This article was originally published by John W. Whitehead at The Rutherford Institute.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”—George Orwell
The American people remain eager to be persuaded that a new president in the White House can solve the problems that plague us.
Yet no matter who wins this presidential election, you can rest assured that the new boss will be the same as the old boss, and we—the permanent underclass in America—will continue to be forced to march in lockstep with the police state in all matters, public and private.
Indeed, it really doesn’t matter what you call them—the Deep State, the 1%, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military-industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter which party occupies the White House in 2021, the unelected bureaucracy that actually calls the shots will continue to do so.
In the interest of liberty and truth, here are a few hard truths about life in the American police state that will persist no matter who wins the 2020 presidential election. Indeed, these issues persisted—and in many cases flourished—under both Republican and Democratic administrations in recent years.
Police militarization will continue. Thanks to federal grant programs allowing the Pentagon to transfer surplus military supplies and weapons to local law enforcement agencies without charge, police forces will continue to be transformed from peace officers to heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks, and weaponized drones. “Today, 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, and armored vehicles,” stated Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. “Some have tanks.”
Overcriminalization will continue. In the face of a government bureaucracy consumed with churning out laws, statutes, codes, and regulations that reinforce its powers and value systems and those of the police state and its corporate allies, we will all continue to be viewed as petty criminals, guilty of violating some minor law. Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000-plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. In fact, according to law professor John Baker, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime.” Consequently, we now find ourselves operating in a strange new world where small farmers who dare to make unpasteurized goat cheese and share it with members of their community are finding their farms raided, while home gardeners face jail time for daring to cultivate their own varieties of orchids without having completed sufficient paperwork. This frightening state of affairs—where a person can actually be arrested and incarcerated for the most innocent and inane activities, including feeding a whale and collecting rainwater on their own property—is due to what law scholars refer to as overcriminalization.
Jailing Americans for profit will continue. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. In exchange for corporations buying and managing public prisons across the country at a supposed savings to the states, the states have to agree to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years. Such a scheme simply encourages incarceration for the sake of profits, while causing millions of Americans, most of them minor, nonviolent criminals, to be handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. Thus, although the number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes such as driving with a suspended license is skyrocketing.
Poverty will continue. Despite the fact that we have 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food, and at least 900,000 veterans relying on food stamps (mind you, these are pre-COVID numbers, which have only got worse during this pandemic), enormous sums continue to be doled out for presidential excursions (taxpayers have been forced to pay at least $100 million so that Donald Trump could visit his golf clubs and private properties more than 500 times during his four years in office).
Endless wars that enrich the military-industrial complex will continue. Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians, and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe. Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military-industrial complex at taxpayer expense. Consider that since 2001, Americans have spent $10.5 million every hour for numerous foreign military occupations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police shootings of unarmed Americans will continue. No matter what our party politics, race, religion, or any other distinction used to divide us, we all suffer when violence becomes the government’s calling card. Remember, in a police state, you’re either the one with your hand on the trigger or you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Indeed, Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. Americans are 110 times more likely to die of foodborne illness than in a terrorist attack. Police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be made financially liable for their wrongdoing. As a result, Americans are largely powerless in the face of militarized police.
SWAT team raids will continue. More than 80,000 SWAT team raids are carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans for relatively routine police matters. Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. There has been a notable buildup in recent years of SWAT teams within non-security-related federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Education Department.
The government’s war on the American people will continue. “We the people” are no longer shielded by the rule of law. While the First Amendment—which gives us a voice—is being muzzled, the Fourth Amendment—which protects us from being bullied, badgered, beaten, broken, and spied on by government agents—is being disemboweled. Consequently, you no longer have to be poor, black, or guilty to be treated like a criminal in America. All that is required is that you belong to the suspect class—that is, the citizenry—of the American police state. As a de facto member of this so-called criminal class, every U.S. citizen is now guilty until proven innocent. The oppression and injustice—be it in the form of shootings, surveillance, fines, asset forfeiture, prison terms, roadside searches, and so on—will come to all of us eventually unless we do something to stop it now.
Government corruption will continue. The government is not our friend. Nor does it work for “we the people.” Americans instinctively understand this. When asked to name the greatest problem facing the nation, Americans of all political stripes ranked the government as the number one concern. In fact, almost eight out of ten Americans believe that government corruption is widespread. Our so-called government representatives do not actually represent us, the citizenry. We are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests whose main interest is in perpetuating power and control. Congress is dominated by a majority of millionaires who are, on average, fourteen times wealthier than the average American.
The rise of the surveillance state will continue. Government eyes are watching you. They see your every move: what you read, how much you spend, where you go, with whom you interact when you wake up in the morning, what you’re watching on television and reading on the internet. Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line. Police have been outfitted with a litany of surveillance gear, from license plate readers and cell phone tracking devices to biometric data recorders. Technology now makes it possible for the police to scan passersby in order to detect the contents of their pockets, purses, briefcases, etc. Full-body scanners, which perform virtual strip-searches of Americans traveling by plane, have gone mobile, with roving police vans that peer into vehicles and buildings alike—including homes. Coupled with the nation’s growing network of real-time surveillance cameras and facial recognition software, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
The erection of a suspect society will continue. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Making matters worse are Terrorism Liaison Officers (firefighters, police officers, and even corporate employees) who have been trained to spy on their fellow citizens and report “suspicious activity,” which includes taking pictures with no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements and drawings, taking notes, conversing in code, espousing radical beliefs and buying items in bulk. TLOs report back to “fusion centers,” which are a driving force behind the government’s quest to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on American citizens.
Government tyranny under the reign of an Imperial President will continue. The Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers: to serve as Commander in Chief of the military, grant pardons, make treaties (with the approval of Congress), appoint ambassadors and federal judges (again with Congress’ blessing), and veto legislation. In recent years, however, American presidents have anointed themselves with the power to wage war, unilaterally kill Americans, torture prisoners, strip citizens of their rights, arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, carry out warrantless spying on Americans, and erect their own secretive, shadow government. The powers amassed by each past president and inherited by each successive president—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whoever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability. The grim reality we must come to terms with is the fact that the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned. More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty, and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us. This state of affairs has become the status quo, no matter which party is in power.
The government’s manipulation of national crises in order to expand its powers will continue. “We the people” have been subjected to an “emergency state” that justifies all manner of government tyranny and power grabs in the so-called name of national security. Whatever the so-called threat to the nation—whether it’s civil unrest, school shootings, alleged acts of terrorism, or the threat of a global pandemic in the case of COVID-19—the government has a tendency to capitalize on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear as a means of extending the reach of the police state. Indeed, the government’s answer to every problem continues to be more government—at taxpayer expense—and less individual liberty.
The bottom line is this: nothing taking place on Election Day will alleviate the suffering of the American people. Unless we do something more than a vote, the government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated, and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups—will remain unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—will continue to trudge along a path of misery.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these problems will continue to plague our nation unless and until Americans wake up to the fact that we’re the only ones who can change things for the better and then do something about it. If there is to be any hope of restoring our freedoms and reclaiming control over our government, it will rest not with the politicians but with the people themselves.
After all, Indeed, the Constitution opens with those three vital words, “We the people.”
What the founders wanted us to understand is that we are the government.
There is no government without us—our sheer numbers, our muscle, our economy, our physical presence in this land. There can also be no police state—no tyranny—no routine violations of our rights without our complicity and collusion—without our turning a blind eye, shrugging our shoulders, allowing ourselves to be distracted, and our civic awareness diluted.
No matter which candidate wins this election, the citizenry and those who represent us need to be held accountable to this powerful truth.