So how does the US prepare for a presidential election here at the beginning of this already exhausted, near bankrupt, blood-soaked new century? Why, the same way it's done in Zimbabwe, Burma, Egypt, and Cameroon. Not to mention scores of other countries that receive billions in lethal military aid from the US taxpayer: By placing elements of the military on alert; by militarizing the local police departments; by placing the State Police on active stand-by; by declaring a preemptive state of emergency; by suspending whatever pretend civil rights might still be in play -- assembly, speech, habeas corpus, due process, probable cause -- and by notifying the general public there is the distinct possibility of massive civil disorder if the wrong candidate wins, the wrong candidate being either one of the two running.
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Alexandra Bolton, writing at TheHill, describes how the various authorities are preparing for the possibility of what is being called "Post-Election Unrest." This would all be so funny, so slapstick ridiculous -- like the Marx Brothers in Freedonia -- except it isn't. It's deadly serious. Already the right-wing psychopaths are clogging the Web with cowardly, half-assed threats of their beer-bellied violence should the black guy "steal" the election.
Christianist fundamentalist radio hosts and whacked-out preachers are telling their arm-waving, eye-rolling congregations that this could be it! This could be that moment! when Jeebus returns! when the righteous shall rise in the air like duck feathers! when the streets are awash in the blood of the unrighteous! and the Lamb of God descends to enjoy the mess! And all because it says so in, what? Jeremiah? Ezekiel? Daniel? Mad Magazine? The Onion?
Where are we? Philosopher/astronomer Carl Sagan framed it best not long before he died. We live, he said, in a demon haunted world. While his reference may have been focused primarily on the anti-scientific religious bullshit in which the planet now finds itself neck-deep, he also may have been warning his readers about the sick, twisted, political leaders scattered across the planet as well, leaders who are in no danger of losing their power since the inability of those they control to think, to resist, to rebel, has been excised, burned away, by -- among other forms of control -- the now almost global fear of "terrorism."
Has ever a meme been as successful in rendering impotent entire populations as "the war on terror?" Has there ever been a more effective agent used to immobilize, to stupefy, than this one?
Perhaps only the admonition to vote, early or otherwise, at the polls or through the mail, in person or using an absentee ballot, has had a more universal effect (a more effective meme) in fooling the public, the citizenry, into believing something truly momentous is about to happen when, in fact, nothing really is.
When have the citizens of this -- or any other -- society truly had the power promised by casting a ballot? And yet, troop to the Diebold machines we must. Not to do so would bring the scorn of our neighbors and a certain self-loathing made more painful by the ever present media directive: Vote! Or shut up! Or consider yourself a terrible citizen, worthy of banishment!
But . . .
Every political regime has its narratives, its myths and dogmas and tales of glory that are designed to reproduce loyal citizens. America's narrative concerns "democracy." According to the classic theory that appears in our civics textbooks, modern democracy is a political system in which the people decide how they wish to be governed by electing representatives who carry out their will. The ultimate source of authority in the democratic system is thus the individual voter, whose solemn and heroic responsibility we celebrate at every national, state, and local election. The basic premise of the classic view is that "the people rule," and so we are told ad nauseam from the time we enter kindergarten -- and that, we tell one another at every opportunity, is what makes America the greatest nation in the history of the world. In our democratic system, the best and most wonderful system that ever was, the light of nations, the shining city on the hill, the people deliberate over policies and weigh alternatives and come to a rational decision about the public good. In this way they produce what political scientists and philosophers call the "general will," which they communicate (as if by magic or at least by poll) to their elected representatives, who are obliged to carry it out. Even in the face of daily proof that this state of affairs does not exist, the idea that "the people" rule somehow persists as the first article of our civic creed.
But, the mythology is just that, and, on touching the Diebold screen, it shatters into a million mocking pieces:
Modern democracy . . . is a method of political decision in which individuals acquire the power to rule by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote. Far from being a system in which the people rule, it is best characterized as "the rule of the politician." The role of the people is simply to accept the leadership of the most successful politicians. Political parties, and the multitude of pressure groups they comprise, engage in a constant struggle for power, which at certain intervals becomes institutionalized and legitimated by the people's vote. "Actually existing" democracy has little in common with the ideal of Enlightenment philosophers or the ancient variety practiced by Athenian slaveholders.
All of which is not to discourage a repeat of the last time we trooped to the voting precinct. We're off! Let's go! Onward! Because if we don't . . . John McCain and Sarah Palin may be our new leaders. And that may result in the possible scenario sent to me by Scott in Somerville, MA:
The worst thing I can imagine about a possible McCain/Palin administration is this: she'll be the last image burnt into our collective consciousness; the last thing we see and hear on the way out. One day, soon after their inauguration, her image will appear on every channel at once and she will announce that they've launched a pre-emptive strike on Russia, and to pray for that, and we should expect retaliation, and to pray for that, too, but we will prevail since it is God's will. And then the image will dissolve because, of course, the Pentagon and Washington will be struck first, and we will all cringe and huddle with our families as city after American city flashes into brilliant white light, and the worst thing about it is she will die never knowing she is wrong, this is not Armageddon, there is no afterlife, and we will die unable to tell her "we told you so."
Don't let this happen to you.