Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Scorched-Earth Politics of America's Four Fundamentalisms

Tuesday 6 March 2012.  Click here to view the complete article.

by: Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
Americans seem confident in the mythical notion that the United States is a free nation dedicated to reproducing the principles of equality, justice and democracy. What has been ignored in this delusional view is the growing rise of an expanded national security state since 2001 and an attack on individual rights that suggests that the United States has more in common with authoritarian regimes like China and Iran "than anyone may like to admit."(1) I want to address this seemingly untenable notion that the United States has become a breeding ground for authoritarianism by focusing on four fundamentalisms: market fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism, educational fundamentalism and military fundamentalism. This is far from a exhaustive list, but it does raise serious questions about how the claim to democracy in the United States has been severely damaged, if not made impossible.
The broader contours of the attack on democratic freedoms have become obvious in recent years. While the Bush administration engaged in torture, shamelessly violated civil liberties and put a host of Christian extremists in high-ranking governmental positions, the Obama administration has not only continued many of these policies, but has further institutionalized them. As Glenn Greenwald has reminded us, Obama has continued the Bush-Cheney terrorism and civil liberties policies, further undermining constitutional rights by promoting indefinite detention, weakening the rights of habeas corpus for prisoners in Afghanistan, extending government power through the state secrets privilege, asserting the right to target American citizens for assassination and waging war on whistle blowers.(2) More specifically, there are the ongoing revelations about the Obama administration's decision under the National Defense Authorization Act to allow American citizens to be held indefinitely without charge or trial; the government's increased role in using special operations forces and drones in targeted assassinations; the emergence and use of sophisticated surveillance technologies to spy on protesters; the invocation of the state secrecy practices; the suspension of civil liberties that allow various government agencies to spy on Americans without first obtaining warrants; and the stories about widespread abuse and torture by the US military in Afghanistan, not to mention the popular support for torture among the American public.(3) It gets worse. As the war on terror degenerated in a war on democracy, a host of legal illegalities have been established that put the rule of law if not the very principle of Western jurisprudence into a chokehold. How such assaults on the rule of law, justice and democracy could take place without massive resistance represents one of the most reprehensible moments in American history. Most Americans caught in the grip of simply trying to survive or paralyzed in a relentless culture of fear ignored the assaults on democracy unleashed by a burgeoning national security state. The assaults loom large and are evident in the passage of the Use of Military Force Act, the passage of the Patriot Act, the 2002 Homeland Security Act, the Military Commission Act of 2006 and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. Jim Garrison rightly raises the question about whether these acts inspired by 9/11 and the war on terror are worth sacrificing the Republic. He writes:
The question screaming at us through [these bills] is whether the war on terror is a better model around which to shape our destiny than our constitutional liberties. It compels the question of whether we remain an ongoing experiment in democracy, pioneering new frontiers in the name of liberty and justice for all, or have we become a national security state, having financially corrupted and militarized our democracy to such an extent that we define ourselves, as Sparta did, only through the exigencies of war?[4]
The rise of the national security state is no longer an abstraction and can also be seen in the collapse of the traditional distinction between the military and the police, as weapons move freely from the military to local police forces and contribute to the rise of pervasive police abuse against students, African-Americans and immigrants. We also have to include in this list a growing culture of manufactured indifference and cruelty, intensified through a commercially driven spectacle of violence that saturates every element of American society. The latter intensified daily by a language of hate aimed indiscriminately by the right-wing media, many conservative politicians and an army of anti-public pundits against those who suffer from a number of misfortunes including unemployment, inadequate health care, poverty and homelessness. Think of Rush Limbaugh's cruel and hateful attack on Sandra Fluke, insisting that she was a prostitute because she believed that contraception was a women's right and should be covered by insurance companies as part of her health coverage. Or for that matter, think about the ongoing attempts on the part of Republican politicians to cut food stamp programs that benefit over 45 million people. Another would be the call to eliminate child labor laws. Jonathan Schell highlights how this culture of cruelty manifests itself in "a steadily growing faith in force as the solution to almost any problem, whether at home or abroad."(5) The governing-through-crime model that now imposes violence on school children all across the country is a particularly egregious example.(6) How else to explain that in 2010 "the police gave close to 300,000 'Class C misdemeanor' tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time"?(7) Behavior as trivial as a dress violation or being late for class now translates into a criminal act and is symptomatic of what attorney Kady Simpkins insists is a growing trend in which "we have taken childhood behaviour and made it criminal."(8) All of these violations point to the ongoing and growing fundamentalisms and "rule of exceptions" in the American polity that bear witness to the growing authoritarianism in American life.
Those governing the United States no longer have a moral compass or a democratic vision, nor do they have a hold on the social values that would engage modes of governance beneficial to the broader public. Governance is now in the hands of corporate power and the United States increasingly exhibits all the characteristics of a failed state. As many notable and courageous critics ranging from Sheldon Wolin to Chris Hedges have pointed out, American politics is being shaped by extremists who have shredded civil liberties, lied to the public to legitimate sending young American troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, alienated most of the international community with a blatant exercise of arrogant power and investment in a permanent warfare state, tarnished the highest offices of government with unsavory corporate alliances, used political power to unabashedly pursue legislative policies that favor the rich and punish the poor and perhaps irreparably damaged any remaining public spheres not governed by the logic of the market.(9) They have waged a covert war against poor young people and people of color who are being either warehoused in substandard schools or incarcerated at alarming rates.(10)Academic freedom is increasingly under attack by extremists such as Rick Santorum(11); homophobia and racism have become the poster ideologies of the Republican Party; war and warriors have become the most endearing models of national greatness; and a full-fledged assault on women's reproductive rights is being championed by the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls and a not insignificant number of Republican governors. While people of color, the poor, youth, the middle class, the elderly, LGBT communities and women are being attacked, the Republican Party is supporting a campaign to collapse the boundaries between the church and state, and even liberal critics such as Frank Rich believe that the United States is on the verge of becoming a fundamentalist theocracy.(12) Let me develop this further by examining four of the most serious fundamentalisms that now constitute the new authoritarianism in the United States.
Market Fundamentalism  (See complete article, click here.)
Religious Fundamentalism  (See complete article, click here.)

