Despots thrive on ignorance. After watching US foreign policy for the past 10 or so years, it is not too far-fetched to say that people get the government they deserve. We have learned this lesson time and time again. First we thought we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Then we moved from anti-terrorism to nation building in Afghanistan. Then we cheered on the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya. In all cases we have discovered that the country post-despot is far more dysfunctional than the country under the despot. This may sound callous bordering on bigotry but some countries are so full of ignorant people, incapable of self-government that they need a strong-arm to keep things in order. I believe the jury is out on whether the world is better off without Hussein, Mubarek and Gaddafi. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai is a bad joke. And now what are we doing? We are seriously contemplating a contribution to the demise of Syria’s Assad with zero knowledge of what will follow his departure.
Is the lesson this teaches us here at home limited to foreign policy? No it isn’t. A smart electorate can become a dumb electorate. Dumb people get leaders who end up not acting in their best interests. Dumb people end up losing their freedom. I argue we are becoming a dumb people and I say this in a totally bipartisan way.
In the past week I have watched several exchanges on television that left me very unnerved. Bill Moyers interviewed Glenn Greenwald a journalist who has written about the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers. The government tactics range from intimidation to criminal prosecution. According to Greenwald, more whistle blowers have been harassed by this administration than any other administration combined. Recent developments suggest that those offering evidence on the Benghazi terrorist attack of 9/11/12 that was contrary to the government account were being shut down. I have spent some time on this blog and in the comments section defending Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair but when a mainstream show like “Face the Nation” this morning reports that the administration knowingly lied or distorted the facts about Benghazi how can there be any more defense? In fact, we risked endangering our relationship with the new President of Libya by essentially calling him a liar when he said the attack on the embassy was planned.
Then a few nights later a PBS “Frontline” report talked about America post-9/11 and painted a picture of a government shrouded in secrecy doing things in “America’s best interest” without their permission. This policy was passed on to the Obama administration and expanded by him. Billions of our e-mails are read every day by folks employed in Homeland Security.
Later in the week HBO’s Bill Maher interviewed Jeremy Scahill, a reporter whose eyes burn with anger when he recounts how we brazenly killed the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki simply for being the son of a terrorist instigator. Press Secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, reportedly said this is what happens when your Dad does bad things. Scahill seems to be alone while most liberals turn a blind eye to a liberal administration flushing liberal ideals down the toilet. Scahill went on to discuss the near indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians by our special ops forces. As Scahill puts it, if someone steals your goat, you can report them to the Americans as a suspected terrorist and our special ops team will storm their house and kill everyone in it.
Later on that same broadcast an argument broke out, so brief that if you blinked you missed it. Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC uber-liberal, flew off the handle when conservative guest Pete Hegseth launched the old 2nd Amendment defense of an electorate needing to protect itself from government tyranny. O’Donnell said what I have been saying for years … and very recently in the comments section of this very blog, namely that the time for us to be worried about government tyranny is long past. Our well oiled democracy has built-in safeguards that ensure government tyranny would never happen. Along with that is the ironic and contradictory side argument that all of our US militias would never be a match against a government armed with drones and nukes — that same government that would never resort to tyranny. Essentially “they would never be tyrants but if they were you’d be no match for them.”
Well, I’m no longer so sure O’Donnell is right. We saw a militarization in Boston a few weeks ago that should give us all pause. When asked if America would ever drone strike its own people, Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial response was a hypothetical yes. He only backed off after an old-fashioned filibuster by Senator Rand Paul focused attention on it. Combine this with the other stories I watched this week, and we no longer have the liberal ideal of America that I vote for every four years.
But beyond all that, we have a conservative populace with a sizable number of folks who still don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America and a liberal populace too ignorant to understand that universal background checks (which I support) would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy of Sandy Hook. We are, as a nation, getting dumber and dumber. If we don’t turn this around, we will wake up one morning and not recognize the America in which we live. Our ignorance will be the food that one day nourishes a true despot.
Poster from National Archives