It is true that many of the more radical items on this administration’s wish list have yet to be realized. But make no mistake, the full agenda is still there, lying in wait. And there is one thing that could unleash it all: a large-scale crisis.
Large-scale shocks are frequently harnessed to ram through despised pro-corporate and anti-democratic policies that would never have been feasible in normal times. It’s a phenomenon I have previously called the “Shock Doctrine,” and we have seen it happen again and again over the decades, from Chile in the aftermath of Augusto Pinochet’s coup to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
Chaos in the White House reflects the deepening turmoil in the psyche of the president as deep-seated inner conflicts become projected as radical dangers and threats in the outside world. Because there can be no genuine reflection and no failure can be admitted, the desperate sense of superiority demands that all enterprises be deemed a success. The need to be seen as omnipotent and uniquely able to solve everything means not only that the truth and the facts will be routinely rejected, but also that the security of the country and the guiding principles of democracy may also be sacrificed.
In this war of the elites, those who understand the “crisis of civilization” and are working to build community resilience as a response should be wary of hyper-partisanship. It may be essential over the short run to oppose both the rise of an authoritarian state and the dismantling of national climate policy. But no matter how fierce the contest, it is vital to remember that getting rid of Donald Trump will not make America great again.
King Donald is the ultimate finished product of industrial civilization’s paradigm and the consummate mirror of our personal and collective shadows. It may be that before he completes his first term, he will be impeached or removed by some other means. Catabolic collapse and the climate catastrophe that he is presently exacerbating will continue unabated. Other madmen or madwomen will succeed him. But more importantly, he isn’t just one politician who isn’t any worse than another.
When an individual or a society will not confront its shadow, it invariably projects it onto the “other.” The shadow loves nothing more than the notion of exceptionalism. In fact, it thrives on it. Exceptionalism’s twin, of course, is entitlement. We are entitled because we are exceptional. We are entitled internationally to extend the tentacles of corporate capitalism to every inch of the planet, and we are entitled intra-nationally by “virtue” of race, class, and economic status, to deliriously consume everything in sight and oppress and dominate all whom we deem not exceptional.
This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.
Fifty years ago this month, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram published a groundbreaking article describing a unique human behavior experiment. The study and its many variations, while ethically controversial, gave us new insight into human tendencies to obey authority, surprising the experts and everyone else on just how susceptible we are to doing the bidding of others. The original experiment revealed that a majority of participants would dutifully administer increasingly severe electric shocks to strangers – up to and including potentially lethal doses – because an authority told them that pulling the levers was necessary and required (the “shocks,” subjects found out later, were fake). People who obeyed all the way to the end did so even as they experienced tremendous moral conflict. Despite their distress, they never questioned the basic premise of the situation that was fed to them: the institution needed their compliance for the betterment of the common good.
And you, Prometheus, you stole their fire, and you know it. You said, “Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, [Senator Dianne] Feinstein, and [Congressman Peter] King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.” Someday you may be regarded as a Mandela of sorts for the information age, or perhaps a John Brown, someone who refused to fit in, to bow down, to make a system work that shouldn’t work, that should explode. And perhaps we’re watching it explode
I myself find a certain continuity between placing people in inhuman prison conditions and raping their identities through metadata surveillance. It’s all bad. But what is your point, Melissa? That because Snowden is exposing (“complaining about”) government surveillance rather than prison conditions he should willingly submit himself to the U.S. prison system?