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Boardman writes: "A country doesn't need a monolithic totalitarian government to have an effectively working police state. The United States has had a partial police state in place since before it existed as a 'free country.'"

ICE. (photo: ACLU/Wikimedia Commons)
ICE. (photo: ACLU/Wikimedia Commons)

What Would an American Police State Look Like? Are Your Eyes Closed?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 June 17

The police state impulse is as American as cherry pie

country doesn't need a monolithic totalitarian government to have an effectively working police state. The United States has had a partial police state in place since before it existed as a “free country.” Slavery required a police state structure to maintain “order.” Segregation required a police state structure. Ethnic cleansing of native peoples required police state management that still exists, most obviously in North Dakota, but also across the country. Fear of immigrants has fostered police state responses, especially under the Trump administration. Fear of Communists has produced police state responses since 1917, most notoriously during the 1950s McCarthy era. Fear of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and their very real dangers, has produced a permanent police state security network. Fear of terrorism, spiked by 9/11, has produced a host of police state responses such as the 2001 Patriot Act (ready and waiting before the attack); such as expanded citizen surveillance by the NSA and some 16 other, more secret agencies; such as unprecedented punishment of whistleblowers for their truth-telling; and such as a unified police state structure euphemistically called Homeland Security, that encourages citizens to spy on each other.

The American police state has evolved relentlessly for decades, with surges of state control when the opportunity presented itself. It's not perfected yet, but it's working reasonably effectively and flexibly as a hybrid governmental/private sector control mechanism. The American police state has always been more cultural than political, with incremental controls added by whatever elected party happened to be in office at the time. So far, the tension between centralized absolute authority and constitutional checks and balances has preserved something like a democratic republic. Now we're in a zeitgeist where a huge minority of Americans want autocratic government and the party in control of all three branches of the federal government is inclined to deliver. Among the signs (far from an exhaustive list):

Leader worship. Cult of personality is familiar to Russia, China, North Korea and other countries, but not so much the US – until the Trump cabinet meeting of June 12. Flattery and fawning is not a new thing in history, but such over-the-top boot-licking as the president got from his mostly white, male assembly of courtiers may be unique to American government, where "supreme leader" does not usually apply. Figuratively on their knees like a cult group, the assembled Trump flunkies each said things like: “We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda and the American people.” What was this? What's the opposite of Lincoln's team of rivals? Even conservative stalwart Bill Kristol was appalled, tweeting this obituary: “The American experiment in honorable and dignified self-government. July 4, 1776 - June 12, 2017.”

Secret legislation. Republicans won't hold hearings on their so-called healthcare bill, the main features of which are to strip healthcare from millions of the neediest Americans while delivering billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest (while stripping veterans of tax credits). Under-the-radar regulatory rollback proceeds both by decree (executive order) and through the Congressional Review Act (used only once before Trump). Now, thanks to Republicans, mentally impaired Social Security recipients can buy guns and coal companies can more freely dump mining waste into streams and rivers (four Democratic senators supported more water pollution: Manchin, Heitkamp, Donnelly, and McCaskill). In an autocracy (like the Michigan emergency manager system) everyone has the right to be Flint.

Death threats to determine elections. Death threats – direct, anonymous, personal death threats have long been a staple of right-wing politics, although not exclusively, from college campuses to New Orleans to Congress, usually delivered through social media (easier than cross burnings). The right complains about threats, too, but mostly these are symbolic. Recently real death threats drove an Iowa Democrat out of a Congressional race and a New York Democrat (who was also assaulted) out of the Binghamton Mayoral race.

Normalizing injustice. Randomly killing unarmed black, brown, and white people with impunity, randomly rounding up and deporting immigrants, randomly and illegally arresting and overcharging protestors – these are all police state tactics. Arrest journalists. (Hasn't the bully in the pulpit told us the media are “the enemy of the people”?) Criminalizing harmless behavior. Charging even nonviolent protesters with the most serious offense possible. Over-charging unpopular (or despised) minorities helps make official lawlessness acceptable. Sometimes intimidation works.

