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Waiting for the Barbarians
Posted on Nov 27, 2016
By Chris Hedges
We await the crisis. It could be economic. It could be a terrorist attack within the United States. It could be widespread devastation caused by global warming. It could be nationwide unrest as the death spiral of the American empire intensifies. It could be another defeat in our endless and futile wars. The crisis is coming. And when it arrives it will be seized upon by the corporate state, nominally led by a clueless real estate developer, to impose martial law and formalize the end of American democracy.
When we look back on this sad, pathetic period in American history we will ask the questions all who have slid into despotism ask. Why were we asleep? How did we allow this to happen? Why didn’t we see it coming? Why didn’t we resist?
Why did we allow the corporate state to strip away the rights of poor people of color and force them to live in terror in mini-police states? Why did we build the world’s largest system of mass incarceration? Did we not see that the rest of us would be next? Why did we agree that those defined by the state as terrorists could not only be deprived of their rights but be assassinated? Did we think the state would restrict itself to persecuting and murdering Muslims? Why did we remain silent as the state arrogated to itself the right to detain and prosecute people not for what they had done, or even for what they were planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deemed seditious? Why did we stand by and permit the state to torture? Did we not see that once rights became privileges the state would one day revoke them?
The failure of our capitalist democracy was collective. It was bred by ignorance, indifference, racism, bigotry and the seduction of mass propaganda. It was bred by elites, especially in the press, the courts and academia, who chose careerism over moral and intellectual courage. Our rights as citizens were taken from us one by one. There was hardly a word of protest.
Where were the lawyers, judges, law professors and law school deans who should have ferociously defended our rights to privacy, due process and habeas corpus? Why didn’t they challenge Barack Obama’s signing into law Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act? Section 1021 overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited the military from acting as a domestic police force. The section also permits the military to carry out extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers.
Why didn’t the legal profession fight against the Obama administration’s misinterpretation of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act as giving the executive branch the right to order the assassination of U.S. citizens? How did lawyers and judges allow the misuse of the Espionage Act to target and imprison whistleblowers? How did they permit the Supreme Court to define unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech? Why did they allow those branded as terrorists by the state, and allow poor people of color, to be locked for years in solitary confinement or special detention centers without fair trials? Why were they silent as the state built “black sites” around the globe, including in Chicago, to torture? Why did they permit the state to impose special administrative measures, known as SAMs, to prevent or severely restrict prisoners’ communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jails, crippling any possibility of an adequate defense? Did they not know where the erosion of the legal system would lead?
And where were all the economists pointing out the absurdity of the neoliberal ideology that told us that human society should be governed by the dictates of the market—that is, until the market collapsed in an orgy of fraud and corruption and needed the government to bail it out? Why did the political scientists chase after “value-free” data, carry out quantitative projects and seek an unachievable scientific clarity? Why didn’t they and others warn us about the dire consequences of eroding democratic institutions? Why did they stand mute as money replaced the vote and lobbyists authored our laws? Where were they when constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations were criminalized? Why didn’t they protest when dissidents, even those who broke no laws, were stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process? Why did they continue to speak and write as if the fiction of our democracy was real? Why didn’t they illuminate our constitutional crisis? Why did those in academia commit intellectual treason? They traded their intellectual integrity and autonomy for tenure, publishing contracts, lecture fees, research grants and coveted deanships or college presidencies.
Why did the press render the poor and the working poor invisible? Why did it walk away from its role as the investigator of corruption and abuse of power? Why did it become a courtier to the elites? Why did it measure the success of its broadcasts and publications solely by the profits produced? Why did it refuse to give a platform to critics of corporate capitalism and imperial war? Why did it serve as an echo chamber for the arms industry and Wall Street? Why did it hide behind the fiction of neutrality and objectivity? Why did it debase reporting to quoting establishment experts—most of whom lied—in order to stay within the narrow confines of opinion sanctioned by the power elites? Why did the press obscure the truth?
Where were the great moral and religious truth tellers? Why did they use the language of identity politics as a substitute for the language of social justice? Why did they refuse to condemn as heretics those on the Christian right, which fused the symbols of the state with those of the Christian religion? Why did they collaborate with the evil of corporate capitalism? Why did they retreat into churches and synagogues, establishing exclusive social clubs, rather than fight the injustice outside their doors? Why did they abandon the poor? Why did they replace prophetic demands for justice with cloying political correctness and personal piety?
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