Step back and see The New American Order

Summary:  This is the second half of Tom Engelhardt’s essay about the New America the 1% erects on the remains of the America-that-once-was. This is the vital fact necessary to understand our situation, the red pill that allows one to see the common factor behind so many of our problems.

Reform is not possible until people realize what’s happening — and care about it. Both are necessary. The second will be much more difficult to achieve. What we do with this information will determine the outcome.  If it’s just entertaining reading for the outer party then Tom’s effort was wasted (the inner party know these things; the proles don’t care).    This is the second half to Step back and see The New American Order.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

The New Regime

Second Half of “The New American Order

1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People”

By Tom Engelhardt
Posted at TomDispatch, 19 March 2015.
Re-posted here with his generous permission.

4. Rise of the National Security State as the 4th Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.


A subject of New America

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

NSA Inside

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

The New Regime: "Coup"
Music for a slow revolution. Get your CD at Amazon.

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

We the sheeple!

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

New Regime hats
We have coffee mugs also!

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

© Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt.


About the author

Tom Engelhardt, has been an editor for 30+ years. Today he is a consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. He co-founder of the American Empire Project, and in November 2001 created the Nation Institute’s

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join him on Facebook. Also see his books, useful guides to the New America being built on the ruins of the America-that-once-was.

For More Information

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I’ve written scores of posts documenting this political transition, it’s significance, the outlines of the new regime, and how it might be stopped. See all posts about America – about the quiet coup and Reforming America: steps to new politics. Especially see…

It need not end like this. Even if the Second Republic does fall, we can learn from this experience and built a stronger Third Republic.

In our future lies a better America.


14 thoughts on “Step back and see The New American Order”

  1. Some stuff to add to TD’s great insights and FM’s too.

    You probably have posted something on Michael Glennon’s book titled National Security and Double Government. Glennon is out of the Fletcher School at Tufts. His work is as sober a text/scholarship on what TD is talking about and which many of us, including FM, have commented on over the years. Some time ago I presented a paper at Elon University/International Studies Association on the emerging US national security state and consciousness that goes with that development. Also posed the question: Can alternative media present any challenge to such a state of affairs.?

    To add a wee bit of filler to this discussion is a collection of essays published on the WWW over the past year or so titled Media Trolls,Technology Shamans and Diabolical Political, Economic and Military Demons.

    Why do so many of us spend so much time on matters that seem way beyond our control. I tried, very briefly, to address that in the Introduction with these words, “Within these pages is a collection of essays written over the course of 2014. They were carried by a number of online publications: Cryptome, Pravda, the Sri Lanka Guardian, Dissident Voice, Scoop, CounterPunch, Intrepid Report and Windows to Russia. Obviously these publications are not mainstream media nor in the lofty class of new media like the Intercept or Buzzfeed. And that’s just fine as the audience-base for these websites is not only niche-American locales, but other geographic locations like Asia, Canada and South America.

    The pieces that appear in the CounterPunches of the world are generally written by all “submitters” for no compensation; that is, they take time out of their “pay days” to write about matters that make them toss and turn at night. Those sleepless nights revolve around trying to convince those who will read/listen that the powerful — taking form, as say, technologists, pundits and political leaders — are clearly leading humanity on a long doomsday path.

    The evidence is visible: In the USA and Europe by the not so subtle global covet/overt operations to overthrow “elected” governments like Ukraine and Egypt, with the long view to usher in regime change in Russia and China. The return to expanding nuclear weapons capability in the USA and Russia. The implementation of crushing Austerity programs even as, in the USA, infrastructure degrades.

    But maybe the negativity I and others express is equally misguided as humanity is now on the cusp of re-engineering itself through genetics and bio-engineering. The properly redesigned human could likely survive well in a world of scarcity, one ravaged by climate change and war.

    But what would the next-generation humans do with older models like us? The title of this book refers to Trolls, Shamans and Demons. We listen uncritically to them all at our own collective peril. If we don’t listen we hideout in our favorite TV show, video game, chat room or fasten the head phones on to drown them out. We choose to hide from them and now each other. What’s to come?”

    Thanks FM for letting me post…

    1. John,

      Intelligent and well-expressed views are always welcomed here. Nor do I object (as many websites do) to self-promotional posts (I don’t see the problem with that). That I disagree is immaterial and irelevant.

      “doomsday path {to} in a world of scarcity, one ravaged by climate change and war.”

