A danger exists in America that cultural shifts occurring below the surface of our daily lives can take away our freedoms without our knowing that these shifts exist or without our even having the chance to defend against them. I have argued that global capitalism is a subculture that has severed jobs and that has lowered America’s expected future economic growth. Recent events have demonstrated that Homeland Security initiatives could also have already restricted America’s freedoms more than we even know without our knowledge. Seemingly rogue incidents of excessive force by a few officers in disparate police forces across America could be early indications of an unseen sea change of police powers that has restructured America since 9/11.
9/11 warned America that our way of life could be forever stolen by a terrorist nuclear detonation in our nation’s capital or financial center. Because such an event could debilitate the future of hundreds of millions of people not only in America but around the world, it necessarily called for the accelerating escalation of detection, surveillance, deterrence and reactionary capabilities to minimize the chances that any such cataclysmic threat could ever occur. As a result, America has spent billions in new technology, systems, personnel, training, integration, and interoperability on local, state, and federal police and intelligence communities to increase the capability of the United States to stop terrorist acts before they occur.
The activities taken under the umbrella of Homeland Security to interweave our domestic defense community have tested our nation’s perspective of constitutional freedoms and their appropriate restrictions in the name of security. In attempting to balance freedom and security over the past ten years, our nation has created a security subculture. Many Americans were shocked recently to see the public face of that subculture’s rationale demonstrated by police forces in response to Occupy Wall Street’s peaceful exercise of democracy. Did Occupy Wall Street expose the camel’s nose under the tent of too great a removal of America’s Constitutional freedoms as we are becoming inculcated to new security measures deemed necessary by those in authority?
A gradual acceptance of perpetual defense against terrorism can itself create authoritarian tyranny. America is not immune to such gradual changes occurring underneath the view of our consciousness. As an example, while the Moral Majority amassed public power in the 1980s, underneath the surface, America became less attached to its views. Ultimately, America reacted in a way unexpected by the Moral Majority showing that a subculture had grown below the political surface. If this social subculture ultimately was exposed by an unexpected and unrelated fluke event, then perhaps well ahead of any definitive proof that an undercurrent of a building police state could be happening now without America’s knowledge or consent, Occupy Wall Street could also be a fluke event that exposed America’s growing tolerance of excessive police actions. This point is just a cautionary tale of the potential of abuse if America is not diligent in our pursuit of freedom.
My last post highlighted America’s potential to miss the subtleties of change, by comparing the unnoticed but real effect on our nation of the last ten years of structural police enforcement integration with the structural social changes that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s that went unnoticed by some in political movements of the time. Specifically, I compared the potential for police state changes in the 2000s with the changes in tolerance of sexual behavior that went unnoticed by the socially conservative political movement of the previous two decades.
I came of age in the time of the rise of the evangelical Christians as a political force. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a self professed evangelical, was elected president. In that same year, Jerry Falwell introduced the idea of actively mixing religion and politics. Encouraged by Jesse Helms to rally the “Silent Majority” of millions of televangelist TV viewers to become active in the political arena, Falwell founded his political organization “Moral Majority” in 1979. The idea of organizing this evangelical group of millions of Americans into a political force was at the time a fairly radical sea change in harnessing the strength of coalitions in America.
Under the leadership of Falwell and Helms, the Moral Majority coalesced into a political force, influencing politics throughout the 1980s. It brought a sizable voting minority in the United States, perhaps 25%, that viewed “Religious Right” issues as the critical factor in their choices of political candidates, to the firm support of the Republican Party. Historians point to the Moral Majority’s influence in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, his subsequent reelection, and a revision of the Republican Party’s platform on issues such as school prayer and abortion, leading some to believe that the Republican Party would have a sizable majority for decades to come.
Yet even as its influence grew, the Moral Majority did not recognize that its political strength was ultimately eroding during the 1980s because of several factors including the rise and subsequent fall of Televangelism. The concentration of wealth and power that television had afforded ministries played out in the highly publicized fall from grace of such powerhouses as Jimmy Bakker in 1987 for his alleged rape of his secretary Jessica Hahn, and Jimmy Swaggart for his tryst with a prostitute in 1988. The fall of the Moral Majority was heightened by Pat Robertson’s bid for President, which subsequently deteriorated the power of his broadcast ministry, and Reverend Falwell’s power struggles as he disavowed Pat’s bid for President, supporting George Bush instead, and Falwell’s seedy grab of power from Jimmy Baker’s organization in 1989.
