Has America Become an Authoritarian State?
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In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has gone further and has characterized the Republican Party and its "corporate-centric super-PACs as treasonous." He states that Americans "are now in a free fall toward old-fashioned oligarchy; noxious, thieving and tyrannical" and that given the role of the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the Gilded Age with its passage of the Citizens United decision, "those who have the money now have the loudest voices in our democracy while poor Americans are mute."
More radical critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, Stanley Aronowitz, Judith Butler, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Matt Taibbi, Angela Davis and David Theo Goldberg, among others, have long recognized the transformation of the United States from a weak democracy to a spirited authoritarian state. All of these theorists have challenged the permanent war economy, the erosion of civil liberties, the power of the corporate state, the moral bankruptcy of the liberal intelligentsia, the corporate control of the media, the criminal wars of repression abroad, the rise of the torture state and the increasing militarization of everyday life.
However extremist the Republican Party has become with its ongoing war on women, immigrants, young people, the welfare state, voting rights and all manner of civil rights, this should not suggest that the Democratic Party occupies a valued liberal position. On the contrary, policy in the United States is now being shaped by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly more conservative in the last 30 years along with a Republican Party that now represents one of the most extremist political parties to ever seize power in Washington. And while the Republican Party has fallen into the hands of radical extremists, both parties "support shifting the costs of the crisis and the government bailouts of banks, large corporations and the stock market, onto the mass of the citizens." Both parties support bailing out the rich and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. Moreover, both parties reject the idea of democracy as a collectively inhabited public space and ethos that unconditionally stands for individual, political and economic rights. President Obama and his Wall Street advisors may hold onto some weak notion of the social contract, but they are far from liberal when it comes to embracing the military physics of the corporate warfare state.
As Chris Hedges, Paul Street, Noam Chomsky and Salvatore Babones have repeatedly pointed out, calling the Republican Party extremists should not cloud the increasingly authoritarian positions now embraced by the Obama administration. For instance, President Obama has deported more immigrants than his predecessor George W. Bush; he has advocated for the privatization of public schools, pursued neoliberal modes of educational governance and slashed funds from a number of vital social service programs. He has put into place a health care program that eliminated the public option and joined forces with insurance companies and Big Pharma.
As is well known, the Obama administration also kept Guantanamo open, justified warrantless wiretapping, accelerated drone attacks that killed many innocent civilians, supports indefinite detention and sanctions a form of "extraordinary rendition," in which potential terrorists are abducted and shipped off to foreign countries to be tortured. In fact, the realm of politics has moved so far to the right in the United States that modes of extremism that were once thought unthinkable have now become commonplace. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, the Patriot Act, state-sponsored torture, assassinations, kill lists and surveillance programs, once "widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties" have "become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal."13 While both parties have given up the mantel of democratic politics, the Republican Party is more extreme in its range of targets and its savage attempts to destroy those modes of governance and public spheres that provide the conditions for robust and critical forms of civic life, education, agency and democracy.