      While it’s easy to imagine such outcomes, I see no evidence that either outcome is likely. The rumors of severe State-to-State warfare are mostly another in a long series of such drum-beating by militaries seeking to boost their budgets. Conflict among nuclear-armed states has been unknown since Hiroshima — and actively avoided since the close calls of the Berlin Airlift and the Cuban Missile Crisis (both of which were close calls).

      As for climate change, the Working Group One report of the IPCC’s recent AR5 report gives that as a possible scenario for the late 21st C if we burn off almost the entire fossil fuel reserves of the planet during the next 85 years. While possible, I consider that a scenario as likely as proved industrial society collapsing from lack of whale oil. There are many alternative energy sources under development — from the rapid improvement of solar & electric cars (allowing use of non-carbon power) to the lab work on a new generation of fusion power generators. If desperate, next-gen nuclear power plants could displace much burning of carbon for a generation or two until better alternatives evolved.

      Also, we might have more time than the AR5 implies. Estimates of the climate’s sensitivity to increased COC2 vary widely, and the range has been falling with each IPCC report. This is a cutting edge frontier in climate science. See here for one aspect of it.

      In my opinion this completely and radically misstates our problem. The 1% will govern us quite well. They’ll just do it in their interest, not ours — so that the bulk of the gains from the next industrial revolution will go in their pockets.

      I wonder if attempting to scare people like this is attempted as a means to gather support for political activism. It will fail because it has already been overused for a generation or two. People are tired of the “sky is falling” cries of the doomsters, always wrong. They get attention in the press as clickbait, generating thrills in the outer party members who read such things for entertainment. But it’s ability to move people to action was never large, and now is near zero. They’ve proven the accuracy of “the boy who cried ‘wolf!'” stories.

  2. Pingback: Lockheed opens a new battleground: Environmentally friendly energy - Alter Energy - Alternative Energy News & References

  3. Time was, we read the NYT, we watched three networks, listened to and purchased music on the radio wore clothes designed in NewYork and bring a ruling elite meant simply controlling these few channels. Now that’s all being replaced by a near infinity of new channels impossible to control. So now being a ruling elite requires new more direct means of control. Hence the assembly of our new security state, the gaming of our democratic institutions, the fear mongering, the war mongering, everything we are seeing. It’s just our rulers finding substitute ways to stay in the saddle.

    1. Peter,

      “Now that’s all being replaced by a near infinity of new channels impossible to control.”

      Do you see any evidence that the “near infinity news channels” challenge the government or our ruling elites more than did the preceding 3 TV channels and dozen or so major newspapers and wire services? I don’t.

      The multiverse of news channels all showed the same bogus stories justifying the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the equally bogus stories about their occupation. Ditto for most (not all) of the dominant narratives that keep us docile.

      There is an obvious explanation (that doesn’t mean it’s the correct one, however): the multiverse of news media have far smaller resources and more precarious profitability. Hence less integrity and less willingness to challenge our big private and corporate institutions. More evidence — among the few that do so are financially secure because funded by members of the 1%.

  4. Editor of FM,

    I hope you are right and I am completely wrong.

    I subscribe to the Pete Townshend school of getting people’s attention. A very young PT said that people were basically thick and to get their attention you’ve got to make a koud noise, smash you guitar, etc. It is the same attitude that got him some @#$% off’s from some in the crowd at Woodstock–which he hated performing at though put on a he of a show.

    I think Americans like to be “afraid, very afraid” of “this and that, these and those”. Another great line from them is “I need something good to die for to make it easier to live.” Americans and Westerners are bored, bored democratic citizens looking for purpose in something whether its preparing for 6 inches of snow (a quasi terror weather event) or the next building to come down at the hands, hopefully they hope, of an Arab.

    Regional Climate Change is happening and that is why the US military is shifting some resources to cope with changes it brings. Arctic deployments of US military assets will increase to that region as commerce–thanks to thawing ice sheets–opportunities eyed by the many nations that have a stake their increases.

    The worst thing of course is that, if you remember the original Blob with Steve McQueen, the US military froze the Blob and parachuted the monster into the Arctic. The closing line of that movie by McQueen was let’s hope it doesn’t melt.

    Don’t let that out into the public sphere. What’ll Americans do when they learn the Blob’s icy prison is melting? Send in the US military–similar to the ISIS blob I suppose.

