Stay Alert, America: The Worst Is Yet to Come

By John Whitehead, the Rutherford Institute.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—Philosopher George Santayana

Stay alert, America.

This is not the time to drop our guards, even for a moment.

Nothing has changed since the election to alter the immediate and very real dangers of roadside strip searches, government surveillance, biometric databases, citizens being treated like terrorists, imprisonments for criticizing the government, national ID cards, SWAT team raids, censorship, forcible blood draws and DNA extractions, private prisons, weaponized drones, red light cameras, tasers, active shooter drills, police misconduct and government corruption.

Time alone will tell whether those who put their hopes in a political savior will find that trust rewarded or betrayed.

Personally, I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve been down this road before.

I’ve studied history.

I know what comes next.

It’s early days yet, but President-elect Trump—like his predecessors—has already begun to dial back many of the campaign promises that pledged to reform a broken system of government.

The candidate who railed against big government and vowed to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interest donors has already given lobbyists, corporate donors and members of the governmental elite starring roles in his new administration.

America, you’ve been played.

This is what happens when you play politics with matters of life, death and liberty.

You lose every time.

Unfortunately, in this instance, we all lose because of the deluded hypocrisy of the Left and the Right, both of which sanctioned the expansion of the police state as long as it was their party at the helm.

For the past eight years, the Left—stridently outspoken and adversarial while George W. Bush was president—has been unusually quiet about things like torture, endless wars, drone strikes, executive orders, government overreach and fascism.

As Glenn Greenwald points out for The Washington Post:

Beginning in his first month in office and continuing through today, Obama not only continued many of the most extreme executive-power policies he once condemned, but in many cases strengthened and extended them. His administration detained terrorism suspects without due process, proposed new frameworks to keep them locked up without trial, targeted thousands of individuals (including a U.S. citizen) for execution by drone, invoked secrecy doctrines to shield torture and eavesdropping programs from judicial review, and covertly expanded the nation’s mass electronic surveillance…

Liberals vehemently denounced these abuses during the Bush presidency… But after Obama took office, many liberals often tolerated — and even praised — his aggressive assertions of executive authority. It is hard to overstate how complete the Democrats’ about-face on these questions was once their own leader controlled the levers of power… After just three years of the Obama presidency, liberals sanctioned a system that allowed the president to imprison people without any trial or an ounce of due process.

Suddenly, with Trump in the White House for the next four years, it’s all fair game again.

As The Federalist declares with a tongue-in-cheek approach, “Dissent, executive restraint, gridlock, you name it. Now that Donald Trump will be president, stuff that used to be treason is suddenly cool again.”

Yet as Greenwald makes clear, if Trump is about to inherit vast presidential powers, he has the Democrats to thank for them.

A military empire that polices the globe. Secret courts, secret wars and secret budgets. Unconstitutional mass surveillance. Unchecked presidential power. Indefinite detention. Executive signing statements.

These are just a small sampling of the abusive powers that have been used liberally by Obama and will be used again and again by future presidents.

After all, presidents are just puppets on a string, made to dance to the tune of the powers-that-be. And the powers-that-be want war. They want totalitarianism. They want a monied oligarchy to run the show. They want bureaucracy and sprawl and government leaders that march in lockstep with their dictates. Most of all, they want a gullible, distracted, easily led populace that can be manipulated, maneuvered and made to fear whatever phantom menace the government chooses to make the bogeyman of the month.

Unless Trump does another about-face, rest assured that the policies of a Trump Administration will be no different from an Obama Administration or a Bush Administration, at least not where it really counts.

For that matter, a Clinton Administration would have been no different.

In other words, Democrats by any other name would be Republicans, and vice versa.

This is the terrible power of the shadow government: to maintain the status quo, no matter which candidate gets elected.

War will continue. Surveillance will continue. Drone killings will continue. Police shootings will continue. Highway robbery meted out by government officials will continue. Corrupt government will continue. Profit-driven prisons will continue. Censorship and persecution of anyone who criticizes the government will continue. The militarization of the police will continue. The government’s efforts to label dissidents as extremists and terrorists will continue.

In such a climate, the police state will thrive.

The more things change, the more they will stay the same.

We’ve been stuck in this political Groundhog’s Day for so long that minor deviations appear to be major developments while obscuring the fact that we’re stuck on repeat, unable to see the forest for the trees.

This is what is referred to as creeping normality, or a death by a thousand cuts.

