Thursday, February 08, 2007

CRIME AND GOVERNANCE

Max Boot has an Op-ed in the “Los Angeles Times” (“Keys to a successful surge”. www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-boot7feb07,0,4299148,print.column?coll=la-opinion-rightrail).

He discusses the cutting-edge in Counterinsurgency Theory. Several points draw his attention: A) The population will be governed in its loyalties by which side demonstrates the most strength and can control violence to its own purposes; B) Insurgents will not be hindered if when arrested by lawful authority they can take advantage of “the many normal safeguards built into the judicial system” to effect their quick release; C) “Clearly, more than any other kind of warfare, counterinsurgency must respect the principle of a single direction. A single boss must direct the operations from beginning until the end”; D) “Control of the population begins obviously with a thorough census. Every inhabitant must be registered and given a foolproof identity card.”

Let us pass over with only a moment’s serious regard the fact that you can’t – apparently – start operating a Democracy if you’re faced with a counterinsurgency. The best you can go for appears to be some form of military-authoritarian boot-camp society. Let us note soberly that having once ensconced a military and a junta-government in such a strong position as this Theory requires, the odds of thus further developing in an orderly fashion into full popular Democracy are somewhere south of zilch.

Let us instead give full and undivided attention to the thought that this very same Counterinsurgency Theory seems to be the operative model for governing here, at home, domestically, in these United States. Whether pressed by the Neocons for the purpose of spackling up the population to serve the needs of empire, or by the Fundamentalistics in order to spackle up the population to serve the needs of a vengeful “Jee-zuzz”, or by assorted Identities to ensure no popular opposition to their various agendas, or by the ‘soccer parents’ to ensure that their children – increasingly carrying on in their parents’ absence – will grow up (as if in compensation) in a risk-free, totally secure ‘world’ … this Counterinsurgency Theory seems to have become the many-rooted, de facto governing model for this Republic.

And that means that We The People are now simply envisioned as “the population”, an easily excitable, not very with-it, herbivorous herd that needs to be controlled and headed in the ‘right’ direction. Among whom there are un-named hordes of wild criminals of various violent proclivities, seeking to do to “us” on a daily basis what was done to the Twin Towers all in the space of a few minutes.

Staring at those disturbing tea-leaves, wondering where all this came from and how it has managed to become the domestic policy of the United States, then pick up the newly-published “Governing Through Crime” by Jonathan Simon (Oxford University Press).

Simon’s thesis is that somewhere in Time our government ceased to simply ‘govern crime’ and sought instead, and with a sustained and mighty effort, to govern THROUGH crime. The ideal ‘citizen’ and the ‘idealized political subject’ of the government then ceased to be ‘the yeoman farmer’ of the early 1800s, the pioneer, the industrial worker of the later 1800s, the immigrant of the early 1900s … but rather became ‘the potential victim of crime’. And the job of the government has thus mutated into serving that idealized citizen-victim by avenging and even preventing the crime that endangers that idealized citizen. This has become the American ‘Script’, the American ‘Story’ for this era.

We are well-advised to consider that if it goes on, it will also be the last-ever American Story, at least insofar as we are a Republic.

The job of the American government is thus not the preservation of rights, nor the protection of pioneers, nor the opening up of ‘new lands on the frontier’, nor the protection of the worker’s rights and the owner’s rights, nor the provision of jobs and great public works nor the guarantee of decent wages and reliable jobs, nor even the provision of decent education (who nowadays can say what should be taught?). Indeed, given the peaking of the American postwar production hegemony in 1969, the government wasn’t going to be able to keep any such promises. And given the Vietnam War it wasn’t going to able to guarantee ever-victorious military undertakings either.

What then was a government to do?

J. Edgar Hoover, of course, had been an early federal-expansionist via the police power of the government. Taking over the predecessor to the FBI just after World War I, he quickly cut his teeth on ‘Reds’, and when that ‘Scare’ was surfed out, he was on to ‘gangsters’: not, curiously, the big mob bosses, but the more vulnerable independent (if showy) entrepreneurs, especially ones who drove automobiles across State lines. Here was a fine new frontier for the Federal police power to colonize, and it did.

After the diversions of World War Two and the occasional Nazi spy, there was another Scare involving the Soviets and Joe McCarthy, and then – amazingly – it was Bobby Kennedy – himself a former prosecutor – who saw ‘crime’ as an excellent vehicle for enhancing his brother’s and his own political service.

After the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and RKF himself, and the profoundly jarring experiences of the urban riots of the later ‘60s, and the overall Anything Goes attitude of the Boomers (in their youth), the Omnibus Safe Streets Act of 1968 becomes, for Simon, the foundation for an American “National Crime State” (my own term) that rivals Gore Vidal’s description of the National Security State that arose after World War 2.

