What Happened to America?

Reading the news about the United States from afar — in Myanmar — I can’t help but wonder why my country is seen as the torchbearer for Democracy and Human Rights. Living in a military dictatorship while (carefully) teaching Myanmar university students western values and traditions regarding democratic dogma, elections, journalism and civil society, wasn’t always easy. Not only was it dangerous for the students, it was also dangerous for their families, who would have suffered had any one of the students been picked up, detained and imprisoned. As for me, I would have been deported so I didn’t consider myself to be in any kind of danger.

Reforms in Myanmar have made the past experience just described less dangerous. However, from time to time these days I find myself feeling like a hypocrite when speaking about American ideals and Democracy. Democracy in the United States, seen from abroad, looks more like Communism in China. American foreign policy looks more like mafia thuggery. I’ve begun feeling like I’m misleading my students who deeply believe in American political policy and projected principles solely for the reason that the United States government is – rightly so for a change of pace – Aung San Suu Kyi’s greatest ally.

My students aren’t absent any ideas about what Democracy means. All of them were ex-political prisoners or family members of political prisoners. The youngest among them was detained just six months ago after supporting her father’s single-person protest against an obscure land-seizure case that left his family farm in the hands of a corrupt government crony. The father was arrested and the daughter went to the police station to demand his release. She was arrested when she did so. Three or four years ago they would both have been sentenced to several years in prison.

These days, as Myanmar eases into sort of becoming a fledgling democracy in its earliest stages, reforms have opened doors and minds and after nearly a week, both father and daughter were set free without any pending charges — absent their land. Human rights abuses and injustices still occur wholesale in Myanmar, yet with less frequency except in the frontier regions where westerners are banned from entering. In the United States, human rights abuses and injustices still occur, yet more frequently every day.

When I see video’s of American police brutality against Occupy protesters, people being evicted from their homes, TSA security hacks accosting four-year old children at airports and calling the child “a suspect”, TSA searches of innocent American citizens travelling on buses, trains and sidewalks, police busting down the door of an African American Vietnam Veterans home in white Plains, New York and electrocuting him, then shooting him to death, and when I read the news of the madness of war zone atrocities of murderous drones flying over half of Arabia, bombing and killing at random, American soldiers pissing on corpses, raping and rampaging death and destruction on to impoverished uneducated people with no electricity in their villages, I wonder, what the hell is Democracy?

What is the United States anymore? I hardly can recognize it from the days long ago when I had Civics class in seventh grade; the American military had just finished slaughtering 3 million people in Vietnam, untold numbers more in Laos and was unquestionably responsible for the genocide of 3 million more in Cambodia. Didn’t Nazi Germany in Europe and Imperial Japan in Asia behave this way long before Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II? No country dared, then or now, to stand up to American militarism abroad and now that it’s come home to roost in the styles of fascism on American streets and in American homes. Few Americans actually can resist the police state without their lives and livelihoods being  destroyed more than they’ve become.

When the world finally stood up to the spread of fascism in the 1940’s it was too late to save the so-called civilized world from total destruction. That the United States was the only power left not destroyed was because of geography, not superiority. Can the rest of the world stand up to the United States military and security complex?  The BRICS nations are succeeding at bringing imperial American economic might down by devaluing the dollar to 65% of the world’s currency reserve from 85% a few years ago. But as our  politicians have caved like lemmings jumping over a cliff to the security industrial complex, more and more money is being wasted to reap death, destruction, and surveillance over the world and in the United States. American militarism is out of control. Americans collectively have  become like the solitary young man standing in front of the huge tank during the Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1979.

What has become of the United States? The nation’s police departments behave as if they are occupying army’s hell bent on subduing the populace that pays them, even to the point of a citizen being subjected to being stripped searched not once, but twice, for failing to pay for a traffic violation. That means if your spouse, grandparents or children forget or fail to pay a parking ticket, for whatever reason, they can be arrested, strip searched and stored away in a jail and possibly even left there out of professional  neglect such as the kid in California who was doomed to spend four days in prison cell by the DEA, forced to drink his urine to survive, he was never charged with a crime.

