The Falling Land

There is, apparently, to be no end to our falling. No bottom to the pit of moral nullity through which we keep plunging, no act of evil which we will not accept, and countenance, and even cheer.

At one time, it required great lies  -- elaborate, monstrous deceits, wrapped in myths of goodness and light -- to disguise the brutal machinations of raw power. Otherwise, it was thought, the people might rise up in anger at the crimes being committed in their name, thus threatening the primacy and privilege of the elite.

But this proved to be unnecessary in the end. The foulest deeds could be done in broad daylight, in full view of the world, before the eyes of our children, without the slightest consequence for the perpetrators. The crowd would applaud, or, at worst, simply shrug and move on.

Actions and policies drawn from the horror stories of history -- things which the people had been taught to abominate from the day they were born -- were freely and openly embraced.

The Nazis launched unprovoked wars of aggression and despoiled whole nations. So do we now; who cares? The Gestapo and the KGB snatched people from the street and held them without charges in secret prisons, tortured them with brute force and with exquisitely calibrated techniques approved by the highest authorities. So do we now; who cares? The Soviets spied without qualm or restraint on their own people, no warrants needed, no evidence required, just a nod from some faceless official in the security organs. So do we now; who cares? The Nazis believed that the national leader is beyond the law, that any order he gives is rightful and just and cannot be punished, simply because he has given it. So do we now; who cares? The Soviets and the Nazis treated protests against the established order as security threats and acts of terror, and repressed them with mass arrests and police violence. So do we now; who cares?

All of these things, and many more besides, have been done and are being done by the government of the United States today, with either the full-throated approval or the meek acquiescence of the political opposition and the nation's institutions. The people too seem largely in agreement, or completely indifferent. We have just finished a primary campaign in which tens of millions of people voted for candidates who support the system described above in almost every particular -- quibbling about some of the details and tactics perhaps, but expressing absolutely no dissent from its basic premises.

The two major candidates left standing after this appalling process are as similar in policy and philosophy as it is possible to be and still maintain a semblance of "choice" in the election. Both support the continuance and expansion of the "War on Terror." Both pledge to use massive, lethal, violent force, at any time, anywhere in the world -- with no options, not even the nuclear one, taken "off the table" -- in the service of ever-nebulous and self-defined "national security" interests. Both support the warrantless surveillance of American citizens, and immunity for vast conglomerates that collaborate with the state in blatantly illegal activity. Both believe that even those who have not committed murder can be executed by the state. (And neither has said a single word about the shame of America's prison system: more than 2 million people behind bars, more than any other nation on earth, in both sheer numbers and proportionately, and rivalled historically in those numbers only by Stalin's gulag at the height of the purges.)

Both support a continuing American military presence in Iraq, under one euphemism or another. Both mouth pieties about opposing torture and upholding the rule of law, but neither of them applied their considerable powers as senators -- or their great personal popularity -- to make the slightest move to bring the perpetrators of the White House-approved torture regime to justice. (McCain has even voted explicitly to allow the CIA to torture captives.) Both have just finished conventions at which American citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly were herded by armed police into wire pens (dubbed, with sinister irony, "free speech zones"), harassed, arrested, in cases beaten, invaded, and charged with thought crime and terrorism. Both support, and are supported by, the same corporate interests whose predations and corruptions have shredded the social and civic fabric of the nation and are now leading millions into penury.

Where are the hands, as in Rilke's poem, that can hold up all this falling? There are none. And so we keep falling, down and down and still farther down.