[…] With tragically rare exceptions, all children are taught obedience as the primary, foundational virtue and, as a necessary corollary, they are taught to idealize the authority figures in their lives. In this way, they are, as [psychologist Alice] Miller suggests, trained for totalitarianism. (I suppose we could somewhat “soften” the argument, and merely say that we are trained for authoritarianism; the point remains the same.) Miller was trained in this way; so was I; and so were you. […]
I don’t think it is possible to overstate the significance of this early childhood training. Of equal significance is the fact that these issues are almost never discussed in the course of political analysis. Yet there is a profound sense in which authoritarianism (and even totalitarianism) feel right to many people — “right” in the sense that it is very familiar, that it is the environment in which they were first made to function. So when the State expands its control over us, when the State spies on us, when the State lists more and more activities which are forbidden or for which we must seek “permission” before we act, and even when the State announces that it has a Murder Program, many people, most people, think: “The State knows best. The State has much more information than I do, and our leaders must have reasons for their actions. And certainly, the State only acts to protect us. The State acts for our own good.” This is what we had to believe about our parents, regardless of the cruelties to which they subjected us — and this is what most adults now believe about their political leaders.
While some Democrats have voiced concern about these stories, the response from liberals and Democrats remains remarkably muted even after years of stories of the Obama Administration cracking down on journalists and whistleblowers. It is the same trade off that civil libertarians have seen in other civil liberties controversies. Democrats have repeatedly remained silent in the face of such attacks by Obama in a type of cult of personality. We saw it with torture, warrantless surveillance, the kill list policy and other scandals. Now Obama is demanding that the faithful turn their back on the free press as their latest article of loyalty. … I will say it again. There will come a day when someone else sits in the Oval Office and will demand the same sweeping authoritarian powers wielded by Obama. At that time, Democrats and liberals will not be able to step over the mountain of hypocrisy to utter a feeble, belated objection.
Inside the Empire itself, almost nobody is protesting, except when it comes to demands for higher wages and better benefits. The Western masses became the most complacent, uncritical group of people anywhere in the world. It is obvious from the art they are producing and consuming, from their political affiliations, from their aspirations. An amazing paradox has developed, without being noticed or commented on: ‘the system’, which has been professing both individual choice and extreme self-centeredness, actually managed to reduce a substantial part of the human race to an obedient, thoughtless, submissive, and frightened mass of uninformed beings convinced about their own superiority.
Israeli defenders claim that its air attack [on Syria] targeted weapons provided by Iran that would have ended up in the hands of Hezbollah. Obama officials quickly told media outlets that “the administration is fully supportive of Israel’s airstrikes”. Indeed, Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy noted: “Keep in mind the Israelis are using weapons supplied by us.” There is, needless to say, virtually no condemnation of the Israeli assault in US media or political circles. At this point, the only question is how many minutes will elapse before Congress reflexively adopts a near-unanimous or unanimous resolution effusively praising Israel for the attack and unqualifiedly endorsing all past and future attacks as well.
Because people who cheer for military action by their side like to pretend that they’re something more than primitive “might-makes-right” tribalists, the claim is being hauled out that Israel’s actions are justified by the “principle” that it has the right to defend itself from foreign weapons in the hands of hostile forces. But is that really a “principle” that anyone would apply consistently, as opposed to a typically concocted ad hoc claim to justify whatever the US and Israel do? Let’s apply this “principle” to other cases, as several commentators on Twitter have done over the last 24 hours, beginning with this:
If Syrian planes bombed Israel’s Ramat David Airbase because it houses US-supplied weaponry, what would the appropriate Israeli reaction be?
— Nima Shirazi (@WideAsleepNima) May 4, 2013
Here’s a similar question:
Or, for that matter, if Syria this week attacks a US military base on US soil and incidentally kills some American civilians (as Nidal Hasan did), and then cites as justification the fact that the US has been aiding Syrian rebels, would any establishment US journalist or political official argue that this was remotely justified? Or what if Syria bombed Qatar or Saudi Arabia on the same ground: would any US national figure defend the bombing as well within Syria’s rights given those nation’s arming of its rebels?
Few things are more ludicrous than the attempt by advocates of US and Israeli militarism to pretend that they’re applying anything remotely resembling “principles”. Their only cognizable “principle” is rank tribalism: My Side is superior, and therefore we are entitled to do things that Our Enemies are not. [++]
People love to accuse Muslims of being tribal without realizing the irony that what they are saying - Our Side is Superior and They are Inferior - is the ultimate expression of rank tribalism. They also don’t seem ever to acknowledge the irony of Americans and westerners of all people accusing others of being uniquely prone to violence, militarism and aggression.
