By Daily Bell Staff
March 6, 2016
John W. Whitehead: Politics Don’t Matter, but Your Actions Do
John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. In 1982, he established The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization whose international headquarters are located in Charlottesville, Virginia (www.rutherford.org). Whitehead has won many honors as a result of his freedom-oriented writing and has participated in several Supreme Court cases. He gained international renown as a result of his role as co-counsel in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.
The Daily Bell: We read your article over at LewRockwell.com on US politics, “Reality Check: No Matter Who Wins the White House, the New Boss Will Be the Same as the Old Boss,” and were impressed by its realism. It pointed out the impossibility of political change in the US. Did you get positive feedback, or negative feedback or both.
John W. Whitehead: The response to my “Reality Check” article was overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, a meme that grew out of that article has gone viral. Its message – that America’s next president will inherit a shadow government, a permanent, corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country – has resonated with a lot of Americans who are waking up to the fact that no matter who wins this next presidential election, the new boss will be the same as the old boss.
The Daily Bell: You used to be a columnist for The Daily Bell. Why don’t you reintroduce yourself and The Rutherford Institute to our readers.
John W. Whitehead: I’m a constitutional attorney who believes in speaking truth to power. That really says it all. I started The Rutherford Institute in 1982 to be an organization that not only speaks truth to power but holds the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution. Readers can learn more about us at www.rutherford.org or follow us on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The Daily Bell: You were fairly unforgiving in your article. You wrote, “Politics today is about one thing and one thing only: maintaining the status quo between the Controllers (the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the corporate elite) and the Controlled (the taxpayers).” Why do you think Trump is getting such a great response from Republicans?
John W. Whitehead: The American people remain eager to be persuaded that a new president in the White House can solve the problems that plague us. The want a political savior. This is not a sentiment shared only by Republicans. Time and again, Americans have turned to politics with an almost religious zeal as the answer to what ails the nation. “Change” and “Believe” campaign slogans have been trotted out, only to be eagerly picked up and chanted like religious mantras. However, we’d do well to remember that governmental bureaucracy is fervently anti-change. As for trusting or believing in a politician, James Madison put it best when he pointed out that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” If there is to be any real hope for change, it rests, as it always has, in “we the people” because while we may be a large part of the problem, we are also the solution. And there is great power in this.
The Daily Bell: Do you think Trump is a legitimate candidate or part of some larger complex, strategic game that is not what it appears to be? Or maybe to you it doesn’t matter …
John W. Whitehead: Listen, the candidates’ names, faces and promises change over time – Obama, Bush, Hillary, Trump – but the end result remains the same: more surveillance, more militarized police, more police shootings of unarmed citizens, more so-called terrorist attacks, more costly wars, more attempts by the government to identify, target and punish so-called domestic “extremists,” more SWAT team raids, more erosions of private property, more debt, more government contractors, more overcriminalization, more strip searches, more injustice, more political spectacles, more dumbed down-locked down schools, more ignorance about our rights, more corruption, more fascism, and more fear. Is it part of a larger, complex game … They’re all in it together.
The Daily Bell: More and more, columnists in the alternative media are calling the US a police state. Does the current crop of candidates understand that their system is increasingly totalitarian or don’t they care?
John W. Whitehead: What American fail to realize is that the candidates for the Oval Office are not running in order to represent “we the people.” They’re vying to be picked as the next CEO of the Corporate States of America. It’s fascism with a smile.
We now live in a two-tiered system of governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its corporate allies, and another set for you and me. The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like sending SWAT teams crashing through your door in the middle of the night, rectally probing you during a roadside stop, or listening in on your phone calls and reading all of your email messages, confiscating your property, or indefinitely detaining you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.
Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they shoot unarmed citizens, strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing a small amount of marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free. In other words, we have moved into an age where we are slaves and they are rulers.
Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of government has been a long time coming. The march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have-nots has been building for years.
The Daily Bell: You wrote a book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, that goes into this issue. Can you expand on it?
John W. Whitehead: We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state. What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse. Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time – Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and now ISIS – but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.
In the years since 9/11, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments to the Constitution – which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse. Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like – all sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts – a recitation of the Bill of Rights would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.