Educational Fundamentalism
The third, related anti-democratic dogma is a virulent form of anti-intellectualism visible in the relentless attempt on the part of the Obama administration and his Republican Party allies to destroy critical education as a foundation for an engaged citizenry and a vibrant democracy. The attack on all levels of education is evident in the attempts to corporatize education, standardize curricula, privatize public schooling and use the language of business as a model for governance. It is equally evident in the ongoing effort to weaken the autonomy of higher education, undercut the power of faculty and turn full-time academic jobs into contractual labor. Public schools are increasingly reduced to training grounds and modeled after prisons - with an emphasis on criminalizing student behavior and prioritizing security over critical learning. Across the board, educators are now viewed largely as deskilled technicians, depoliticized professionals, paramilitary forces, hawkers for corporate goods or money and grant chasers.(16)
At the same time as democracy is removed from the purpose and meaning of schooling, those larger educational forces in the culture are handed over to a small group of corporate interests. The dominant media engage in a form of public pedagogy that appears to legitimate dominant power rather than hold it accountable to any ethical or political standard. Operating in tandem with market fundamentalism, the dominant media deteriorate into a combination of commercialism, propaganda, crude entertainment and an obsession with celebrity culture.(17) Giant media conglomerates such as Fox News have largely become advertising appendages for dominant political and corporate interests. Under the sway of such interests, the media neither operate in the interests of the public good nor provide the pedagogical conditions necessary for producing critical citizens or defending a vibrant democracy. Instead, as Robert McChesney and John Nichols have pointed out, concentrated media depoliticize the culture of politics, commercially carpet bomb citizens and denigrate public life.(18)Such media restrict the range of views to which people have access and, as a result, do a disservice to democracy by stripping it of the possibility for debate, critical exchange and civic engagement. Rather than perform an essential public service, they become the primary pedagogical tool for promoting a culture of consent and conformity in which citizens are misinformed and public discourse is debased.  (See original article, click here.)
Military Fundamentalism  (See complete article, click here.)

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