“I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken” – Bob Dylan
Surely the re-election of Barack Obama has, at long last, put the kibosh on the hoary notion that the “Professional Left” poses any kind of threat or counterbalance to the malignant spread of empire, within and without. Slice the timeline any way you like –10 years, 20 years, 30 years – and you’ll still come up with the same sad salami: a political world shifted so far to the right, so deep in the pockets of Daddy Warbucks, General Ripper and Elmer Gantry that even Boss Tweed might blush for shame. This is what the Prof-Left has to show for its decades of working diligently within the system.
Of course, America’s hard-right turn (or reversion) to militarism abroad and Hobbesianism at home is not solely the result of the Left’s egregious failures; far from it. It’s a brew made up of many poisons. And yes, failure can be honorable at times. But there is nothing honorable about what happened to “progressives” in Campaign 2012. After years of consciousness-raising – unmasking atrocities, tracking corruption, decoding propaganda, speaking truth to power, etc. – where did the Prof-Left end up in November? Supporting a lawless, cynical, corporate-coddling warmonger who has taken the tropes of imperial sway to their logical conclusion, their final solution: the arbitrary, unchecked power of life and death, not only over the grubby barbaroi but even over his own subjects. As the scripture saith, our professional progs strained at a gnat – but swallowed the whole damn camel.
Nowhere was this betrayal of principle more naked than in the very arena which, we were told, had “transformed” politics forever, shattering the old paradigms and giving unprecedented voice and power to reform and resistance: the progressive blogosphere. Yet here the cognitive dissonance was so jarring that it hurt just to look at it. [READ]
"One prod to the nerve of nationalism, and the intellectual decencies can vanish, the past can be altered, and the plainest facts can be denied. … [As] soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified — still one cannot feel that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function." — George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism
One year ago, in reaction to a Washington Post poll and a column from Greg Sargent, “Liberals, Dems approve of drone strikes on American citizens abroad”, I wrote the following:
There’s just nothing good about this at all. It speaks to my greatest fears as we become a nation not divided over ethics or morality, but over teams like life is a god damned sporting event. Meanwhile, we’ve dehumanized the “unpeople” of entire races, cultures and religions to the point where we as a nation (liberals and conservatives) are perfectly comfortable blowing them to smithereens simply because our government assures us, usually with no supporting evidence or even a judicial review, that they are bad guys. What an absolute shame.
And now we see the the same behavior from the liberal chattering class in reaction to Rand Paul’s filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA (here’s one illustrative example). Rather than aligning tactically with a member of the opposing “team” on just this one (literally, life and death) issue, we see ad hominem attacks instead of what should be an easy moral and ethical opposition to a radical expansion of presidential power. As Glenn Greenwald notes, “the primary obstacle to [the] effort [to confront this executive branch overreach] has been, and remains, that the Democrats who spent all that time parading around as champions of these political values [when George W. Bush was president] are now at the head of the line leading the war against them.”
Indeed. As Mark Twain once wrote:
When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man’s moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
The answer that I see everywhere from loyal partisans is unequivocally, “Yes”, and once again, it is an absolute shame.
Whether domestic assassinations are imminent is irrelevant to the debate
The primary means of mocking [Rand] Paul’s concerns was to deride the notion that Obama is about to unleash drone attacks and death squads on US soil aimed at Americans. But nobody, including Paul, suggested that was the case. To focus on that attack is an absurd strawman, a deliberate distraction from the real issues, a total irrelevancy. That’s true for two primary reasons.
First, the reason this question matters so much - can the President target US citizens for assassination without due process on US soil? - is because it demonstrates just how radical the Obama administration’s theories of executive power are. Once you embrace the premises of everything they do in this area - we are a Nation at War; the entire globe is the battlefield; the president is vested with the unchecked power to use force against anyone he accuses of involvement with Terrorism - then there is no cogent, coherent way to say that the president lacks the power to assassinate even US citizens on US soil. That conclusion is the necessary, logical outcome of the premises that have been embraced. That’s why it is so vital to ask that.
To see how true that is, consider the fact that a US president - with very little backlash - has already asserted this very theory on US soil. In 2002, the US arrested a US citizen (Jose Padilla) on US soil (at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago), and then imprisoned him for the next three-and-a-half years in a military brig without charges of any kind. The theory was that the president has the power to declare anyone (including a US citizen) to be an “enemy combatant” and then punish him as such no matter where he is found (including US soil), even if they are not engaged in any violence at the time they are targeted (as was true for Padilla, who was simply walking unarmed through the airport). Once you accept this framework - that this is a War; the Globe is the Battlefield; and the Commander-in-Chief is the Decider - then the President can treat even US citizens on US soil (part of the battlefield) as “enemy combatants”, and do anything he wants to them as such: imprison them without charges or order them killed.