My latest book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, was a follow-up to my 2013 book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. It makes clear that the Constitution has been on life support for some time now. We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.
The Daily Bell: In your recent article, you mentioned a scientific study by Princeton researchers showing that the United States of America “is not the democracy that it purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which ‘economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.’” Can you expand on how this system works? Is it motivated purely by money or does it have “control” as its priority? Who actually calls the shots in the US – is it foreign bankers or just a complex mixture of elite interest groups?
John W. Whitehead: Surveillance cameras, government agents listening in on your phone calls, reading your emails and text messages and monitoring your spending, mandatory health care, sugary soda bans, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, political correctness: these are all outward signs of a government – i.e., a societal elite – that believes it knows what is best for you and can do a better job of managing your life than you can. This is tyranny disguised as “the better good.” Indeed, this is the tyranny of the Nanny State: marketed as benevolence, enforced with armed police, and inflicted on all those who do not belong to the elite ruling class that gets to call the shots.
That said, it really doesn’t matter what you call them – the 1%, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex – so long as you understand that no matter which party occupies the White House in 2017, the unelected bureaucracy that actually calls the shots will continue to do so.
The Daily Bell: You mentioned that according to law professor John Baker, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.” How is this possible? How can the US survive as a civilization when its lawmaking is so irrational? Is it because these laws have not all been applied yet all the time? And if the Federal government becomes more desperate for money, won’t more laws be enforced more consistently simply for purposes of intimidation?
John W. Whitehead: Having allowed our fears to be codified and our actions criminalized, we now find ourselves in a strange new world where just about everything we do is criminalized. So how did we go from enacting laws to make our worlds safer to being saddled with a government that polices our social decisions? As with most of the problems plaguing us in the American police state, we are the source of our greatest problems. As journalist Gracy Olmstead recognizes, the problem arose when we looked “first to the State to care for the situation, rather than exercising any sort of personal involvement… These actions reveal a more passive, isolated attitude. But here, again, we see the result of breakdown in modern American community – without a sense of communal closeness or responsibility, we act as bystanders rather than as stewards.”
Unfortunately, even in the face of outright corruption and incompetency on the part of our elected officials, Americans in general remain relatively gullible, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us – whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster, how or what we eat or even keeping our children safe.
We have relinquished control over the most intimate aspects of our lives to government officials who, while they may occupy seats of authority, are neither wiser, smarter, more in tune with our needs, more knowledgeable about our problems, nor more aware of what is really in our best interests. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government does indeed know what’s best for us and can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave – that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes – we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness.
The lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government, whose priorities are to remain in control and in power.
The Daily Bell: Obama’s lifestyle is one of a billionaire and his vacations run into the millions of dollars. Do Americans agree with this sort of profligacy – and why aren’t there more complaints about it?
John W. Whitehead: We now find ourselves at a point where, for the first time in history, Congress is dominated by a majority of millionaires who are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. Making matters worse, as the Center for Responsive Politics reports, “at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code,” our so-called representatives are completely out of touch with the daily struggles of most Americans – those who live from paycheck to paycheck and are caught in the exhausting struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis.
Indeed, although America is supposed to be a representative republic, these people – who earn six-figure salaries and inhabit a world exempt from parking tickets, where gym membership is free and health care is second-to-none, where you only have to work two, maybe three days a week and get 32 fully reimbursed road trips home a year, travel to foreign lands, discounts in Capitol Hill tax-free shops and restaurants, free reserved parking at Washington National Airport, free fresh-cut flowers from the Botanic Gardens, and free assistance in the preparation of income taxes – neither represent nor serve the American people. They have instead appointed themselves our masters.
Many of our politicians live like kings. Chauffeured around in limousines, flying in private jets and eating gourmet meals, all paid for by the American taxpayer, they are far removed from those they are supposed to represent. Such a luxurious lifestyle makes it difficult to identify with the “little guy” – the roofers, plumbers and blue-collar workers who live from paycheck to paycheck and keep the country running with their hard-earned dollars and the sweat of their brows.
