The Road to Dictatorship

That 56 percent of all Americans "think the federal government’s become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens" isn’t really all that surprising. After all, ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government’s "right" to read our e-mails, seize our property, hold us as "enemy combatants," and otherwise trample on the Constitution has been expanding at an exponential pace. What’s really shocking, however, is that, according to this CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll, released on Feb. 28, most of the people who believe this are overwhelmingly … Republicans. That is, they are self-described supporters of the very same party which impaled the Constitution on the sword of the "war on terrorism." According to the poll, "only 37 percent of Democrats" believe this, as opposed to "63 percent of Independents and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans."

Is it just me, or was it only yesterday that the Democratic base was outraged by "Bushitler," and the "Cheney-PNAC" alleged neo-fascists who were taking over the country and driving dissent underground? How quickly they turn!

Adding to the irony, the poll was taken on the same weekend the extension of the PATRIOT Act passed the Democraticcontrolled Congress – without debate, without a peep of protest from the "progressives" in Congress, and disguised as a vote in favor of a Senate amendment to the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act. Bravery is not something we see much of in Washington, D.C. As one blogger put it:

"So, if you heard the news of a Patriot Act vote, and went looking for the roll call, you wouldn’t find it. You’d see roll call # 67 for this year, but would reasonably conclude that the vote is thoroughly unrelated to the Patriot Act. If you hadn’t heard of the Patriot Act extension, and just wanted to see what legislation had been voted on yesterday, you would come away still ignorant of what the House of Representatives had actually done."

The shamefaced Democrats are too cowardly to openly acknowledge their contribution to the destruction of the Constitution: instead, they’re hoping we don’t notice more Democrats than Republicans voted for the extension of this odious Act. At one point, the Dems were hinting that they might want to "reform" the Act, and put in certain "privacy protections," but they soon gave that up and now their media amen corner is busy demonizing "anti-government zealots" who dare to question the ongoing government takeover of … practically everything.

Keith Olbermann is still going on about how many days it’s been since George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished!" in Iraq – even as President Barack Obama’s generals warn that we’ll still be stuck in that particular quagmire well beyond the withdrawal date supposedly set by their commander-in-chief. Not only that, but Obama is fighting a secret war in Pakistan, continuing the previous administration‘s war on our civil liberties, and extending its tentacles into every aspect of American life – yes, even our health care.

The "PATRIOT" Act, all several hundred pages of it, was passed in the dead of night without being read, without being adequately debated, and with the full official approval of both parties, who unhesitatingly wiped out two-hundred years of constitutional law in a procedure that lasted for less than an hour.

“The president’s reversal on Patriot Act reform is a major travesty,” says Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, a bit of phraseology that just about sums up the first year of Obama’s reign. All those liberal hearts, broken by that seductive love-’em-and-leave-’em Chicago smoothie – except no one’s complaining.

The Associated Press reported the vote in terms that can only be described as odd:

"Democrats have retreated from adding new privacy protections to the nation’s primary counterterrorism law, stymied by Senate Republicans who argued the changes would weaken terror investigations. The proposed protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them."

The Democrats have … retreated? Since most of them voted for the "PATRIOT" Act to begin with, I wouldn’t exactly phrase it that way.

As the Democratic majority gets ready to ram an immensely unpopular "health-care reform" bill through the Congress without a "super-majority," one can only wonder at their priorities. Is it really more important to force poor Americans to buy insurance they can’t afford than it is to save our constitutional liberties from being crushed underfoot?

Apparently so.

Passed in a time of "emergency," and touted as a temporary measure, the "PATRIOT" Act has, like all such measures, become routine: part and parcel of the legal-political landscape, which no one really questions. The "right" of the government to impound our records, seize our property, jail us, fine us, and haul us before a military tribunal – all of this has now become "normal."

Did you know that a recipient of a "National Security Letter" – say, your Internet provider – must not only hand over all records, documents, and what-have-you to the Feds, but must also refrain from talking about or otherwise revealing the existence of the letter? Just like they can simply take you in the dead of night, throw you in a cell– and, yes, even torture you, if they feel like it – and no one need ever know.

Accepting this as a fait accompli is now "normal" in Washington, D.C. No wonder the majority of Americans consider the federal government a dangerous enemy – and they’re all too right about that.

The question is: what do we do about it? Here’s where the confusion comes in. While there are many indications that Americans are waking up to the main danger to their liberty and livelihoods – a danger that doesn’t reside in a cave somewhere, overseas, but right here in the good ol’ US of A – the political class in this country is deeply ensconced, and won’t be pried out of power with a crowbar. It will take something with a lot more explosive power.

No, I’m not talking about an ordinary bomb – violence would only embolden them. I’m talking about the debt bomb, which is scheduled to go off in the very near future. We won’t have to defeat the army of federal occupation militarily – because they’re about to go bankrupt. Just wait until they can’t pay their SWAT teams, their Homeland Security goons, their multitudinous minions in every snooping federal agency: do they imagine that these people will stay on out of loyalty or ideological fervor? Or out of "patriotism"? Well of course they don’t imagine that, which is why, these days, they’re notably nervous.

