Maybe I'm all wrong about the ennui. Because if narrowly-framed polls are any indication, the propaganda efforts by Frighteners, Inc. are working really well. A sizeable portion of the population, besides being bored out their skulls, really does believe that Islamists are on the verge of breaching the borders of The Homeland, bent on killing us all in our beds. It really is possible to be apathetic and scared shitless at the same time.
I don't know whether the 60 percent or so who think that bombing Syria is a good idea are among the same 60-plus percent who can't name the three branches of government. That's a poll for another day.
Oh, and it's not that people aren't protesting the latest surge in perpetual War Against Terror. Because they are. Yesterday, a grand total of 22 people showed up to demonstrate in front of the White House. In San Francisco, erstwhile Demonstration Central, the streets were quiet. The same folks who got wee-wee'd up when Bush waged war are marching in lockstep behind Obama for this one. This is despite the fact that he bragged that such bastions of repressive totalitarianism as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are his new BFFs. These are places where they still behead and enslave people. The cognitive dissonance between that statement and a later one at the star-studded Clinton Global Initiative, urging civil rights on other countries, was deafening.
And it's more than apathy and fear cancelling each other out in the average American. It's cynicism and gullibility. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism,
A mixture of gullibility and cynicism has been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever changing incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct assumption that under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.And thus it was only the day after the bombing of Syria that our government deigned to let us know of the secret existence of a nefarious little group called Khorasan (rhymes with Corazon, which is Spanish for "heart," so this is a shadow terror group you'll really love to hate!) Is it a real threat? Our inner Cynic All tells us no, our inner Gully Bull tells us yes, and the two of them give birth to Con Fusion. Maybe it's best to just keep quiet, and assume that if the Commander in Chief lies, it's to keep us safe. He has our best interests at heart. After all, the uninsured rate has gone down by eight percent, and he embraced gay rights. It's a cold hard world out there. And as Arendt observed, secrecy is an absolute prerequisite for the successful indoctrination of the masses. Not for nothing has the Obama administration been called the most secretive in modern history. A few intrepid journalists are even daring to complain, their access to the powerful be damned.
The AP lists eight ways that the White House suppresses news and thus effectuates its own buzzing war propaganda machine. I quote the list in its entirety, because this is important:
1) As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.
2) The White House once fought to get cameramen, photographers and reporters into meetings the president had with foreign leaders overseas. That access has become much rarer. Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media: Keep them out and let them use handout photos.
3) Guantanamo: The big important 9/11 trial is finally coming up. But we aren’t allowed to see most court filings in real time — even of nonclassified material. So at hearings, we can’t follow what’s happening. We don’t know what prosecutors are asking for, or what defense attorneys are arguing.
4) Information about Guantanamo that was routinely released under President George W. Bush is now kept secret. The military won’t release the number of prisoners on hunger strike or the number of assaults on guards. Photo and video coverage is virtually nonexistent.
5) Day-to-day intimidation of sources is chilling. AP’s transportation reporter’s sources say that if they are caught talking to her, they will be fired. Even if they just give her facts, about safety, for example. Government press officials say their orders are to squelch anything controversial or that makes the administration look bad.
6) One of the media — and public’s — most important legal tools, the Freedom of Information Act, is under siege. Requests for information under FOIA have become slow and expensive. Many federal agencies simply don’t respond at all in a timely manner, forcing news organizations to sue each time to force action.
7) The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing. Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.
8) The administration is trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out. The FBI has directed local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology the police departments use to sweep up cellphone data. In some cases, federal officials have formally intervened in state open records cases, arguing for secrecy.
It's not only mission-creep we have to worry about. It's totalitarianism-creep. Secrecy and democracy simply cannot co-exist. And adding to the AP's list of oppressive government tactics, here's a scary new one, just in today:
Journalists who cover the White House say Obama’s press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.
Meanwhile, as Dana Milbank observes in today's Washington Post, "Obama endures as the lesser evil for liberals." Noting the low turnout at a D.C. peace protest, he writes:
He has disappointed liberal constituencies on immigration, on climate change, on Guantanamo Bay and targeted killings, and now on Syria. Yet this month’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows him with 69 percent support among liberals, 87 percent among African Americans and 75 percent among Democrats. Liberals supported airstrikes in Iraq and Syria (64 percent and 54 percent, respectively), as did Democrats (67 percent and 60 percent).
I asked (Code Pink's Medea) Benjamin, who like (antiwar activist David) Swanson voted for Obama in 2008 before turning Green, why so few on the left oppose Obama. “He’s totally defanged us,” she said, citing his party, his affability — and his race. “The black community is traditionally the most antiwar community in this country. He’s defanged that sentiment within the black community, or certainly voicing that sentiment.”Only time will tell if Obama will continue enjoying the support, enjoyed largely because of the concomitant secrecy of his administration and his skill at marketing. Remember, the majority of the people also supported George W. Bush in the early days of the Second Iraq War. And Bush was not nearly as attractive or glib as the current White House occupant, who lobs the love bombs along with the Tomahawk missiles. History is full of charismatic politicians whose forceful personalities trump the common sense of their followers.
If there is any hope at all, it lies with the young. Just when I thought the news couldn't get any more depressing, I came across an article in today's New York Times about a group of Colorado students who walked out of class to protest a Koch-fueled curriculum touting the free market and patriotism.
At least we still have free speech, suppressed and discouraged and monitored as it is. It's on us to keep fighting back, against all odds and against all apathy. The Colorado students, part of what Commander-in-Chief Obama creepily calls the 9/11 Generation, have never known a day in which this country has not been at war. So good on them that they refuse to get used to the status quo.