Tin Soldiers and Nixon's Coming
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)Perhaps only the illiteracy quotient of your average teabagger accounts for their not fully embracing Henry David Thoreau. The New England transcendentalist and abolitionist who once famously said, "That government is best which governs least" would've been apoplectic had he seen what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri. He definitely would've gone over the edge on hearing that DINO Jay Nixon, in an eerie reprisal of Kent State, had signed an executive order sending the National Guard to Ferguson and Florissant to oppose the largely peaceful protesters. Indeed, his executive order reads exactly like Orwellian boilerplate, with all the blame being cast on the civilians who have no weapons and have killed no one and even having the gall to invoke Mike Brown's name to restore order. You know, the Mike Brown who was murdered by a St. Louis County cop named Darren Wilson who didn't even know Brown was a suspect in a petty robbery and sparked off this massive, growing civil disobedience.
Anyone even tangentially and obliquely familiar with his work could accurately anticipate the horror with which Thoreau would've viewed the reports coming out of Missouri. By today's standards and the rigid, ideological divisions of today, he would've been considered an odd duck: The man who'd famously built a cabin in Lincoln and lived among the flora and fauna, fighting tirelessly for the environment was America's proto-hippie. But there was another side to Thoreau who just as famously concluded that all governments are corrupt and, at best, were no more moral, just or legitimate than the free will of every and any individual.
And the man who had eloquently mourned John Brown and condemned his execution even as the church bells in Concord rang in his honor would be taking to his Twitter and Facebook accounts screaming at the madness and the injustice of what's been happening in Ferguson this past week. And the Teabaggers would be rallying behind him since there was no love lost between Thoreau and the federal or Confederate governments.
Any flashpoint that hardens into a cause, the understandable and remarkably restrained outrage of the citizenry that's even now defying a quasi-fascist curfew, is but a synecdoche of a larger issue. And that larger issue touching on the smaller issue of the murder of Michael Brown, heinous as it was, is every human being's right to their personal dignity and limited sovereignty. And that has been systemically and brutally violated in Ferguson, from the local constabulary all the way up to the Missouri Statehouse.
"It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law."Even though Thoreau had 13 more years to expand upon his philosophy of civil disobedience that wasn't so much a Constitutional right as an obligation, he never suggested what the alternative was to be. Humans need government and leadership. We crave it, we demand it. The alternative is anarchy. If you want a social safety net, infrastructure and its maintenance, a progressive taxation (to which Thoreau was also opposed) to fund these and many other public works, then you need government.
While Thoreau was naive in the extreme in thinking we could simply divest ourselves of government, he was nonetheless canny enough to realize the inherent corruption that goes hand in hand with government. He was also smart enough to know that, even in a democratic society, not every problem has a democratic solution.
In Ferguson, this is proven in the people being denied their first amendment right to peaceful assembly, surely, along with free speech and a free press, the most fundamentally democratic right there is. And the typical knee jerk response for any paranoid, corrupt government that's opposed even in the wake of a hideous injustice such as Mr. Brown's murder, is to mass its forces and brutally suppress and oppress the very civil disobedience Thoreau found practically sacred.
After a 24 hour moratorium following President Obama's call for peace in Ferguson, the police state came back with a vengeance with tanks, tear gas canisters deployed constantly, rubber bullets fired into the crowd, reporters from the Huffington Post and Washington Post rounded up and arrested without charge at a local McDonald's and a midnight to five AM curfew you usually see only in banana republics. A live video feed I saw last night showed over 40,000 people in real time an NBC cameraman getting his life threatened by a Ferguson cop. The bullhorns blaring orders, the smoke and the ubiquitous police state made Ferguson, MO, a town of 21,200, look like the set of a dystopian science fiction movie.
And even though the local and state police have largely gone unengaged, Governor Jay Nixon feels the answer to civil disobedience is to further saturate Ferguson with more armed troops and telling lies about the protesters in his very executive order. It brings to mind Kathleen Blanco's own executive order essentially calling for the killing of black people for looting local stores of essentials after Katrina devastated NOLA and the federal government was nowhere to be seen.
Damnation Without Representation
It goes without saying African Americans remain the most underserved segment of our melting pot of a nation. What's happening in Ferguson, now officially an international embarrassment with Palestinian recognition and Australian condemnation and ridicule, automatically rolls back Civil Rights a half century to where it was before President Lyndon Johnson signed that landmark legislation in 1964. And the differences between Ferguson and the Bundy Ranch last April are stark, indeed. None of the black protesters are armed with anything deadlier than a tattered First Amendment. At the Bundy ranch, the exclusively white protesters were openly sighting down on federal officers with impunity.
And it's easy to see Thoreau's moral quandary had he seen these two incidents side by side as we can. He naturally would've sympathized with both factions in Ferguson and the Bundy ranch. That is, until Cliven Bundy and his supporters came out in favor of slavery and a former sheriff openly flaunting the idea of using women as human shields.
Humanity has never struck, nor will ever likely strike that elusive balance between minimalist, social laissez faire government and brutal, corrupt totalitarianism. As Lord Acton once famously said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And we're seeing in a little St. Louis suburb the arrogance and power-mad corruption of a state being challenged in the wake of an unjust crime being perpetuated on an innocent man.
Here's another quote, this one from former Georgia Republican Bob Barr: "If you give government power, it will use it." The same thing goes for toys the DoD and Homeland Security give local police departments through federal grants, making our public servants better armed and more heavily-armored than our troops ever were in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes, if Thoreau were resurrected and alive to see the madness into which this nation daily sinks more deeply, if he could see how his prized civil rebels had nonetheless come to embrace the slavery and racial bigotry that he also abhorred, he'd mutter the 19th century's equivalent of "Piss on it," and go back to his cabin on Walden Pond, wondering what went wrong.