This nervousness pervades elite circles in this country, and is expressed in a peevish impatience with any sort of dissidence, on any subject: if you fall out of line, they swat you – and you stay down, if they can help it. The tea-partiers, the antiwar protesters (such as they are), the stray politician who dares speak truth to power – anyone who expresses an opinion deemed outside the very narrow range of the permissible is automatically attacked as a "extremist," a dangerous "radical," and very possibly a potentially violent person whose every move is rightfully being mapped by the authorities.

Intersecting with this skittishness is an impending sense of economic and social crisis. Real fear, such as we haven’t experienced in a mass way since 9/11, pervades the air: an entirely justified fear of an economic collapse. Last year, when the banks trembled on the edge of a very steep precipice, lawmakers were told "in private" that if the bank bailout wasn’t passed, "there would be martial law in America," as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) revealed on the House floor. "Now that’s what I call fear-mongering," said Rep. Sherman, but in my view this wasn’t a bluff. In the midst of an economic collapse, an "event" in which the stock market drops by, say, 5,000 points, and there’s a run on the dollar, as Ron Paul predicts, I don’t think there’s any question but that the authorities would immediately impose martial law.

In Ayn Rand’s classic novel of American decline, Atlas Shrugged, a giant oak tree stands on the property of the heroine’s family estate: it had been there as long as she could remember, towering over the landscape like a living monument to stability and continuity. One night during a thunderstorm the tree – an oak – was struck by lightning. When she came out to the charred scene in the morning she saw that the tree had split open, revealing nothing but a hollow shell.

I’m afraid this is precisely what will happen if – or, rather, when – economic lightning hits our brittle society: it is likely to shatter and reveal the vast emptiness that has taken over where the American character once resided. As Rep. Paul points out in this video, rather than resisting martial law, the American people in their majority will probably demand it.

That will mark the end of the American experiment, as we knew it. The vision of the Founders will go down in history as a tragic failure – one that took an awful lot of people down with it.

If this is not to be the future, then where are the mass protests against the reauthorization of a totalitarian Act such as hasn’t been seen in this country since the Alien and Sedition Acts? Where are the liberals? Where are the old-style conservatives? Where is the America I once knew – the America of the Founders, a cantankerous and quarrelsome lot, whom no tyrant could tame? I fear we have become a decadent and fatally corrupted people, for whom the Founders are those guys with funny wigs, slave-owners who wouldn’t let women vote, with a lot of strange, anti-social ideas, like Jefferson’s Tim McVeigh-ish belief that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

A few liberals, like Glenn Greenwald, have spoken out, but their numbers only underscore the underlying silence: a few conservatives of the old school have raised their voices in protest, but they, too, are isolated, and are, in any case, ignored by their fellows on the right, at least those in the GOP, who vehemently support the "PATRIOT" Act and all the rest of the Bush-Cheney era legislation aimed at subverting the Constitution.

"Oh Obama, you silly neocon!" japed Ryan Mauro over at Frontpage, and for once I have to agree with (yikes!) David Horowitz:

"Sometimes partisanship and heated debates makes us forget how little has changed and how little really divides the two parties when it comes to national security. The rhetoric was changed and the policies had to be repackaged, modified a little bit to better fit the administration’s own beliefs and political promises, but what’s actually being done has changed very little. Policies, like celebrities, need to be reinvented to stay with the times.

"Case in point: President Obama has just signed a one-year extension of the Patriot Act.

"The entire legislation wasn’t preserved, though—so surely it was refined to limit its violations of civil liberties, right? Think again. As The Associated Press reports, ‘Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.’ Oh, snap!"

I’m unsure as to whether "Oh, snap!" is meant approvingly, but no matter. The point is that this is "change" the neocons can believe in. And while the anti-Obama market is too lucrative for Horowitz to give it up, others are not so "principled." David Frum, whose own security prescriptions go way beyond the "PATRIOT" Act, has lately been urging his fellow conservatives to go a little easier on Obama, and urging compromise on economic matters – because what the neocons really care about is foreign policy and civil liberties questions. As long as we have an all-powerful surveillance state, which is waging war on multiple fronts at all times, the David Frums of this world are happy.

I hope the folks over at the David Horowitz Center for Freedom, or whatever it is his outfit is called these days, are confident that the power they would grant the Obama administration will never be used in a way they would come to regret – say, against them. But don’t worry, David: when they come for you and lock you up in a reeducation camp, we’ll spring you – you know, like your former buddies in the Weather Underground sprang Timothy Leary.

Aside from neocon loons like Horowitz, I think a lot of "progressives" would readily support the imposition of martial law in an "economic emergency" – as Rahm Emanuel would say, "Rule one: never allow a crisis to go to waste." Can’t you just hear certain self-righteous "progressives" (not liberals) justifying censorship, a ban on public gatherings, or other assaults on our constitutional rights, on the grounds that certain speech and nonviolent action is "divisive," "hateful," and a threat to public order? I certainly hope conservatives don’t learn to value civil liberties the hard way, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.

By then liberals will have already forgotten that particular lesson – and the ideological spectrum will undergo yet another re-polarization, where left becomes right, right becomes left, and the cycle starts all over again….

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].