It’s a concept invoked by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond to describe how major changes, if implemented slowly in small stages over time, can be accepted as normal without the shock and resistance that might greet a sudden upheaval.

Diamond’s concerns are environmental in nature, but they are no less relevant to our understanding of how a once-free nation could willingly bind itself with the chains of dictatorship.

Writing about Easter Island’s now-vanished civilization and the societal decline and environmental degradation that contributed to it, Diamond explains, “In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism… Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?”

His answer: “I suspect that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper.”

Much like America’s own colonists, Easter Island’s early colonists discovered a new world—“a pristine paradise”—teeming with life. Almost 2000 years after its first settlers arrived, Easter Island was reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they failed to preserve paradise for future generations.

To quote Joni Mitchell, they paved over paradise to put up a parking lot.

In Easter Island’s case, as Diamond speculates:

The forest…vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation… The changes in forest cover from year to year would have been hard to detect… Only older people, recollecting their childhoods decades earlier, could have recognized a difference.

Sound painfully familiar yet?

Substitute Easter Island’s trees for America’s republic and the trees being decimated for our freedoms, and the arrow hits the mark.

Diamond observes, “Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.

We’ve already torn down the rich forest of liberties established by our founders. They don’t teach freedom in the schools. Few Americans know their history. And even fewer seem to care that their fellow Americans are being jailed, muzzled, shot, tasered, and treated as if they have no rights at all. They don’t care, that is, until it happens to them—at which point it’s almost too late.

This is how the police state wins. This is how tyranny rises. This is how freedom falls.

A thousand cuts, each one justified or ignored or shrugged over as inconsequential enough by itself to bother. But they add up.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, each cut, each attempt to undermine our freedoms, each loss of some critical right—to think freely, to assemble, to speak without fear of being shamed or censored, to raise our children as we see fit, to worship or not worship as our conscience dictates, to eat what we want and love who we want, to live as we want—they add up to an immeasurable failure on the part of each and every one of us to stop the descent down that slippery slope.

It’s taken us 200 short years to destroy the freedoms our founders worked so hard to secure, and it’s happened with barely a whimper of protest from “we the people.”

So when I read about demonstrations breaking out in cities across the country and thousands taking to the streets to protest the threat of fascism from a Trump presidency, I have to wonder where were the concerns when access to Obama came easily to any special interest groups and donors willing and able to pay the admissions price?

When I see celebrities threatening to leave the country in droves, I have to ask myself, where was the outcry when the government’s efforts to transform local police into extensions of the military went into overdrive under the Obama administration?

When my newsfeed is overflowing with people wishing they could keep the Obamas in office because they are so cool, I shake my head in disgust over this “cool” president’s use of targeted drone strikes to assassinate American citizens without any due process.

When legal think tanks are threatening lawsuits over the possibility of Trump muzzling free expression, I can’t help but wonder where the outrage was over the Obama administration’s demonizing and criminalization of those who criticized the government.

And when commentators who previously dismissed as fear-mongering and hateful any comparison of the government’s tactics to Nazi Germany are suddenly comparing Trump to Hitler, I have to wonder if perhaps we’ve been living in different countries all along, because none of this is new.

Indeed, if we’re repeating history, the worst is yet to come.

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    And yet the tribalism continues.

  • Forearmed

    For every reason you mentioned, is my reasoning for asking that we have a Military coup. A coup is really the only way the swamp can be drained, because you would have to take out the whole of the executive branch of government, along with the CIA/NSA while blocking all Lobbyist, those Lamprey Eels who suck the life blood out of Congressional members by donating to their campaign funds and outright bribing them.

    The criminality has gotten so bad, the criminals are openly defying us and daring us to take them to task.

    You must understand, that there is no way to “Take back our government and country” without a civil war. All the rest of the rhetoric is no more than posturing by those in government who believe that lying will help them keep their jobs. A military coup would hopefully help avert civil war if done properly.

  • Nam Marine

    BULL ! Trump will make America great again !

  • Hildy_K

    The dr. day seminar given in 69 says it all. Wreakage of mankind.