Privatizing government. “Government contractor” is a benign sounding phrase that often means “the right to loot the US Treasury.” Defense contractors are notorious examples and have been for years. The Pentagon has never been audited, even though it can't account for somewhere around $125 billion to more than $6.5 trillion (according to its own Inspector General). Outsourcing government responsibilities like justice doesn't seem like a responsible idea, but it's a lucrative one when it comes to private prisons. Private prisons don't save the government money, but they enrich selected politicians and their friends at the expense of inmates. This violent corruption is not new news, but private prisons have paid handsomely for political protection from the Trump administration. Private security forces (mercenaries) have been profitable and problematic at least since Blackwater Worldwide was slaughtering civilians in Iraq. Blackwater's founder helped to set up the Trump-Putin back channel. Mercenaries do government (and corporate) dirty work in the shadows. Their methods are ruthless and corrupt, as shown by TigerSwan International memos treating the peaceful, unarmed Standing Rock protesters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline as a “jihadist insurgency model.” The peaceful protest was crushed by force even though the government acted illegally. In a police state, the government can't be held to account. And a police state needs to protect its police from accountability as well. The Washington Post reports that's just what US Senate Republicans propose to do with their Back the Blue Act of 2017 – “If this bill passes, it would become nearly impossible to sue the police in all but the most egregious instances of abuse, and even then, only in cases where the victim is basically beyond reproach.”

No doubt readers can think of other active elements of the American police state – two decades of rampant voter suppression comes to mind. The pieces are in place to make America safe for police state governance. Whether the Trump forces will be satisfied with just a qualified dictatorship remains to be seen. And it also remains to be seen, should the Trump forces try to take full dictatorial powers, whether there is enough of America left to prevent their succeeding.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+50 # Bruce-Man-Do 2017-06-18 14:12
"Nice" little summary or our historical and ongoing national embarrassment that misses one big example/excuse for Nazi-style state-sponsored terror (spying on and turning-in neighbors, purity/loyalty testing, extrajudicial killing and asset stealing by gov't agents, threats to family to pressure suspects, arbitrary laws targeting and scapegoating minorities, draconian punishments for victimless acts, systematic lying and the buying off of scientists to lie to give intellectual cover to repressive institutionaliz ed intolerance, exceptions to Constitutional protections, equal justice, and due process, etc., etc.): America's so-called War on Drugs.
+47 # REDPILLED 2017-06-18 14:39
All it will take is another false flag operation.
+17 # Anonymot 2017-06-18 15:46
Worry not, it's being planned as we write.
+12 # elkingo 2017-06-18 20:00
That all seems right on the nose. One is tempted to say: "to the barricades, boys and girls!" O but then, THEY have the cops and the marines and helicopters etc. And the lesson of history is that violent revolutions are self-corrupting . Hmmmm... what to do? And it is really a matter of consciousness change from capitalism to love. Seem nuts? Think about it.
+17 # maddave 2017-06-18 21:21
Thi ss country is already in the throes of socio-political revolution. We MUST reognize that the we Americans owe our position as "World Leader and Policeman" to our financial and military power, not "their"love for us. "We the People" is an obsolete concept that is drgged-out now and then for show, but the United States is wowned and controlled by largely invisible heredetary fortunes and their corporations . They choose, elect and control our elected officials through "campaign contributions" (legal graft). These offficials, in turn, controll the masses through the promotion and inflation of divisive, inflamatory and insoluable issues that distrsct our attention while our governing authorities enable the quasi-legal pillage and plunder of our treasury and our irreplaable natural resiources. Think not? If you are on Social Security, military or other government reirement program, when did you last get a tangible Cost of Living Allowance? If you are an average Joe Six-Pak, how's your standard ofliving holding up? Funding for an alarming number of private retirement plans is predicated upon the owner's winning The Lottery!! For the vasy majority of us, the fabled American Dream barely survives on life support from our gigantic economic propaganda mill, and all the while America's financial the top 1% chants from their ivory towers: "Let them ea cake!"
This IS a revolution!
+17 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-19 07:09
Boardman is right. We have a police state now. It has always been this way, but only became more obvious after 9-11 and the rise of electronic communications so that everyone could be tracked and monitored 24 hours a day.

There's a race and class element to the police state, too. If you are white and middle class or upper class, the US does not feel like a police state to you because the cops leave you alone. The cops and all of the government exists to make your life easy. You are empowered by the police state.

