Late Night: The Wild West
I’ve made a few bad calls in my time, like when I told a client not to buy a place in the industrial, brewery-scented backwater that was soon to become the tony “Pearl District,” but by far the most consequential was my misreading of how Americans would react to George W. Bush’s launching the return of Frontier Justice. I know I wasn’t alone, because even the long-suffering Laura visibly grimaced the first time he trotted out “Dead or Alive,” but then something odd happened. We, the People, ate it up. With relish.
Like a lot of older Americans, I was raised to think that even the most heinous criminals were to be captured, alive, and have these things called “trials” to determine their guilt or innocence, and then be punished or not. As I recall, then-President Nixon encountered a hail of bipartisan criticism for publicly implying that f*cking Charles Manson was guilty before he’d been tried. You see, in those quaint days, such prejudicial statements were widely understood to make the trial unfair. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.
Leaving aside the laughable improbability of our militarized police even bothering to to book, fingerprint, and press charges against Manson in 2013, rather than simply turning him into a bloody piece of Swiss cheese and calling it a day, can you even imagine politicians and the media not calling for his head on a pike in the first news cycle? While whistleblower Bradley Manning was still being actively tortured by the US Government, pre-trial, the President blithely stated, almost as an afterthought, “He committed a crime,” and sure enough, yesterday, a tainted, kangaroo court handed him 35 years. For exposing, among other things, that US soldiers were behaving like, well, Charles Manson.
In retrospect, how we got here is easy to see. The seething, inchoate anger after 9/11 allowed us to be led headlong into Afghanistan, and a relentless, media-enabled PR campaign sent us on to Iraq shortly thereafter. As we found ourselves losing both places, though, the architects of permanent war got desperate, and behaved in vengeful ways that, while likely to worsen the situation “on the ground,” would nonetheless appeal to a disturbingly loud and committed plurality of Americans.
The horrors of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, once exposed, were “explained” on two levels: on the one hand, we were told that “we don’t torture,” and on the other, only slightly less explicitly, “and they have it coming, anyway.” Thus, a little something for the cheese-eating surrender monkeys with a nice, equally tasty dollop for the “kick their ass, take their gas” crowd. It worked, unfortunately, a little too well.
Now, we’re saddled with Yosemite Sam dressed up as Dr. Spock; the absolute worst of both worlds. When a President wants to be a murderous, authoritarian yahoo, it is something of an obstacle to sound and look like one. But when a President can stride confidently into the imperial-looking East Room of the White House and calmly announce, sounding eerily statesmanlike while so doing, that Osama Bin Laden is, indeed, sleeping with the fishes, we’re toast.
No one is surprised anymore when any criminal suspect is summarily splattered all over the place, bagged and tagged; facts and evidence be damned, as we see in cases large (the Boston bombers), or small, (that guy who kidnapped a teenager after killing her family). They’re dead, nothing to see here, who shall we ice next?
The Kill List is long and growing, and it isn’t just politicians adding to it; heck, something called Michael Grunwald from something once called Time magazine says it’s high time we put a drone-whupping on the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to get that uppity Assange character. (Who also has committed no violence, natch….) Not to be outdone, execrable careerist Jeffrey Toobin compared Glenn Greenwald’s husband to a drug mule who ought to rot in prison with the rest of them.
Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave we seem to have all decided, with the fervent urging of our media, that we’d really rather be neither, and the fact that guilt or innocence is decided on TV and settled on the street is just one disturbing part of this. I see how we got here, but it’s harder to see how, or if, we get out.