Sadly, electoral politics have been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is little chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress. Whether it be the Oval Office or the halls of Congress, the road to the ballot box is an expensive one, and only the wealthy, or those supported by the wealthy, are even able to get to the starting line.
What we are faced with is a government by oligarchy – in other words, one that is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Yet the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is “we the people” who are supposed to be running things. If our so-called “representative government” is to survive, we must first wrest control of our government from the wealthy elite who run it. That is a problem with no easy solutions, and voting is the least of what we should be doing. “What they don’t want,” noted comedian George Carlin, is “a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.”
The Daily Bell: We’ve come to believe there are so many lies emanating from Washington and “The City” in England that almost nothing government says can be trusted. What’s your perspective?
John W. Whitehead: 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.
Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better. Week after week, the script changes—the presidential election, the budget crisis, the fiscal cliff, the Benghazi hearings, the gun control debate – each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama. The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle. All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.
Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward. All the while, behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late.
It’s 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.
The Daily Bell: You write, “According to a Gallup poll, Americans place greater faith in the military and the police than in any of the three branches of government.” How is this possible with all the lying going on?
John W. Whitehead: The coup d’etat wresting control of our government from civilians and delivering it into the hands of the military industrial complex happened decades ago, while our backs were turned and our minds distracted. Consequently, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of longing for an elusive peace while trying to rein in a runaway militarized government with a gargantuan and profit-driven appetite for war.
Over the past half century, America has actually been at war more than we’ve been at peace. In fact, the U.S. has been involved in an average of at least one significant military action per year, “ranging from significant fighting in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan to lesser incursions in such far-flung countries as Kuwait, Bosnia, Pakistan, Libya, Grenada, Haiti and Panama… That total does not count more limited U.S. actions, such as drone strikes it now is carrying out against suspected Taliban insurgents in the Middle East.”
Here’s the problem, though: what happens to all those hefty profits for the military industrial complex when you start to scale back on 50 years’ worth of wars abroad? For example, the price of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost taxpayers upwards of $1.5 trillion – that breaks down to roughly $10.54 million per hour since 2001 – which does not include the billions being spent this year alone on the Department of Defense ($254 billion and counting), on nuclear weapons ($9 billion), and on an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter weapons system ($4 billion and counting).
If war is a business, as it has become, in order to maintain a profit margin when there are no more wars to be fought abroad, one would either have to find new enemies abroad or focus on fighting a war at home, against the American people, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with today. (In fact, domestic “terrorists” – citizens with anti-government views – have become frequent targets in military training deals. Just recently, it was revealed that the Ohio National Guard conducted a training exercise in which Second Amendment advocates were portrayed as domestic terrorists.)
This dangerous military expansion is one that outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general, warned against in his 1961 farewell address. Frankly, it’s a speech that bears re-reading for its chilling insight into the vastness of the military industrial complex, its grave warning against allowing the military to lead the way in dictating national and international policy, and its sound advice to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” As Eisenhower noted: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Thus, the question is no longer whether the U.S. will be consumed by the military industrial complex. That happened when we failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning, and in the fifty years since, the already burgeoning military industrial complex has given rise to a security industrial complex, a.k.a. corporate surveillance state. Together, they serve as the iron-fisted right and left hands of the police state that now surrounds us and profits from us.
The Daily Bell: Governments usually don’t trust their people and in the US this trend seems more and more pronounced. Can you give us ways that the federal government is arming its regulatory authorities and civilian police around the country as well?
John W. Whitehead: We now find ourselves navigating a strange new world where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) annually hands out millions of dollars’ worth of grants to local police agencies for military weapons, vehicles, training and assistance. These grants also provide for law enforcement and terrorism prevention and typically include planning, training and exercises, such as the training exercises that were scheduled to take place in Boston around the same time that the Boston Marathon bomber detonated several homemade backpack bombs.
Believe it or not, these Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis. They come complete with their own set of professionally trained Crisis Actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims in order to help “schools and first responders create realistic drills, full-scale exercises, high-fidelity simulations, and interactive 3D films.” One Crisis Actors website, funded in part by the Dept. of Justice, even provides actors with a guide to suspicious behaviors they should study and adopt, as well as makeup recommendations, in order to better play their parts in training exercises.