It is the unspoken and rarely seen growth and subsurface efflorescence of this National Crime State – its mentality, its vision of the place of the individual citizen and of the role of the government (Federal and State) and of the prosecutor, and the ‘changes’ (to put it nicely) it required in American law and justicial practice – that Simon isolates as the great and dangerous development underlying the challenges the Republic faces today.
When the Democrats (see the earliest Posts on this site) embraced the assorted Revolutions of the Identities in the later 1960s and afterwards, the (hardly unrelated) spike in ‘crime’ – from ‘pot’ to ‘drugs’ to all sorts of violent acts to all sorts of arguably ‘deviant’ behavior and acts – became a richly potent wedge for the now-waxing Republicans, precisely as the ability of the Federal government to continue the essential New Deal preconditions of constant expanding economic well-being decreased. Nixon was a ‘law and order’ man who was gonna get ‘tough on crime’. He and Agnew and Mitchell …

The Reagan-era, ushered in by his election to the Presidency in 1980 but pre-figured in his tough-on-crime governorship of California in the mid-‘60s, capitalized on the crime issue, focusing on the South American drug-lords (while barely noticing the S&Ls being devoured by assorted well-connected Republican-leaning piranha and sharks). To meet the emergency and the threat posed by those South American drug lords the ‘war on drugs’ was declared, and all manner of jurisprudential damage was done to constitutional structures in an effort to get a clear line of attack on drug-lords, drug-sellers, even drug-users.

Simon doesn’t spend as much time as might be spent on a couple of other monster developments, but he raises them and limns them accurately enough. First, the development throughout the 1970s of womens-liberation issues in such a direction that women’s vulnerability to men was presented as primarily a violent-crime issue, toward the meeting of which ‘emergency’ and the ‘suffering and outrage of the victims’ Federal police power had to be expanded even more than it had been in the civil-rights era of the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s.

Second, the (distracting) framing of many of the Democrat-connected social changes as ‘moral’ and ‘religious’ issues, abortion quickly passing pot-smoking and ‘free love’ as a powerful trellis upon which oppositional forces could shape themselves, with (Republican) governmental help. To add to this the Fundamentalistic sensibility – Manichaean, intolerant of ambiguity and impatient of dissent or delay in the gratifications of its vision – created (I would say) an intensely powerful cultural fire, one that could be stoked to power large engines indeed.

That the Fundamentalistic sensibility as described is in a sense a mirror-image of the ‘revolutionary’ sensibility of that age’s feminism and the advocacy stance of other emerging ‘Identities’ merely indicates how inter-tangled these powerful societal and cultural forces were beneath the surface appearances of polarization and ‘total oppositeness’. And the governmental march toward enhanced police powers, necessary to re-authorize itself as the Avenger and Crime-Preventer to the American citizen (white, black, male, female, young, old … any victimization would do, so long as it was not economic or ‘class’ related).

He spends some time with one of the most powerful loci of these titanic forces: the sex mania that united ‘parents’ and ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘women’ against (the least numerous forms of) men and the most outrageous, if rare, types of sex-related crime. That this mania is still raging and Mr. Simon still has a scholarly career to keep might explain his less-than-extensive treatment of this still-roaring conflagration, but he does discuss the issue and everything he says is accurate.

And he does give substantive treatment to the sex-offense mania’s immediate predecessor: the domestic violence surge, which resulted in liberty and privacy being interfered with by the government merely on the allegations of an individual – a hole cut in the watertight bulkhead of Constitutional protection which – whatever its good intentions – has created damage that may never properly be mended.

Very interestingly, within this National Crime State he distinguishes between the enhancement of the role of the prosecutor and the weakening of the role of the judge. This, I think, is one of the quiet and almost counter-intuitive developments that has helped militarize (and thus threaten) the classic constitutional praxis of law enforcement and the administration of justice. The judge in the American system, in his/her sentencing power, wields the power of mitigating punishment if – s/he decides – this particular case so warrants. But it is precisely the need of the National Crime State to demonstrate its authority to the citizenry, and strengthen its bond to the (law-abiding) citizenry, by most vividly if not also floridly demonstrating its punitive power and resolve.

To secure that objective, the role of judges has been publicly defamed and – the pols eagerly piling on – statutorily restricted and decreased. Prosecutors, as the efficient avengers of the victim and comrade-in-arms of the sturdy but hard-pressed police, can cut through the ‘crap’ (we think of Max Boot’s counterinsurgency theorems) to secure the objective, the victory, of conviction and maximum imprisonment.

And prison itself – once a method of rehabilitating and ‘correcting’ the inmate – now becomes a technology-saturated ‘warehousing of garbage’ operation, the objective merely being to make the inmate’s life as risk-free (to any of the staff) as possible by isolating him (mostly ‘him’) from human contacts. But there are few supermaxes, although it’s a vision to sweeten the dreams of far too many victims, advocates, media types, pols, and citizens – although not, I think, of so many prison-administration professionals.

And more abstractly but hardly less cogently, he spends some time on the consequences of this National Crime State (again, my term, not his) on American civic and societal and cultural life. The embrace of the illusion that there could ever be anything such as perfect security or total safety or zero-tolerance; the formulation of one’s personal and social identity as a victim – whether passive and ‘devastated’ or enraged and vengeful; the acceptance of the non-humanity and the non-rights of (large) numbers of citizens, whether having been convicted of a crime or not; the approval of the government’s authority to ‘preventively’ incarcerate persons targeted as ‘potential’ criminals (and who isn’t?); the learned and reinforced mistrust of large numbers of other citizens, be they strangers or family members or persons of societal or cultural ‘authority’ … what will be the effects – specific and cumulative – of all these?

I would add, in the light of Max Boot’s musings, that the needs of the National Crime State and of the National Security State and of the National At-War-With-Terrorism State and the National Empire-for-Survival State … they all require sorta the same type of folks for their populations. And that type is not the Citizen, nor in the aggregate The People, nor necessarily educated nor independent nor mature nor spiritually nor morally developed.

The challenges that faced 1st Lt. Watada (see the Post immediately preceding this) are facing Us as The People. Our rendezvous with destiny is here now, calling Our name.

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