The New Domestic Order: What Has Changed, Why It Changed, and How It
by C. Clark Kissinger
Revolutionary Worker #1206, July 6, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org
The America that we have known for many generations is quickly
disappearing. Yet many do not yet recognize the full extent of what
is taking place. People may hear about immigrants being secretly
detained, or of a plan to give the Pentagon access to the financial,
health and credit card information of every citizen. They may have a
sense that the "checks and balances" of government are not working,
and that the rule of law is increasingly being replaced by the rule
of men -- men with an extreme new agenda. They may sense that behind
the campaign of "security" and "public safety" this extreme agenda is
being implemented. The full picture remains obscure, but many people
are deeply troubled.
Vice President Cheney has spoken of a "new normalcy" for America in
the context of a war that may last for generations. What are the full
dimensions of this, what are the implications, and where is it headed?
September 11 Unleashes the Flood
While democratic rights were under assault before "9/11," the attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon produced a dramatic and
qualitative change. There have been drastic changes in the law. There
has been an assault on immigrants' rights and a manufactured climate
of xenophobia (i.e., hatred and fear of foreigners). There has been a
restriction of dissent, both of organized protest and the speaking
out by public figures. There has been the widespread utilization of
new surveillance technology and the promotion of a culture of
complicity and snitching. And there has been a radical restructuring
of government itself, giving much more power to the executive branch.
Let's look at each of these.
Drastic changes in the law: The Patriot Act, for instance, gives the
government vast new surveillance powers, allows the virtual unlimited
detention of immigrants without charges, permits "roving wiretaps,"
and imposes gag rules to prevent persons served with warrants from
revealing it. It expands the power of the government to obtain secret
search warrants from secret courts to obtain any personal
information, from our library checkouts to our personal medical
Assault on immigrants: Immediately after 9/11 federal agents spread
out across the country, rounding up immigrants from Arab and Muslim
countries (the "Ashcroft Raids"). People simply disappeared into
government custody without charges or due process.
Hearings by immigration courts were suddenly closed to the public.
Lawyers were often unable to even find out where their clients were
being held. (Not a single one of these detainees has been charged
with a crime relating to September 11.) Racial and ethnic profiling
was back with a vengeance. Tens of thousands of immigrants were
ordered to report and register with the government, and 13,000 who
did now face deportation.
Restriction of dissent: On February 15 in New York, police refused to
allow antiwar protesters to march anywhere in the city, blocked off
streets to prevent people from gathering, attacked people from
horseback, and confined those who did make it to the mobilization
site to fenced-off "protest pens." Police repression of dissenting
politics went still further in Oakland in April, when rubber bullets
were shot at peaceful protesters. It was later revealed that firing
on these protesters was the result of recommendations from a state
police agency on counter-terrorism.
Meanwhile, artists like Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and
scores of others came under fire for speaking out against either the
impending war on Iraq or the attacks on civil liberties. Bill Maher
lost his TV show Politically Incorrect . Dixie Chicks' CDs were
destroyed in rallies that seemed to come out of news clips from
Germany 1933--after singer Natalie Maines dared to criticize the
president on stage at a concert. The antiwar Phil Donahue lost his
talk show in the increasingly prowar atmosphere of the media, despite
the fact that he was the highest rated MSNBC host. Major antiwar
organizations and leaders were red-baited and attacked as treasonous -
- with ties to everyone from al-Qaida to the Cuban government being
This chill came from the highest offices of the land. Ari Fleischer,
speaking to the Bill Maher incident, warned the American people
to "watch what they say." And Attorney General Ashcroft, speaking to
the Senate Judiciary Committee, blasted any criticism of the Patriot
Act: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost
liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for
they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give
ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends." This
language echoed the legal definition of treason and was directed at
some of the Democratic Senators present.
Stepped-up surveillance and a culture of snitching: The Department of
Defense rolled out its Total Information Awareness program (now
renamed Terrorist Information Awareness), a computer network that
would allow the military to cross-check both government and private
commercial databases, to quickly turn up credit card, travel, and
other personal information on anyone. The new Computer Assisted
Passenger Pre-screening System II (CAPPSII) will rate the "security
risk" of every airline passenger, based on government or corporate
databases. Those who don't pass are put on a secret "no fly" list.
Along with this have come widespread appeals to "report anything
suspicious." The government attempted to set up the TIPS program,
which called on everyone from teachers to UPS deliverymen to report
on the people they came in contact with. It was defeated this time,
but the effort to instill an ethos of informing has not diminished.
Restructuring government: A major reorganization of the government is
well under way. In a break with 225 years of precedent, the army is
now routinely deployed on our streets in a domestic policing role.
The Department of Homeland Security--a ministry of internal security--
has been created. The Attorney General announced that the function of
the Department of Justice was now "prevention and disruption," not
law enforcement. Government agents were authorized to monitor
conversations between lawyers and their clients. Decisions by
Immigration Court judges to release detainees were simply overturned
on executive order. At least two native-born U.S. citizens have been
transferred to military custody by executive order and denied access
to lawyers or the courts.
One stunning and important example of the fading role of "checks and
balances" was the passage of the USA Patriot Act. On September 17,
2001, Ashcroft de- manded that the congress pass within one week a
collection of new laws that they had not even seen yet. The House
Judiciary Committee balked at some of Ashcroft's more outrageous
demands and unanimously approved its own watered-down version. But
the next week, when the bill came up for a vote in the House of
Representatives, members found that a new bill had been substituted
overnight. There was no time to even read it. In an atmosphere of
coercion and panic the congress quickly voted through the "anti-
terrorism" Patriot Act by a vote of 98-1 in the Senate and 357-66 in
The rapid-fire events since 9/11 are more than a series of isolated
incidents or a motley collection of wrong-headed policies. It is not
just a further step in already existing trends to criminalize
immigrants, demonize people of color, and eviscerate our legal and
political rights. It has elements of all of these, but taken together
these developments amount to a watershed. We now face both the new
repressive measures outlined above and the distinct possibility of a
new social order qualitatively more ominous and draconian than
anything we have known.