By 1992, the Moral Majority’s influence on moral and ethical issues had clearly divided the country along conservative and progressive social lines. Yet thirteen years after the opening of China to Western businesses and banks, China was beginning to impact the economy of America leading the 1992 Clinton campaign to emphasize “It’s the economy stupid” and Ross Perot’s third party to vigorously oppose NAFTA. Perot pulled enough conservatives away from the Republican Party, by some estimates, to give President Clinton the win. Clinton’s subsequent support of liberal policies following his election however, continued to galvanize those supporting the Moral Majority’s philosophies against him.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, who later would be instrumental in the founding of the Tea Party, created the “Contract with America” six weeks before the election to win over the electorate to the Republican majority. The Contract stayed clear of social issues raised by the Moral Majority, instead emphasizing economic issues supported by the majority of most Americans such as a balanced budget, the line item veto, a moratorium on regulations, welfare reform, term limits, social security and tort reform. The Republican Congress handily won the election based on the public’s vote for economic reforms.
Because the Republican Party de-emphasized the relative importance of social issues in the campaign, the subculture of social shifting at the time went unnoticed. The election, however, set the stage for the appointment of Kenneth Starr to continue the Clinton Whitewater investigation, ultimately leading to Clinton’s Impeachment.
The political buildup before Clinton’s impeachment trial fed the Moral Majority’s frenzy of disapproval of Clinton’s ethical authority to lead America. The coalition believed that the American people were solidly in favor of punishing Clinton’s behavior through censure or ultimately removal from office. When the charges ultimately came down to perjury and obstruction of justice by Clinton’s self testimony in his sexual harassment trial, the public sided with the President and let the air out of the Moral Majority’s perceived leadership on this issue.
The Moral Majority had not recognized that an undercurrent of change had occurred, that many Americans perceived the economy as a more important issue, and that Clinton’s moral failings did not rise to the level of removal from office. The hypocrisy of the Republican Party members tasked with leading the impeachment proceedings also highlighted the public’s shift away from judgmentalism. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made the plea that it wasn’t hypocritical of him to lead impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, even though he was having an extramarital affair at the time, because the impeachment case was “not about personal behavior.” Yet the public disagreed with Gingrich’s argument regarding Clinton’s lying in front of a judge about his sex acts.
For those holding to moral ethics regarding Clinton’s moral failings, Billy Graham, a registered Democrat, who was voted the most revered man in America at the time, and who had stayed above the televangelist fray refusing to join the Moral Majority saying, “I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice and evangelists …have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left”, took the steam out of the moral pursuit when he said, “If [President Clinton] is guilty, I would forgive him and love him just the same because he’s a remarkable man. He’s had a lot of temptations thrown his way and a lot of pressure on him.” Later in the interview, Graham added, “I know the frailty of human nature and I know how hard it is — especially [for a] strong, vigorous young man like he is. He has such a tremendous personality that I think the ladies just go wild over him.”
With what many viewed as Billy Graham’s shocking appeasement completed, the nation shifted its focus away from Bill Clinton’s dalliances only to be thrust into focusing on our nation’s survival three years later. The public has argued that during the past ten years since 9/11, we have given up freedoms to gain the security enabled by such tactics as placing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, enhanced interrogation, increasing invasion of privacy such as wire taps, TSA, and surveillance of private records. Yet these changes occurred under the surface in the subculture of security. America has talked about these increasing losses of freedom but we have not noticed them on the surface until Occupy Wall Street, as a fluke, drew them out from their clandestine cover.
Now that our security subculture has been exposed, barely breaking the surface of America’s collective consciousness, many Americans have denied seeing the changes for what they may actually be, suggesting that these rogue elements of abuse are either a result of a lack of political leadership regarding the Occupy movement, or a lack of training regarding policing of such movements. If, in actuality, these rogue incidents are just the surface of a much deeper, ingrained police state subculture that has developed to protect America from our enemies, both foreign and domestic, how do we ensure that America will indeed be protected from what now seems to be an undercurrent of our own developing police state subculture?