IN THE WAKE of WTO, security consultants talked about how the protests were a harbinger of a new kind of 21st-century warfare we would be facing: asymmetric war. Rather than large opposing forces, we would be drawn into situations in which guerrilla tactics, street fighting, and unconventional opponents would be the norm. That, of course, is what we see in Liberia, occupied Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, places where the “order” of organized war is replaced by a kind of chaos that tests our ability to respond with conventional means.
The anarchists and activists in the streets of Seattle were touted as a kind of pre-9/11 domestic precursor to such warfare, which seems a little silly now. Equating the gnomes of the Northwest with Al Qaeda doesn’t pass the straight-face test. But everything is seen as potentially explosive nowadays. This week, when government scientists referred to Mount Rainier as a “threat,” it sounded as if the volcano were plotting a terrorist attack. (Anyone who has looked at the geological record knows that a major volcanic incident is just a matter of time, but we choose to live here anyway; so if there’s a “threat,” whose fault is that?)
THE WHOLE IDEA that we should be afraid of protesters and natural phenomena is simply a distraction from the real war that is taking place under our noses.
And this is total war, of the kind so famously executed by Gen. William T. Sherman during the Civil War, when Union troops marched from Atlanta destroying not only elements of the Confederate Army but also their ability to fight back. Deny the enemy food, shelter, transport, communication, and the means to gather and regroup. Pound them relentlessly with any tactic at hand, fair or unfair. Use every advantage to annihilate them or send them scampering into the sea. It was effective and useful in destroying the Confederacy.
Only now it is being applied by the Republicans to domestic politics as they make “war” on the Democrats. Evidence is everywhere that the political game has changed. If politics is chess, in the new game you don’t attempt to simply defeat your opponent, you wipe his pieces off the board, then break his hands so he can’t make another move. A checkmate just won’t do.
Should we care about the California recall? Does it matter if Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes governor? I have little doubt that Arnold would make an acceptable governor for the majority of Californians, just as Ronald Reagan did before Gov. Gump went on to the White House, where he served more honorably than the current mole in the Oval Office. He was Mount Rushmore material by comparison.
But Arnold is not the issue. The unseating of Gray Davisso recently re-electedis part of a strategy to make sure that no Democrat ever sleeps easy, even if she has won by democratic means. That is the only way to overcome demographic trends and consolidate power. Some say California is a place that starts national trends, but what we’re seeing there is the continuation of a campaign that was under way shortly after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Conservatives and many journalists still roll their eyes at Hillary Clinton’s statement that she and Bill were the subjects of a vast right-wing conspiracy. But in fact they were, as has been well documented. And that conspiracy has expanded into a national partisan effort to make permanent total war on the political opposition.
THIS WAR BROUGHT us a ridiculous impeachment, but it came into full view during the Florida debacle of 2000, a disputed election that was settled by an outrageous Supreme Court decision. As a result, an illegitimate president was installed, and the tactics that worked to install him are now being used all over. This isn’t a matter of ensuring that both sides have an even playing field. The total-war mentality insists on the utter destruction of those who disagree by never admitting that any contrary resulteven a democratic resultis acceptable.
Thus, the Republican dominated Congress is shunting aside long-standing rules that help guarantee fair play, and the Capitol Police have been called to arrest or intimidate Democrats who were exercising their legal and constitutional rights as elected representatives. In Colorado, they’ve redistricted to give the GOP an advantage, as they are also trying to do in Texas, where they called out the Texas Rangers and the Department of Homeland Security to track down Democratic legislators who, legally, resisted the outrage.
What’s going on in California has to be seen in context. What’s going on everywhere has to be seen in context. Perhaps it’s my Cold War upbringing, my training to see a commie under every bed. But I am not imagining that our crazy times are being made crazier by those who are trying to stamp out dissent and remake this country in one image.
It is no less than an effort to turn America into the tyranny of a single mind, a single purpose, a single voice, a single party. It is the domestic version of the new imperial foreign policy. We are being told that the “chaos” of a multicultural worldand societyis unacceptable, that order and safety can only be restored with the discipline that a strong hand can bring.
The California recall isn’t about the candidates, it’s about disrupting democracy when it doesn’t give the “right” answers.
The Terminator, indeed.