Behind the New Repression
We are told, of course, that this is for our safety. But that's not
what this is about.
The driving force behind this heightened repression is the U.S.
agenda of open-ended war for global domination undertaken after
September 11. George Bush was very precise in declaring that the U.S.
victory in Iraq was only one battle in an overall "war against
terrorism," and administration officials have continually spoken of a
war lasting for a generation. Today there is open speculation that
Iran, Korea, or Syria may be the next victim of U.S. military might,
while American troops are already deployed in Yemen, Somalia and the
Bob Avakian has pointed out that the U.S. "can't go and wage open-
ended war like this and not have a lot of repressive mechanisms
already being implemented and much more machinery ready to bring into
play, especially when this kind of thing starts to get out of hand
and there's a lot of resistance, and there's what they call
`blowback' internationally or even within the U.S. itself. Things
could get very much out of hand by what they're unleashing and the
very things that they're bringing into being. So they need repression
now and they also need to prepare for even further heightening that
repression as things go down the road." ("Bob Avakian Speaks Out,
Interviewed by Carl Dix," Revolutionary Worker #1155, June 16, 2002)
Such a war is bound to demand sacrifices and it will also provoke
resistance. The Bush team can foresee this and so they have taken
steps to curtail protests and intimidate possible sources of
opposition and disaffection. But they are also gearing up the
machinery for even more repressive measures should the resistance
shake up the whole society, as it did, for example, during the
The need for this post 9/11 repressive agenda has come together with
and, to a certain degree, subsumed the earlier moves towards a more
repressive society in the '80s and '90s. That period witnessed a vast
expansion of the prison system (primarily targeting African-American
and Latino youth), severe curtailment of legal rights like habeas
corpus and prevention of unreasonable search and seizure, the
militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, a demonization of
immigrants, and what has been called, without much exaggeration, a
war against women.
These measures came in response to several major trends. The
struggles of the 1960s threw the status quo into chaos. The Black
liberation struggle shook a basic pillar of American society, white
supremacy. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam was a major shock to the system
and reared a generation in opposition to U.S. aggression abroad. The
women's liberation movement challenged and upended long-standing
relations and assumptions about women's "place." And the effects of
these upheavals have yet to be fully reined in.
Coming on top of this were a host of changes in the 1980s and '90s.
The "new economy" emerged, full of turbulent uncertainty, the
disappearance of relatively secure industrial jobs, and huge gulfs
between rich and poor. The social role of women continued as a focal
point of controversy and struggle. The masses of Black people and
many other oppressed nationalities were locked into rotted-out
cities. Immigrants were pushed into the U.S. by political repression
and poverty in their homes and pulled to fill various roles in the
economy--but how they were to be "integrated" was a big bone of
The old New Deal/Great Society "social compact" could not adequately
contain these forces. In response, the leading edge of U.S. politics
became "an aggressive, mean-spirited assault on those on the bottom
of society and the slashing of concessions to them--a war on the poor
in place of a supposed war against poverty--along with an equally
aggressive and mean-spirited crusade to promote and enforce `old-
fashioned values' of patriarchy and patriotism as well as good old
white chauvinism (racism)." (Bob Avakian, Preaching from a Pulpit of
This politics found its most extreme _expression in what has been
aptly called a Christian Fascist movement--the Pat Robertsons,
William Bennetts, Tom DeLays, etc., whose politics are highly
repressive and theocratic. This movement has now been "folded into"
the Bush juggernaut, with some of its leading lights in top positions
(John Ashcroft, for one), lending energy and a perverse vision to
Bush's effort to remake and recast the norms of U.S. society to serve
the new permanent wartime state.
How It Matters
In a recent New York Times Sunday magazine, James Traub complained
indignantly that people he knew--"none of them ideologues or cranks"--
had been telling him "that the erosion of civil liberties under the
Bush administration constitutes an early stage, or at least a
precursor, to the kind of fascism Hitler brought to Germany." Traub
replied at some length, listing particular dissimilarities between
Germany 1933 and USA 2003. Obviously history never exactly repeats
itself and people like Traub argue against a straw man.
The question is why people are drawn to make this comparison anyway.
First, the Bush administration has adopted an extremely aggressive
international posture quite reminiscent of Berlin in the '30s. When
Jimmy Breslin published Hitler's speech justifying the invasion of
Poland on the eve of the Iraq war, the parallels in logic and even
phrasing were stunning. Second, the Bush team has been rapidly
setting in place the machinery--legal, technological, and ideological-
-that could take society almost overnight into a police state should
they decide that they need to . There is a direction and a logic to
current events that gives substance to people's nightmares.
Still, the future is yet unwritten. We have a choice in the matter.
We could choose to keep our heads low and hope that things will
somehow sort themselves out. We could choose to ignore the
international outrages perpetrated by our government. But we have
seen where that kind of choice has led in the past. We should
remember that the Germany of 1933 went through a lengthy process by
degrees before it reached the full all-out horror of the death camps,
which weren't instituted until 1941. By then, of course, the chance
to stop the Nazi horror had passed.
Martin Niemoeller was a clergyman in Germany during those times. He
described how it happened, simply and chillingly:
"First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak
up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they
came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a
Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left
to speak up."
His words ring with a hauntingly contemporary message.
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