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Dirty Democracy and State Terrorism: The Politics of the New Authoritarianism in the United States
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Dirty Democracy and State Terrorism:
The Politics of the New Authoritarianism in the United States

Fundamentalism, secular or religious, is a belief, a claim and assertion that there is only one way of organizing reality—it demands that all conform to that idea or else be excommunicated from the global temple of true believers, and in some cases be hauled to hell. The economic panacea dished out to all who seek loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has the same identical demand—privatize or perish—and homily—leave everything, even your social fate, to the tender mercies of the market. This fundamentalism of finance capital and the elevation of the market to the status of a universal deity generate other fundamentalisms, religious and secular, either in alliance with them or in opposition. These forces are at the heart of globalization.

—Ngugi Wa Thiong'O, "Europhone or African Memory: The Challenge of the Pan-Africanist Intellectual in the Era of Globalization"

Recent revelations in the New York Times about the Bush administration's decision to allow the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without first obtaining warrants, the disclosure by the Washington Post of a network of covert prisons known as "black sites" established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in eight countries, the rampant corruption involving some of the most powerful politicians in the Bush administration, and the ongoing stories about widespread abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan are just some of the elements in the popular press that point to a growing authoritarianism in American life. The government, as many notable and courageous critics ranging from Seymour M. Hersh to Gore Vidal and Robert Kennedy Jr. have pointed out, is now in the hands of extremists who have shredded civil liberties, lied to the American public to legitimize sending young American troops to Iraq, and alienated most of the international community with a blatant exercise of arrogant power. These right-wing extremists have also tarnished the highest offices of government with unsavory corporate alliances, used political power unabashedly to pursue legislative policies that favor the rich and punish the poor, and disabled those public spheres not governed by the logic of the market. Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton and no radical, has argued that the Bush administration has created a government that is tantamount to "a national security state of torture, ghost detainees, secret prisons, renditions and domestic eavesdropping."1 The consequences of the new U.S. imperium, however, are not less dramatic for global democracy. [End Page 163]

In the United States, a silent war is being waged against poor young people and people of color who are being either warehoused in substandard schools or incarcerated at alarming rates. But these are not the only targets. Universities are accused of being soft on terrorism and un-American in their critiques of the Bush administration; homophobia has become the poster ideology of the Republican Party; and a full-fledged assault on women's reproductive rights is being championed by Bush's evangelical supporters—most evident in Bush's recent Supreme Court appointments. While the legal rights and support services of people of color, the poor, youth, the middle class, the elderly, gays, and women are being attacked, the current administration is supporting a campaign to collapse the boundaries between the church and state to the extent that even liberal critics such as Frank Rich believe that the United States is on the verge of becoming a fundamentalist theocracy.2

As war becomes the foundation for an empire-driven foreign policy in the United States, real and symbolic violence combine with a number of antidemocratic tendencies to make the world more dangerous and the promise of global democracy difficult to imagine in the current historical moment. Ultranationalistic imagery of empire disseminated by a largely right-wing media, now an echo chamber for the Bush administration, has made militaristic symbols widespread throughout American culture, reasserting racial hierarchies associated with earlier forms of colonialism. The language of patriotic correctness and religious fanaticism replaces the language of social justice and equality, bespeaking the enduring attraction if not "rehabilitation of...