If this doesn’t sum up too much of the last five years, I don’t know what else will:
This mindless, authoritarian belief in Presidential Infallibility repeats itself in almost every debate we are having. Those who favor greater protections for accused terrorists for military commissions are labelled by Bush followers as advocating for “terrorist rights” even though the whole point is that we can’t know they are terrorists until we give them a fair trial. But to Bush followers, the Leader’s decision to detain them and accuse them is all we need to know. We can place blind faith in the Leader’s judgment. Thus, to be accused by the Bush administration of terrorism is the same as being a Terrorist. Those detained at Guantanamo, or by the U.S. military, or anyone accused by the President of being an “enemy combatant,” is guilty for that reason alone. And thus anyone who advocates rights for those so accused is, by definition, advocating rights for Terrorists.
The same irrational, zombified mental process dominates the debate over warrantless eavesdropping. According to the administration, it is only eavesdropping on individuals whom it suspects are involved in some way with Terrorists. But to the administration and its followers, to be suspected of terrorism by the administration is to be a Terrorist. Hence, they will say that the Bush administration is only eavesdropping on terrorists because they recognize no distinction between being accused by the administration of terrorism and being a Terrorist. Thus, anyone opposed to warrantless eavesdropping is, to them, opposed to eavesdropping on Terrorists (rather than objecting to the administration’s ability to eavesdrop without first demonstrating that there is reason to believe they are a terrorist).
(On a totally unrelated note, I love Glenn Greenwald and want to have his babies. I think if Glenn Greenwald and Jim Henley started a group blog, they should call it “For Good or For Awesome” because it would either be good, or it would be awesome, or it would be good and awesome, and either way it would kick so much serious ass that it would probably implode upon itself revealing only a pure, dense core of amazing awesome which would probably blast away the outer shell of the blogging universe, which would be ultra-amazing awesome. Ahem.)
Glenn’s right. It is irrational. But can that many people really be crazy? Or is it just that a crazy minority of people have a really loud megaphone? Or is it that a crazy minority of people control all the branches of government in the United States so it doesn’t really mater what the non-crazy majority think? I dunno. But that doesn’t explain why the citizens are so happy to let their government do bad things. So let’s consider the rational reasons:
- They genuinely trust the feds. When the government says, “This is a bad person,” they really believe there’s a bad person on the receiving end of the stern look. You have to be very naive to trust the government this completely; you have to not know anyone who has ever been falsely accused of anything, fallen victim to overaggressive cops, or been jacked around by The System. It seems that in order to believe this, your interaction with the government has to be limited to filing a tax return once a year, and it’s imperative that you’re white, middle class, and don’t do anything that attracts undue government attention. Eventually most people grow out of this phase, usually by 25 or so (the first tax audit seems to do it, or the first time you’re asked for ID by a cop for no good reason).
- They don’t trust the feds, but they’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this issue. I think most of us inherently suspicious types were in this camp immediately after 9/11, and most of us hopped out once it became painfully apparent (almost as immediately) that the feds were no better at solving this particular problem than they were at solving, say, the drug problem. In order to be in this camp you don’t have to be quite as naive as people in the first camp, but you do need to avoid asking yourself the question, “If the government can’t deliver the fucking mail, what hope in hell do they have of successfully saving my ass from a terrorist attack?”
- They’re so scared that they’re willing to pay any price to not be scared. This is the first of the bad camps, exactly the people Franklin warned about in the apocryphal quote everyone’s waving around these days. 9/11 unhinged the yuppies in such a serious way that they lost control of their critical faculties and need to be slapped silly until they settle down. Exhibit A in this instance is James Lileks, who went faaaaar off the deep end after 9/11 even though the odds of his being killed, specifically, are roughly as good as his being crushed by an asteroid. But there are an awful lot of yuppies out there who are shit-scared of this thing, though weirdly they tend to live in places not actually likely to be attacked by terrorists. I note that New Yorkers, as a general rule, are not running to embrace George or his policies, and, lest we forget, they were the ones getting killed on 9/11, not some doofus in Omaha.
- They genuinely like dictatorship. This is the scary option. Sara Robinson has written a series of excellent essays about fundamentalist, authoritarian personality types (start here and keep reading; Kung Fu Monkey sums the series up) and though I don’t agree with her completely, there’s a lot to think about in there, and although she’s not speaking specifically to this point I feel it generalizes nicely. There’s always going to be some segment of the population who believe that it’s OK to be brutal and evil to people sufficiently unlike them, and we’re probably not ever going to be able to get away from that. Woe betide those who find themselves on the other side of the fence; it’s exactly like the Christians arguing in favor of the protection of marriage and the establishment of a state religion — what, precisely, makes you think you’re going to be the ones in control for ever?
The problem, unfortunately, is that at the end of the day the delusions — whatever their source — are ultimately self-reinforcing. If there’s no terrorist attack, that proves that whatever Bush is doing works, so we need more of it. If there is another terrorist attack, well, Bush got his hands tied by the Democrats, so we need more of what he was going to do. So either way, we need more. You would think that this bit of logic would tend to nudge people out of one of their delusional camps — two opposite statements lead to the same conclusion? wtf?! — but logic is apparently not most people’s strong suit. If you’re convinced that you’re going to die when Osama sneaks into your bedroom tomorrow night, and that only Bush can save you.. well, there’s a whole host of false premises there and nothing I can do is going to change your mind. We could do ourselves a big favor by lowering the rhetoric over terrorism and stapling James Fallows’ article from the September Atlantic on people’s foreheads, though given the bloodlust in some people with loud megaphones I doubt it would do much good.
Part of me thinks we should just concede defeat on this issue and move on, but then I realize the outcome is going to be so much worse that it probably isn’t worth thinking about. I fear for the United States and I fear for my world. I don’t think George Bush is going to get us all killed (the same way I thought Reagan was going to get us all killed), but I do think he’s doing an excellent job of fucking the shit up and making things about a thousand times worse than they need to be, which is not exactly an original thought but this is my LJ so shut up.
Frink and I have talked about Outer Context Problems, where your frame of reference is so dramatically different that we can’t hope to bridge the gap and have a meaningful conversation. This feels like one of those OCPs — either you believe that we’re all gonna die, or you have your doubts; if you fall into the former camp, nothing someone from the latter camp can do will change your mind. Unfortunately the conditions for leaving the former are very poorly defined indeed, and so I conclude that we’re going to be stuck with this for a long time to come.
And that’s your depressing thought for the morning.