Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

9/11 and the drive toward authoritarianism

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.

[Photo by Tomas Eidsvold on Unsplash.]

7 comments on “9/11 and the drive toward authoritarianism

  1. kingmidget
    September 15, 2021

    Yeah. It’s been a long, slow slid for a few decades now. 9/11 gave the neocons a chance to call for a perpetual war. 20 years later we remain in that “war.” Kudos to Biden for having the guts to put an end to at least one ugly chapter of it. Before we ever invaded Iraq in 2003, I predicted that if we went through with that invasion, it would be the beginning of the end of the American empire. I stand by that prediction.

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 15, 2021

      I’m reading the new book about Afghanistan now by Craig Whitlock and it’s striking that insiders knew how bad it was early on, especially after the Iraq invasion. Hubris or ignorance? Probably doesn’t really matter which …

      • kingmidget
        September 15, 2021

        Pretty certain that anybody who knows anything at all about Afghanistan knew that when we decided to stay and “nation-build” we were doomed to fail. And then when Dubya was convinced to invade Iraq, failure became even more likely.

  2. Marie A Bailey
    September 15, 2021

    You and Greg must be listening/reading the same sources. He was talking about this the other day, that 9/11 gave cover to those who wanted to create a more authoritarian system here in the US. I do think this effort started a lot sooner, likely with Reagan and his negotiations with Iran to delay freeing the hostages until after the 1980 election. Our country’s willingness (desire?) to negotiate with terrorists started long before Trump and his adoration of Kim Jong Un.

    That said, congratulations on defeating the recall! God, what a relief! Of course, I’ve heard that people might have voted No on the recall more because they didn’t want to be “govern” by bat-shit crazy Larry Elder than because they like Newsom. Major fail on the Republican’s part. If they had been taking the recall seriously, they should have found a more viable candidate than Elder … but I’m glad they didn’t 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 15, 2021

      I guess you could even go back to Nixon. But one thing’s for sure: It’s always a Republican messing with things!

      And yes, I’m so happy about the recall! A couple of months ago it looked pretty bad, but once Elder became the face of the GOP here, things brightened up. And now it looks like he might run for guv next year! Yay!

      • Marie A Bailey
        September 16, 2021

        hahahahaha … yesterday I read an article that suggested the GQP had wanted a moderate R to be their face, but Elder’s “style” eclipsed the guy. You know, you just can’t control crazy.

      • Kevin Brennan
        September 16, 2021

        Yes, I think they had the former mayor of San Diego in mind, but these days the word “moderate” is a candidate killer. On the right, that is.

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