It has begun, the solemn ritual to legitimize the empire. Who will it be next as its Commander-in-Chief: Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, Elizabeth Warren, Marco Rubio, Jim Webb, Ted Cruz?
This is important. It is how Earth’s greatest empire shows humility, obedience to democratic values, subjection to the will of the people. We may talk all we want about how cynical, violent and greedy the empire is, but now we will see an 18-month-long demonstration of its accountability and transparency.
After the votes have been counted in November 2016, the authority to use overwhelming power to rule billions of people will gently change hands, a transition unimaginable among peoples less blessed by the gods. Thus, the empire will carry on in its glory, freshly legitimized by our votes.
Amazing! Are you ready to do your part?
In various other settings, many of us participate in communal rituals of renewal. Family reunions, so-called founders’ days hosted by venerable institutions, ethnic festivals and local elections serve to gather people, focus attention, reaffirm values and a communal identity. By participating, we say “yes” to a broader purpose and confirm its importance. All of this is good.
But what if your extended family is involved in the sale of meth? What if the institution to which you have given so much has become a front for a criminal enterprise? What if the festival you enjoy has evolved into a ruse to exploit the naïve and the innocent? Would you still participate? Or would you turn away in disgust, not wanting to add an iota to an enterprise that promotes rot and ruin?
Many of us in the USA said our national government had “gone rogue” during the years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. We prayed for a return to a government committed to the rule of law and voted for Barack Obama in the hope he would lead the way. But he didn’t. He built on and accelerated the lawless and violent ways of his predecessors; the people of Waziristan, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and now Yemen are his victims. And no, President Obama’s support for an agreement with Iran because “the only alternative is war” does not convince me otherwise; it is simply another form of extortion.
Imperial interventionism is now a thoroughly bipartisan commitment, one unlikely to change under any Republican or Democrat elected as Commander-in-Chief.
Yet throughout history—even under the most oppressive and autocratic regimes—little people have together held one powerful capacity: the authority to grant or deny legitimacy. In tiny ways, we can signal either approval or opposition to the policies of our rulers. James C. Scott writes about this in Domination and the Arts of Resistance and other books.
Yes, I know that the national government of the USA consists of more than its foreign policy. It includes many important programs and efforts that contribute to human well-being. In a similar fashion, when one gets acquainted with the principals of a garden-variety criminal enterprise, one may find gentle fathers and loving mothers, picnics in the park and lots of charitable activity. Yet we know better than to be fooled by the attractive veneer or to assume the underlying evil can be kept apart, “over there.”
If we do not want to legitimize the criminal foreign policy of the USA, we can refuse to participate by thought, conversation or voting in the legitimizing ritual of choosing the next Commander-in-Chief. That is my intention. Aside from tax resistance, it is the most effective action by which to say “no.”