. They’re more likely to stop attending to other people carefully.”

Power corrupts.

And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

However, it takes a culture of entitlement and a nation of compliant, willfully ignorant, politically divided citizens to provide the foundations of tyranny.

As researchers Joris Lammers and Adam Galinsky found, those in power not only tend to abuse that power but they also feel entitled to abuse it: “People with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want.”

That sense of entitlement and immunity from charges of wrongdoing dovetails with Richard Nixon’s belief that “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

For too long now, America has played politics with its principles and allowed the president and his colleagues to act in violation of the rule of law.

“We the people” are paying the price for it now.

Americans have allowed Congress, the White House and the Judiciary to wreak havoc with our freedoms. They have tolerated an oligarchy in which a powerful, elite group of wealthy donors is calling the shots. They have paid homage to patriotism while allowing the military industrial complex to spread death and destruction abroad. And they have turned a blind eye to all manner of wrongdoing when it was politically expedient.

This culture of compliance must stop.

The empowerment of petty tyrants and political gods must end.

For starters, let’s go back to the basics: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Let’s recommit to abiding by the rule of law.

Here’s what the rule of law means in a nutshell: it means that everyone is treated the same under the law, everyone is held equally accountable to abiding by the law, and no one is given a free pass based on their politics, their connections, their wealth, their status or any other bright line test used to confer special treatment on the elite.

Let’s demand scrutiny and transparency at all levels of government, which in turn will lead to accountability.

We need to stop being victimized by these predators.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, I’m not just talking about the political predators in office, but the ones who are running the show behind the scenes—the shadow government—comprised of unelected government bureaucrats whose powers are unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and beyond the reach of the law.

There is no way to erase the scars left by the government’s greed for money and power, its disregard for human life, its corruption and graft, its pollution of the environment, its reliance on excessive force in order to ensure compliance, its covert activities, its illegal surveillance, and its blatant disdain for the rule of law.

“We the people”—men and women alike— have been victims of the police state for so long that not many Americans even remember what it is to be truly free anymore. Worse, few want to shoulder the responsibility that goes along with maintaining freedom.

Still, we must try.

WC: 1725

JWW BW CropABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His 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 article originally appeared at: https://rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/power_corrupts_a_culture_of_compliance_breeds_despots_and_predators