Now it’s easy to write off as conspiracy-minded and sensationalist any suggestion that the government could be so calculating and diabolical as to not only deliberately plan and execute a terror exercise but pass it off as an actual event. It’s easy to do so, that is, unless you’ve started to question whether your government actually exists to serve you, as growing numbers of Americans have. It’s certainly easy to do so unless you’ve started to read up on those less savory aspects of our nation’s history, the parts not included in public school textbooks, in which the government has, in fact, engaged in downright immoral and, at times, criminal behavior, including “giving hepatitis to mental patients in Connecticut, squirting a pandemic flu virus up the noses of prisoners in Maryland, and injecting cancer cells into chronically ill people at a New York hospital.”
And unless you’ve reached a point where you believe that the government views you as little more than a dollar sign, and prioritizes your rights far below your monetary worth, then you may not have a hard time believing that the government, marching in lockstep with the military and security industrial complexes, sold you out long ago.
The Daily Bell: You mention “The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) facial recognition system, which is set to hold data on millions of Americans.” Can you explain what that will do and why the FBI wants it?
John W. Whitehead: This is the next wave in the surveillance state’s steady incursions into our lives. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is a $1 billion boondoggle that is aimed at dramatically expanding the government’s ID database from a fingerprint system to a facial recognition system. NGI will use a variety of biometric data, cross-referenced against the nation’s growing network of surveillance cameras to not only track your every move but create a permanent “recognition” file on you within the government’s massive databases.
By the time it’s fully operational, NGI will serve as a vast data storehouse of “iris scans, photos searchable with face recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos.” One component of NGI, the Universal Face Workstation, already contains some 13 million facial images, gleaned from “criminal mug shot photos” taken during the booking process. However, with major search engines having “accumulated face image databases that in their size dwarf the earth’s population,” it’s only a matter of time before the government taps into the trove of images stored on social media and photo sharing websites such as Facebook.
Also aiding and abetting police in their efforts to track our every movement in real time is Trapwire, which allows for quick analysis of live feeds from CCTV surveillance cameras. Some of Trapwire’s confirmed users are the DC police, and police and casinos in Las Vegas. Police in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, and London are also thought to be using Trapwire.
Using Trapwire in conjunction with NGI, police and other government agents will be able to pinpoint anyone by checking the personal characteristics stored in the database against images on social media websites, feeds from the thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras installed throughout American cities (there are 3,700 CCTV cameras tracking the public in the New York subway system alone), as well as data being beamed down from the more than 30,000 surveillance drones taking to the skies within the next eight years. Given that the drones’ powerful facial recognition cameras will be capable of capturing minute details, including every mundane action performed by every person in an entire city simultaneously, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, short of living in a cave, far removed from technology.
NGI will not only increase sharing between federal agencies, opening up the floodgates between the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense, but states can also get in on the action. Going far beyond the scope of those with criminal backgrounds, the NGI data includes criminals and non-criminals alike – in other words, innocent American citizens. The information is being amassed through a variety of routine procedures, with the police leading the way as prime collectors of biometrics for something as non-threatening as a simple moving violation. The nation’s courts are also doing their part to “build” the database, requiring biometric information as a precursor to more lenient sentences.
The Daily Bell: From what authority does a facility like the FBI obtain the rationale for the work it does? The FBI is now in something like 100 countries around the world even though it was supposed to be a purely domestic agency. How did this expansion happen? Did Congress mandate it? And how did the FBI come to exist in the first place? Is it unconstitutional?
John W. Whitehead: The history of the FBI is the history of how America – once a nation that abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions – has steadily devolved into a police state where laws are unidirectional, intended as a tool for government to control the people and rarely the other way around.
The FBI (then named simply Bureau of Investigation) was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and Attorney General Charles Bonaparte as a small task force assigned to deal with specific domestic crimes, its first being to survey houses of prostitution in anticipation of enforcing the White Slave Traffic Act. Initially quite limited in its abilities to investigate so-called domestic crimes, the FBI slowly expanded in size, scope and authority over the course of the 20th century.
