In my anti-democracy roundup a few days ago, I talked about how our national drive toward authoritarianism might have begun with 9/11. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
The seeds might have been planted before that, with the conservative sanctification of Ronald Reagan, the immediate squandering of the “peace dividend” on defense spending after the fall of the Soviet Union, and with the Gulf War of 1991. I can recall opposing that war and feeling like a pariah in the military town of San Diego. Protesters were regarded as traitors.
But it wasn’t until 9/11 that the real “deep state,” the neocon contingent along with the intelligence community, saw an opportunity to consolidate power. They pushed through the USA Patriot Act just six weeks after 9/11 and started looking at our phone calls and library loans. They used our fear of Islamic terrorism to justify all kinds of surveillance abuses, and the idea took root that “you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.” It took Edward Snowden to uncover the disturbing scope of the NSA/CIA programs that were looking at all of us in order to detect terrorists that either weren’t there at all or were so few in number that the risk was actually minute. The FBI amused itself by entrapping hapless Muslims into joining fake plots.
A new normal evolved. Air travel was now an ordeal. CCTV cameras proliferated, almost never used to nab a terrorist but instead to identify 7/11 robbers and the odd abduction from a Walmart parking lot. Big Brother is still watching.
We hadn’t realized what power we were giving the government when we signed on to the post-9/11 measures that, our leaders promised, were there only to protect us.
It won’t be long before precogs are enlisted to eavesdrop on our very thoughts.
America became a different country after 9/11, and though we were the victims of a horrible plot and thousands of innocent people died, in our grief and fear we allowed a certain cabal of political terrorists to redirect our national trajectory away from truth and justice and toward the phasing out of democracy as we had come to understand it. This inertia continues today.
So every time 9/11’s anniversary rolls around, my own sense of grief is much broader than it was in the early years. Clarity reveals hard understandings.