  • ICFubar

    As we all know the official Russian take was that they preferred a Trump victory in the election but qualified that with a willingness to work with whoever was elected president. This being said a major Russian newspaper, often reflecting officialdom’s opinion, has stated that Trump was facing a rather daunting task as continuity in governing would necessarily mean he must challenge the co-opting and subversion of the policies he would like to see go forward and that the battle for him had just begun. As we can see from the list of those considered for cabinet posts it appears this battle has already been lost with the old servants of the shadow government filling the likely roster with nary an ‘American First’ patriot being named to the ranks of those who will be in control of the levers of power. Being older and a cynical realist I gave Trump’s campaign rhetoric about a 10% chance of having any meaningful chance of being implemented, which still seems correct in light of development of personnel proposed to run the “new” regime. Slickest damned pantomime, or campaign, conducted by the singularity since the “hope and change” one they ran that seems to have happened so long ago.

  • Nov 15, 2016 Did you vote to #DrainTheSwamp? Take the #TrumpPledge!

    Do you have the sinking feeling that Trump may start backing off his promises now that he’s in power. Is there the niggling doubt that the banksters, criminals and party insiders he’s surrounding himself with may not follow through on that draining of the swamp? Never fear!

  • LPS

    Did it ever occur to you that Trump is placating them and holding his cards close to the vest…so as not to tip off the current powers in charge? Did it ever occur to you that he is playing the long game? Trump is not stupid. Good grief, stop with the disheartening voice. He hasn’t even taken office yet. I normally love your stuff and think you are spot on in most articles…but this…is not helping.

  • Alleged Comment

    I don’t think we have been played. I think the Donald has been played the way Ronald Reagan was played, judging by a few picks. Too early and too few to tell.

    Hopefully, because he is not a power hungry politician he can see through the lies and subterfuge but only time will tell.

  • thomas jefferson

    Oboozo will start WW3,everyone in washington DC is guilty of treason and they know it,WOULD any of you willfuly go to your TREASON TRIAL and then be hanged on national TV,I doubt it,THE TRAITORS and TERRORISTS in DC know whats coming next if TRUMP becomes the president….HE’LL drain the swamp,and they ain’t going to let it happen,Neither are your kids,they were trained to HATE FREEDOM,and they would rather die in a fema death camp then be free…and they will…….

  • Jim

    Wisdom lives. Excellent advice given here. You quote the old saying about “history”, I would like to add another old one. “Becareful what you wish for.”

    • monkeyboy

      The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn anything from history.

  • lostinthevalley

    Trump will do what he can, when he can. He is going to feint, not signal his moves, throw out false signals, and pivot when appropriate. Do you really expect him to lay his cards on the table?

  • monkeyboy

    This is a pretty good article, but this Trump bashing hysteria has got to stop. For cryin’ out loud, give the guy a chance. Whatever he does I am pretty sure it will be a million times better than anything Hillary would do. Thank you for your consideration.

  • Marilyn Shealy

    Well I think that Trump should get a chance to do something, before people start trashing him. We all know that the party will have something to say about any changes he decides to make, I would imagine he could put though a lot of things using executive orders, do what he wants then erase those laws. don’t sell Trump short he will do what he can. He has put up a lot of money doesn’t even want to be paid for this job. He does how ever have a lot of businesses that are most likely hurting because of the economy. So he can save them and the people at the same time an we all come out on top. closing off the borders is a big one, Obama care another big issue, job creation, etc any of that will help the people.Trump will have teams of people around him helping him with major decisions, We all know they are gonna dump the economy on him, also he may have banking ties who he has made promises to, that wouldn’t be a surprise. He is the only chance left.

  • Reality check

    Nope, Whitehead is wrong. Trump has not dial back on any promises. This a bold faced lie. Trump has confirmed he would do what he said he would do in the campaign. The guy is 60 days from even taking office and hacks like whitehead are already making absolutely baseless claims about non-performance of promises. It’s guys like him that give the liberty movement a bad name. Irrational, illogical, chicken little’s than need safe spaces. In the week since Trump was elected and two months before he has even taken office: 1) WW3 has been canceled and a new spirit of cooperation with Russia has been established, 2) The TPP is dead, 3) He announced the climate deal is being abandoned by the US and coal plants closed by Tut are going to be re-opened and the remaining coal producers will not be put out of business, 4) he has already started renegotiating trade with the Chinese, 5) announced 2-3 million criminal illegal aliens are going to be deported immediately (and reports are the boarder patrol is now following trumps policy and ignoring obama’s) and and he has done all this and more within 1 week on being elected and he isn’t even president for two months. Really now, what more does anyone want from the guy? Whitehead is a jackass and quoting the Washington post just shows what a hack he is. Zero credibility.