Not that this is the greatest news, that we agree on something, because what we agree on is that we no longer trust or have respect for authority, its institutions, its very legitimacy.
Government has too much power has been a mantra of Republican politicians for decades, but where they’re understating things is focusing on federal government power, while overstating the need for more power for state and local governments. The local police department in Ferguson is the institution at the heart of the problem there right now, with a police officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed teen a week ago, and police dragging their feet on releasing details of their investigation into the incident, while dragging the dead victim’s name through the mud in a clumsy effort at PR.
Compounding the issue in Ferguson is how the local and state police have responded to the growing protests in Ferguson since the shooting last weekend, with SWAT teams, tanks and tear gas, and now a state of emergency and curfew.
The militarized state response has drawn our attention to the power that local police departments have for the first time since the 1960s, when police units in the South used then-state-of-the-art firepower to beat back civil-rights protestors, and departments across the country took a page from the Southern police chief playbook to suppress anti-war rallies.
The growth in federal policing authority came as a result of the brushbacks from those 1960s local police responses, with the feds playing the scripted role of impartial third party observers. The feds and local and state police in concert with the Department of Defense have in the intervening years built a powerful collaboration, with DoD arming local and state units as if they were paramilitary forces to a point where street protests can be met with officers hiding behind masks aiming assault rifles and tear-gas cannisters from tanks at citizens and taxpayers airing their grievances by speaking truth to power.
The thing about Americans, dating back to the day that our ancestors first stepped on to boats to cross a wide ocean to settle here, is that we don’t take being herded into a pen lightly. When we got off those boats, we spread ourselves out over a vast continent, told various kings to kiss our asses and devised a complicated governing system that by design makes it hard if not impossible for any force to gain any kind of appreciable suppressive power and authority.
The federal government is too powerful; no question about that. State and local governments are too powerful. Local police departments, in particular, are too powerful. The courts, state and federal, are too powerful, with millions of Americans under the thumb of a judicial system run amok with its power to put people in jail for things as innocuous as failing to pay traffic fines.
Big business, the healthcare industry, banks and credit-card companies: too powerful.
Average Americans, Democrats, Republicans, agnostics, agree on these basic points.
What we can’t agree on is what to do about it, or how. That we can’t come to terms on the path from here is what continues to weaken us, because as we squabble over whether or not to impeach our president and other nonsense generated political controversies, the various bureaucracies, governmental and corporate, that are the real threats to our way of life further entrench their authority over every aspect of our lives.
We, the people, will one day wake from our collective slumber. Here’s to hoping that the great awakening doesn’t come too late for us to reassert that ours is a system of the people, by the people, and for the people, and not the reverse.