But if you are black, Mexican, an immigrant, or a political dissident, you feel the brutality of the police state every day. You know the police and the whole police state apparatus is not there to "protect and serve." They exist to keep you in your place, the place they have assigned to you.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-19 07:15
I do strongly disagree with this statement:

"Leader worship. Cult of personality is familiar to Russia, China, North Korea and other countries, but not so much the US – until the Trump cabinet meeting of June 12"

This is just lazy thinking. The US has a cult of personality as much as any nations, but with its own unique differences. Russia, China, and North Korea are nations with long histories of monarchs and oligarchs. Those are not forgotten in a short space of time. Look at the reverence for the Queen still in the UK.

The US cult of personality centers around its great presidents -- Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and a few others. All current presidents are measured by these cult figures. There are also economic cult figures -- Morgan, Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller. They are also the founding fathers.

There is zero cult of personality surrounding Trump. Obama had hugely more of the cult of personality going. Everyone knows what Trump is, even his supporters. But Obama is still a saint in the eyes of very many.
+7 # WBoardman 2017-06-19 17:10
Rodion R makes good points and if I were to re-write,
I would modify my view more – although, in context, "but not so much the US" is pretty moderated.

Certainly cult of personality applies broadly to US Presidents
in general (cultural veneration of man/office unsorted out),
especially Kennedy, Obama, Reagan and others.

My focus was on the amazing Trump cabinet meeting so
chokingly full of political fellatio of the Pres. Perhaps I'm wrong,
but that event seems to me unique and without significant
precedent in American politics.

Rodion R seems clearly wrong about Trump's cult of
personality. Knowing who he is does not preclude cult worship.
How else has his approval rating remained so high?
Yes, 40% +/- is high, given the reality.

Just because the Trump cult is under-represent ed on RSN,
that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, or that it's not a potent
force in shaping how this presidency plays out.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-21 06:49
The Trump cult is really the Cult of Reagan. His supporters are dreaming of another Reagan and Trump somewhat fills that bill -- he is ignorant, arrogant, and has an ego bigger than the White House. These cultists like those qualities in their leader.

What the US does not have is a history that goes back 1000s of years, as many nations do. The US really has no deep traditions, so its greatest hero-cults are more TV reality shows that don't have the real depth as they do in China, Russia, Korea, or just about anywhere else. But that is what America is. It will never have a deep tradition like China or Russia.
+4 # librarian1984 2017-06-19 17:25
To the author's list I would add the manipulation of elections and the legal (and illegal) surveillance of citizens, practised by both parties.

The veneer came off with Cheney's 'free speech zones' and closed political rallies. Why did the Democrats adopt the practice of having specially designated protest areas?

As for secret legislation, we didn't know what was in ObamaCare either, or the Patriot Act. We often don't know about the amendments and riders attached to bloated legislation -- often packed with pork. Why does neither party try to improve the process?

When one party pulls this cr@p we have bad acters. When both parties do it, we're living in a police state with a protected, and colluding, political class.

Obama's presidency exposed the collusion. Most of us expected him to roll back Cheney-era policies like the tax cuts, wars, surveillance, torture, drone killings and arms sales; instead they escalated and he went after whistleblowers.

This is not a one party problem.

Strangely, I don't think America needs a cult of personality. The police state exists independent of leader or party. So .. who is actually running things?
+3 # Brice 2017-06-21 05:20
You've hit it on all cylinders. We outnumber them, and yet through devious means they always split us up and have us at each others' throats. Perhaps the system is rigged to a deeper level than I suspect, and I am pretty sure elections are rigged, but if people turned out they rigging would not work.

Or maybe we all suspect what would happen if the pleasant fiction of American elections were dropped ... we'd start seeing violence and assassinations of opposition leaders as we did in he 60's and 70's.

We are fat and happy and no one yet wants to take a chance on losing their lives, their jobs, or getting permanently injured for some pie in the sky dream that America has only pretended to take seriously.

Maybe we need outside intervention from the rest of the developed world before we ruin what they have too.
0 # Kootenay Coyote 2017-06-23 08:34
Police State, yes; & Fascist to boot.

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