What Can’t They Get Away With?

23:49 Tue 16 Oct 2007. Updated: 01:52 17 Oct 2007
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“They” refers to the people who run this country, the political establishment—not just politicians but the various big shots who control most of the wealth and power. They’re getting away with what seems like an awful lot these days, what with continuing an unpopular and illegal war that they started on false pretenses, torturing people, imprisoning people without charge, brazenly running a surveillance state, presiding over a continuing massive transfer of wealth to the rich, stifling (and in some cases attempting to effectively criminalize) dissent… it goes on and on.

So what would it take to make it a step too far, something that enough people would do something effective about it? The pessimist says “nothing, there’s nothing”, and notes the immense power and influence that the elites have, and the unbelievable apathy and political disconnection of the American population.

The optimist looks at other popular movements, and sees that they have been successful even in the face of such odds. The problem is that those successes require a fairly united, and certainly comitted, population, which we certainly don’t have here.

A lot of people must have thought some breaking point was coming over the last few years, with the realization that Hussein’s alleged WMDs were just an excuse, that the case for war had been cooked up from the start, that this government didn’t even make an effort at first to pretend to care about its citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and all the other scandals. Surely, the thought went, surely it’s just so obvious now, people won’t stand for it any more.

But we do. We get along with our own lives, and register some protest, maybe even actively protest, but these things barely reach the elites, who barely pay lip service to democracy (Nancy Pelosi, way to the right of her constituents, was condescending and scathing towards protesters outside her house, even though she acknowledged that they essentially represent the party base). We’re disconnected from the levers of power (and deliberately kept so, obviously), and almost every avenue of reaching for those levers without being co-opted has been cut away, redefined as something akin to dirty hippy protest that nobody ‘respectable’ wants to be a part of.

Of course, that’s the kind of political culture you’re likely to get when the powerful interests control most of the media landscape.

Anyway, give nthat control, given the disaffection, given the distance, what would they have to do to provoke some response that they’d pay attention to? Declare martial law? Maybe, but if they came up with a good cover story, people would probably go for it. Cancel elections? Maybe, but if there were a (“respectable”) bipartisan consensus, and the media figures went along with talking about this was the best thing for the country right now (9/11, 9/11, 9/11), how much protest would we really see? Especially if they did it when the Colts play the Patriots in a few weeks?

I don’t know. I think that the capacity for significant pushback exists in this country, and perhaps the requisite networks are being built. But I also find it scary how much they’ve gotten away with already, and how hard it is for me to imagine something that they wouldn’t get away with.

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