Healthy mistrust of government is supposedly an integral element of U.S. culture, and in a sense it is. However, the somewhat mythical existence of certain ‘core values’ has been kept alive in our larger culture, whether or not those values are in effect to any great degree at any given time. The notion of “self-reliance,” especially without government assistance, is one: this ‘core value’ is cited whenever certain idealogues rant against taxpayer-funded social programs. Most often this disdain is reserved for those programs that are designed to aid the poor and working classes, but often it expands to the funding of more egalitarian and societally vital programs like public education, health care, and social security. Another notion is the ostensible abhorrence for “big government” and all its intrusive, totalitarian ramifications. This particular idea is used by right-wing idealogues to rouse the unwashed masses into accepting the relaxation of government regulation of big business and high finance. The cruelest irony is that the very things “the people” are told to fear from their government (ucchecked police power, curtailed civil rights, etc.) are the burdens which are laid on them in times of crisis.
The conservative establishment of the U.S. has demonstrated a remarkable opportunistic knack for manipulating public opinion and tightening its stranglehold on government. The imperialist excesses of the Reagan/Bush I years saw the U.S. finally outspend and outgun (through proxy wars) the cash-strapped, militarized Soviet Union into oblivion. Even while bringing economic crisis to their own nation, not to mention laying the groundwork for much of the misery in the Third World (much of which has led to the “terrorist” threats that we all face today) and helping to sink our nation’s already-endangered minority communities into the depradations of the “war on drugs,” the Reaganites managed to manipulate public opinion to the point where they are still hailed as revolutionary heroes by at least a healthy plurality of the electorate.
In 1992, William Jefferson Clinton took office. He was elected, in my opinion, because enough of the public was fed up with the war-mongering and fiscal hypocrisy of the neoconservative Reaganites. Whereas they had taken advantage of racism, nitwit nationalism, and old-fashioned ignorance to come to power in 1980, the neocons were forced to rely on newer, more Orwellian tactics to stymie the Clinton administration’s “centrist Democrat” approach. First they took advantage of most U.S. citizens’ quasi-Puritan moral hypocrisy. I personally witnessed several dozen men, many of whom had previously bragged about their extra-marital exploits, call down evil upon Clinton for lying about a blow job.
The carefully cultivated hatred of Clinton, helped along by the ever-consolidating corporate news media, was combined with a successful Republican congressional blitz which saw decisive legislative power returned to the right. Combining this with the conservative majority in the Supreme Court meant the grounds were fertile for a complete right-wing takeover of the federal government. There was just that small detail of the 2000 presidential election, and we all know what happened there.
So here we find ourselves in 2003. The attacks of 9/11 have yet to be completely explained, but the Bush administration has wasted no time in having its way with policy. No matter what Wolfowitz, or any other influential neocon, admits to the public, the majority of the public seems to have already been swayed. As it has for most empires (including short-lived ones like Germany’s Third Reich), I fear the bone-headed arrogance of the U.S. will cost us horribly in the not-too-distant future, unless something is done to reverse course soon.