When people think of a police state, they usually think of heavily armed, uniformed police kicking in doors and dragging out family members in the dark of the night. A police state doesn’t require police kicking down your door… at least not in the beginning, particularly when one is evolving from some other form of government, say for instance a constitutional republic. I’m not sure any police state ever came about as a result of some politician saying “When I get elected I’m going to use various elements of the government to take away your civil liberties, oppress my opponents and crush any opposition.” Typically dictators come to power promising to restore order amidst chaos or empowering the people against a tyrannical or corrupt regime. Putin was seen as bringing order to a crumbling Russia while Castro led a revolt against the corrupt Batista and Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew a hated monarch.
But this is the United States and by definition it could never become a police state.
But just for argument’s sake, let’s imagine someone had designs on becoming a dictator and wanted to turn the US into a police state, what kinds of things might be helpful? Obviously no dictator worth his salt wants to have opponents running around shining a light on his actions or stirring up the population against him or his policies. If only there was a way to keep opponents quiet. One way might be to choke off their funding by keeping them from raising much money and by intimidating their supporters. Check and check!
Of course, what good is being dictator if you can’t listen in to what subversive things people are saying about you… or anything else? Not much. As such it would be great to have a program where the government could listen in on every single phone conversation going on in the entire country… Not just when citizens are talking to known terrorists overseas, but simply when they are talking, period.. Check! But young people barely talk on the phone anymore… all they do is text, so you’d want to make sure you can see what’s going on there too. Check!
Unfortunately for you, every conversation in the country doesn’t occur on a phone as sometimes people still actually talk face to face. You might consider placing listening devices everywhere so you could listen in on those conversations too. Not likely however given the logistical nightmare it would be. If only there were a way to use their phones as listening devices, even when they’re turned off. Check! And maybe you could use the phone’s GPS data to track where everyone was at any point in time… and who they were with. Check!
As popular as talking on the phone is, people still spend a lot of time on computers at home. You’d probably want to have a program that allows you to monitor virtually everything anyone does online. Check!
Of course there is more to life than just what people say to one another.
It might also be helpful if you could make it so that a big portion of the population were dependent upon a check from the government (i.e. you), that way you could use that dependency as a tool with which to keep people in line and to whip up populist sentiment against anyone who was seeking to oppose your policies. Check!
As healthcare is pretty important to people, it might be very powerful tool to have if you could figure out a way to put the government in charge of everyone’s healthcare. Need that gall bladder operation or that cholesterol medicine? Let’s see what you’ve been up to first… Check.
Finally, as every good dictator knows, it’s important to disarm your enemies and potential enemies. Here you’d have to be very creative. A national background check before someone could buy a weapon would be a place to start. This would be particularly helpful if the agency operating such a system was allowed to define who it thought might be too dangerous to own a gun. A national registration where gun owner’s names and addresses were listed would be nice, and it would tell you exactly where to go to collect the guns whenever you’re ready. Not quite yet, but working on it.
But of course this is all hypothetical. As President Obama said: “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”
I think we have some problems here… Even if this unprecedented level of power were exercised by someone as honest and virtuous – not to be confused with perfect – as George Washington, a man who turned down absolute power twice in one lifetime, it would be a problem. Barack Obama is certainly no George Washington and in his hands all of this is a giant problem. This power in the hands as one as arrogant, perfidious and incompetent as Barack Obama is the equivalent of setting fire to the Constitution itself.
As a nation of laws and imperfect men operating in a world where millions of people seek new ways to harm us daily, there are certain things that government must do, many of which may seem unseemly in the light of day. Most Americans understand that. The America Barack Obama is creating is something all together different. If a government listens to conversations of its citizens in some limited, controlled circumstances, most Americans would accept that. If however that power is virtually unlimited, and more onerously, it is combined with a government that simultaneously seeks to control virtually every aspect of a citizen’s life, from what they can say and who they can support, to what healthcare they can get to their ability to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights to the economic opportunities available to them, then the Constitution becomes little more than a piece of framed artwork.
All that being said, we owe Barack Obama a great deal of gratitude for all of this. Before him Americans were seemingly happy to continue moving down the one way path of allowing government to take control of more and more of their lives as they deluded themselves into believing that only men of great character would control the levers of power. By demonstrating with crystal clarity exactly how fragile our liberty is in the wrong hands, perhaps Americans will come to, push back and begin reining government back into the box our Founding Fathers drew for it so that no one of any stripe can turn it into a police state. Barack Obama may well end up transforming America after all. Hopefully it won’t be in quite the way he intended.