During World War I, the FBI was tasked with investigating “enemy aliens,” which included anarchists and communists. During World War II, the FBI investigated various radical elements in society, as well as draft evaders and foreign nationals from belligerent nations. The agency also helped enforce the government’s nefarious policy of Japanese internment following the Pearl Harbor attack. In both 1939 and 1943, the FBI received presidential directives to investigate threats to national security. To that end, during the infamous McCarthy era, the FBI became heavily involved in the government’s efforts to expose Americans with ties to communism, conducting surveillance, pressuring employers to hire or fire particular individuals, and feeding information to the media to influence public opinion. By the end of the Korean War, what had once been a small task force of a few dozen agents became an investigative force of 6,200 agents.
Yet it was during the social and political upheaval of the 1960s that the FBI’s transformation into a federal policing and surveillance agency really began, one aimed not so much at the criminal element but at those who challenged the status quo–namely, those expressing anti-government sentiments. Among those most closely watched by the FBI during that time period was Martin Luther King Jr., a man labeled by the agency as the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” John Lennon was another such activist targeted for surveillance by the FBI.
Unfortunately, not even the creation of the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) by President Ford in 1976 could keep the FBI’s surveillance activities within the bounds of the law. Whether or not those boundaries were respected in the ensuing years, they all but disappeared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This was true, especially with the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which gave the FBI and other intelligence agencies carte blanche authority in investigating Americans suspected of being anti-government. While the FBI’s powers were being strengthened, President George W. Bush dismantled the oversight capabilities of the IOB, which was entrusted with keeping the FBI in check. Even the Obama administration, a vocal critic of the Bush policies, failed to restore those checks and balances on the FBI. Indeed, the Obama administration has gone so far as to insist that the FBI can obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process or court oversight. This rationale obviously applies to emails, as well. Little wonder, then, that FBI abuses keep mounting.
The Daily Bell: You wrote in that “Americans know virtually nothing about their history or how their government works. In fact, according to a study by the National Constitution Center, 41 percent of Americans “are not aware that there are three branches of government, and 62 percent couldn’t name them; 33 percent couldn’t even name one.” That’s pretty bad but our question is more comprehensive and has to do with a conspiracy theory that has gained traction on the Internet and has to do with whether the US has turned into a corporation or not – and whether the original US remains under a perpetual state of emergency. In other words, one way or another the Constitution is suspended and this is the reason for the lawlessness we see at the topmost reaches of the political system. Your take?
John W. Whitehead: We have no one but ourselves to blame. We’ve gotten the government – and the society – we deserve. But what did we do to deserve this bloated, power-hungry, self-serving, war-mongering bureaucracy? How did our straight-laced Puritan nation of freedom-loving citizens give way to a self-absorbed, entertainment-obsessed society? The answer is simple: we stopped caring, and we stopped paying attention. Consciously or unconsciously, we gave up on the American Dream and, in so doing, lost our way. The facts speak for themselves. Most Americans have virtually no idea what America stands for and little idea how their government should function.
If knowledge of self-government and freedom are the source of our democracy, then we are in serious danger as a country. The American Dream was once encapsulated in the hope of freedom, the right to compete in a free market and the right to own a parcel of land that you could call your own. Now, that once noble dream has been reduced to a radical individualism that is best symbolized by cell phones and shopping in mega-malls.
If there is to be any real hope for change, it rests, as it always has, in “we the people” because while we may be a large part of the problem, we are also the solution. And there is great power in this. Each generation of Americans faces the responsibility of protecting and defending the Constitution. It may be comforting to think that the problems facing America could be fixed by the next presidential election. But that is not going to happen. Neither Trump nor Hillary will save us.
Any real, lasting change will have to come from within you and me—not from a political savior. Thus, if we want change, it is going to take all of us pulling together, working in our communities, addressing our all-too-real human needs.
We need to recapture the spirit of that ragtag band of revolutionaries who beat back the British Empire and gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That will mean turning off the television, switching off the computer screen, learning more about our history and getting educated on the basics of our government and Constitution. Then we need to act on what we know. It may start with voting, but that’s the least we can do. Active, direct citizen participation at every level – local, state and federal – is the only real hope for change.
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