It cannot just be the government

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Of course I’d heard that the U.S. government had been behind the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But just because some people I trust believe something to be the case doesn’t mean there’s actual backing for the claim. I’d managed not to know that the matter had actually gone to trial. The King Center has transcripts and an outline of the trial. The juicy part is here:

After hearing and reviewing the extensive testimony and evidence, which had never before been tested under oath in a court of law, it took the Memphis jury only 1½ hours to find that a conspiracy to kill Dr. King did exist. Most significantly, this conspiracy involved agents of the governments of the City of Memphis, the state of Tennessee and the United States of America. The overwhelming weight of the evidence also indicated that James Earl Ray was not the triggerman and, in fact, was an unknowing patsy.1

I don’t know what became of this verdict. I assume that the U.S. government at all levels continues to deny the allegations.

So when I see something on the World Socialist Web Site headlined, “US pursues two-track policy to suppress protests in Egypt and Tunisia,”2 I’m a little less inclined to dismiss it as hyperbole—even if it does call for Trotskyite organizing in Egypt. Indeed, there can be little mistaking Obama administration sympathies in the case of Egypt, a key ally in U.S. policy on Israel.3 4

And when I see Mark Weisbrot write, “Haiti’s infamous dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, returned to his country this week, while the country’s first elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is kept out,” and that the U.S. role in evicting Aristide from power on two occasions is well-documented,5 6 I’m inclined to say the burden of proof lies with the U.S. government.

But when I combine this with the serial criminality of the Bush administration,7 whose policies have been embraced and extended by the Obama administration, and with the nearly permanent condition of war of the United States that extends from before it was even a country,8 I’m led to another conclusion. This government must truly reflect the people who continue to acquiesce to it. At some point the claim that elites can go on doing all this for hundreds of years and nobody can do anything about it wears thin.

If the people of the United States truly cared about democracy, they would rebel rather than tolerate the transfer of wealth and power not from the rich to the poor but from the poor to the wealthy.9 In the past, they would have.10 But no more.

If the people of the United States truly cared about democracy, if they truly believed in the United States as a “shining city on the hill,” whose system of government is universally beneficial to all humans,11 they would demand a stop to the continual support of foreign dictatorships12 and to its resistance to democracy in other countries.13 14 15 But they don’t.

If the people of the United States truly love peace, then why have there been only sixteen calendar years in which the U.S. has not had its military forces on some sort of killing expedition somewhere?16

It is common to attribute all this to ignorance—after all, I was unaware of that civil trial that found the government guilty of conspiracy in the Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination—and there’s not much question that the mainstream media serve as agents of power.17 18 19 20 Charles Reich projected an image of people exhausted by work and pacified by the illusions of riches on their television screens.21 But then I see all these examples from around the world of uprisings by people who are at least as subject to censorship as those in the United States, by people whose lives are at least as hard, by people who are nonetheless not fooled. And yet I am to suppose that people in the U.S. are fooled.

Again and again the question keeps arising. Why do the Greeks shut down their capital city rather than acquiesce to an “austerity program” that ensures that bankers get paid while their economy collapses?22 Why did Iranians rise up against vote fraud, judicial violence, corruption, and repression?23

I now lean instead towards the idea of pacification that Reich suggested. But Reich thought that this repression of the working class would be unsustainable, that inevitably a new consciousness would arise.24 It never happened. Because as near as I can tell, people in the U.S. want nothing more than to be cannon fodder and to be cogs in the corporate machine, all to preserve an illusion.

And even as the social safety net that should protect them from the ravages of devastating unemployment is eviscerated,25 26 they will join their brothers and sisters on the off ramps and the median strips of the nation’s highways and its city streets with their cardboard signs.

But they’ll be loyal “Americans.”

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