    CNN Analyst reports, “Blob a threat to Homeland.” heh, heh

    1. John,

      It’s not matter of “hoping” who is right. It’s a matter of evidence. There is little to support your views, and I don’t see that you have responded to my comment. Especially the near-total failure of the well-funded, massive, multi-decde fear bombardment about climate change. Gallup and Pew Polls — as I have repeatedly cited during the past few years — show low and declining public interest. The consensus views of the IPCC carry more weight than the doomsters you listen to.

      Regional climate change is always happening. Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years, there is little evidence of this rate substantially accelerating, etc. I could go on, but I’ve found these discussions are a waste of time. People who do not listen to the climate scientists of the IPCC will not listen to me.

      Another example of the weakness of your analysis: what’s your evidence that “Americans are bored, looking for purpose”? My guess: it’s just making stuff up.

      By the way: People have always paid attention to the weather. This is nothing new. Calling the unusually heavy snowfall a “quasi terrorist weather event” strikes me as an absurd metaphor. Mocking preparations for the record snowfalls this year (6 inches is a lot for areas that get little or none) is silly. None of this strengthens your case.

  5. typos—Great line is from the band Queens of the Stone Age–this and that, these and those…something good to die for to make it easier to live….hell of a show

  6. “As for climate change, the Working Group One report of the IPCC’s recent AR5 report gives that as a possible scenario for the late 21st C if we burn off almost the entire fossil fuel reserves of the planet during the next 85 years.”

    Have you got a link to that. I read that they are taking into account increasing efficiency, alternative energy production and such when making their projections of co2 levels and resulting temps.

    1. Gloucon,

      This touches on one of the weaknesses of the IPCC — a very common one of large institutions: not consulting experts outside their community. For the IPCC that’s experts in statistics and natural resource geology. These papers draw on the large literature suggesting that published reserve estimates for coal and oil are substantially overstated (see links on the Peak Oil & Energy page).

      There are many papers discussing this. These are those that I found open copies of and printed in my file:

      Estimating long-term world coal production with logit and probit transforms“, David Rutledge (Professor & Division of Engineering and Applied Science, Caltech), International Journal of Coal Geology, 1 January 2011 — Also see this presentation: “Coal as a Resource and Climate Change“.

      Emission scenarios in the face of fossil-fuel peaking“, Robert J. Brechan (Prof Physics, U Dayton), Energy Policy, September 2008.

      Validity of the Fossil Fuel Production Outlooks in the IPCC Emission Scenarios“, Mikael Höök, Anders Sivertsson, & Kjell Aleklett, Natural Resources Research, June 2010

      Future coal production outlooks in the IPCC Emission Scenarios: Are they plausible?“, Mikael Höök (senior lecturer, Earth Science, Uppsala U), Energy & Environment, October 2011.

  7. Thanks Fab. Those studies are talking about estimates as far back as 1998 so they seem a bit dated, but I won’t quibble, we can assume the models are improving with time and I believe their estimates are less doomy than the earlier ones. I was very doomy until recently, the Keeling curve still worries me, but I’m moving in your direction. I’ve been impressed by advances in solar and energy efficiency. They may be producing results sooner than we thought, even the hard core climate doomer crowd has to be impressed by this, let’s hope it continues:

    Global CO2 emissions stall despite economic growth: IEA

    1. Gloucon,

      “Those studies are talking about estimates as far back as 1998”
      I don’t believe you get the point. These look at the the IPCC’s assessments through AR4 (2007), showing their continuity. There will be similar analysis published looking at AR5 (published in late 2013), but it will take a while to work through the research and publication process.

      “I believe their estimates are less doomy than the earlier ones.”
      The IPCC is quite explicit that they do not do “estimates” or “forecasts”. They do projections, given a wide range of assumptions.

      “the Keeling curve still worries me”
      The love of single-factor models! Life would be much simpler if they were of any use.

  8. The Keeling curve is not a model –it’s evidence. It the most alarming evidence we have that we will see future warming. Are we living on the same planet?!

    1. Gloucon,

      “The keeling curve is not a model”

      Since I linked to a page explaining it, you should assume that I know what it is. You said the “Keeling curve worries me” — which implies you have a model forecasting future climate change from past or future rising CO2 levels. The increase of atmospheric CO2 by ~100 parts per million since 1960 by itself (i.e., directly) has no ill effects on us, just a mildly beneficial effect on plants.

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