Far from being “paranoid”, this theory has already been asserted on US soil during the Bush presidency. It has been applied to US citizens by the Obama administration. It does not require “paranoia” to raise concerns about the inevitable logical outcome of these theories. Instead, it takes blind authoritarian faith in political leaders to believe that such a suggestion is so offensive and outlandish that merely to raise it is crazy. Once you embrace the US government’s War on Terror framework, then there is no cogent legal argument for limiting the assassination power to foreign soil. If the Globe is a Battlefield, then that, by definition, obviously includes the US.
Second, president change, and so do circumstances. The belief that Barack Obama - despite his record - is too kind, too good, too magnanimous, too responsible to target US citizens for assassination on US soil is entirely irrelevant. At some point, there will be another president, even a Republican one, who will inherit the theories he embraces. Moreover, circumstances can change rapidly, so that - just as happened with 9/11 - what seems unthinkable quickly becomes not only possible but normalized.
The need to object vehemently to radical theories of power has nothing to do with a belief that the current president will exercise it in the worst possible way. The need is due to the fact that acquiescing to these powers in the first instance means that they become institutionalized - legitimized - and thus become impossible to resist once circumstances change (another Terrorist attack, a president you trust less). That’s why it is always the tactic of governments that seek to abuse power to select the most marginalized and easily demonized targets in the first instance (Anwar Awlaki): because they know that once the citizenry cheers for that power on the ground that they dislike the target, the power then becomes institutionalized and impossible to resist when it expands outward, as it always does.
That’s what Thomas Jefferson meant when he wrote: “In questions of power … let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” It’s also what Frederick Douglas meant when he warned:
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.
Human nature means that once you vest a power in political leaders, once you acquiesce to radical theories, that power will inevitably be abused. The time to object - the only effective time - is when that power theory first takes root, not later when it is finally invoked. [++]
Is [Rand] Paul a racist? Here’s a better question: Is Paul any more racist in his economic and drug policy endorsements than the White House in its policies of kill lists, targeted killings, drone strikes, TSA no-fly and watch lists, Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program or “See Something, Say Something” policy? Is Rand Paul more of a threat to black and brown populations (American or foreign) than the current administration, which deported more than 1.5 million migrants during its first term and separated tens of thousands of migrant parents from their children? Is Rand Paul more of a threat to our safety than the current administration?
Despite the White House’s defiant disregard of procedure, transparency or accountability, the Democrats disassociated themselves from an important strategic ally — a libertarian who is the only one asking the questions that progressives, Occupy protesters, political dissenters, Muslims, Arab Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, South Asians and undocumented migrants want an answer to: Will the president claim and exercise the power to kill one of us at his and his advisers’ discretion?
Democrats should have participated in Paul’s filibuster until the answer they received was an unconditional “no” to the question of targeted killings of Americans on American soil. There’s much more to be demanded of this administration, but support for Paul’s filibuster could have been a good place to start. And it should have been a no-brainer. But rather than forming a tactical alliance — no one was asking Democrats to convert to Tea Partyism — Democrats relinquished yet another chance to do their jobs: to question, challenge and push back on the Obama administration’s unceasing quest for power.
Since the president is a member of the party that defines my identity, I agree with his policy of deciding who lives and dies in secret.
I’m on twitter watching “progressive” partisan loyalists mock a Senator that opposes the execution of human beings without due process.
It’s a sad, sad spectacle.
After 11 years of vigorously reinforcing those boundaries internally and externally, we’ve forgotten that killing folks outside our nation — without accountability and compelling evidence — amounts to an aggressive xenophobia, which is a heinous racism hiding behind the pretense of ‘national security.’ … We should be vigorously challenging the racial double standard implicit in the endorsement of Obama Administration policies such as kill lists, targeted killings, and other clearly racist foreign policy measures. We should be demanding proof of guilt rather than placing blind faith in any president’s demand for unilateral authority or discretion.
Falguni Sheth, Liberal racial hypocrisy
Racism is unacceptable for American liberals. But many critics of racism are surprisingly comfortable with a jingoist foreign policy, even when it includes the deaths of Pakistani and Yemeni toddlers. Jingoism is just another word for extra-national racism, made acceptable by the constant references to American safety and freedom.
This is why the argument many liberals are making — that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment — is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that’s become the precise job description.