America imprisons close to 2.5 million people at a time, year in and year out. African Americans are  disproportionately jailed per capita more than are white people. Where is the democracy? What on earth could 2.5 million Americans be doing so badly that all of them deserve to be in prison? Millions more each year are subjected to the legal system of parole and probation.  Corporations run the prisons in the United States. They lobby for tougher laws in all areas of law in order to arrest and detain more and more American citizens, because they make profits from having people in their prisons. Police and judges have been exposed as being corrupted with kickbacks and payoffs in some places in America as they’ve been caught arresting and sentencing with abandon while getting paid commissions in the form of cash. It’s probable many more have not been caught.

I tell my students to go on YouTube and search “police taser” and watch the many, many videos of American police electrocuting its citizens. They report back to me in shock and horror. They proclaim, “This never even happen in Burma!” It’s hard to teach Democracy when you come from a country where Democracy doesn’t really exist anymore.  Where the police state is the enemy of its citizens, where every form of communication is captured and stored, analyzed and used for advertising or – who knows – future blackmail? American citizens are all “suspects” to the police state. They are now subjected to drones hovering in their air space. No more laying out topless in the back yard on a sunny day or going for a romantic walk in a cornfield or forest and finding a nice cozy place to snuggle. If seen by a police drone, the police will arrive to arrest, strip search, and imprison the couple and they will inevitably be labeled sex-offenders and have their lives forever ruined. All for being in love under the clear blue sky on a pleasant summer day. Clear except for the police watching.

What does Democracy mean regarding the upcoming presidential election? There’s a choice between two people for president who swear they will give more money to the security state, cut social safety nets, privatize public education, cut taxes on the wealthy, spend more money on drug prohibition, continue to kill, torture and destroy more in Afghanistan, and in many other countries in the middle east – for what? Oil? The minority of Israel’s leaders and their insane but wealthy American supporters who are extreme warmongers and zealots hell bent of attacking Iran and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their ancestral lands? Most Israelis and Jewish Americans oppose these warmongers among them. The American corporate media is complicit in fueling the airwaves with propaganda against Iran and Islam, immigrants, and any idea left of what was once considered fascism. In today’s bizarre political world Richard Nixon would be called a  progressive.

What are Americans doing about the injustices and high-crimes and misdemeanors of American government and its Wall Street puppeteers? Mitt Romney has a car lift in his home. He’s the Republican nominee – thankfully since all of his opponents were nearly intellectually catatonic  evangelical non-Christ-like Christians. He’s a hedge fund financier – or whatever they call such crooks these days. Call them anything except guilty as charged. Barack Obama is a traitorous liar who sold himself to the American people as a new deal liberal peace-loving reformer who would ends wars, curtail the security state, and fight Wall Street – hahaha. Last time I looked, Guantanamo was still operating full steam ahead.  Americans will be at war in Afghanistan until 2024. (Hasn’t the bloodthirsty response to the September 11, 2001 tragedy been satisfied enough?) Wall Street crooks are still robbing the nation with ease. Terrorism of all kinds rules the world around us.

I want to be clear. I fear terrorism. Make no question about it. I fear police drones watching me from above, being tracked electronically and fondled by the TSA, being  harassed by police at roadblocks – but I fear it coming from Americans in America. I fear it from a psychotic night watchman like Mr. Zimmerman who murdered Trayvon Martin for wearing a hoodie. I fear it from a policeman wanting to arrest me in case my auto insurance payment is late and my insurance lapses. Or maybe I might forget to put the little sticker on my license plate that says I paid for the auto registration. I don’t deserve to be arrested, strip-searched and put in prison where I or anyone one, male or female, could be raped by other prisoners or abused by under-educated, unskilled, under-paid power tripping prison guards working for a corporation.

Maybe we should lobby local towns and cities to blood test and strip search people who want to run for office. I can’t imagine why a person who is not criminally inclined would want to do so. Call it a pre-emptive test of character. If one is willing to be blood tested and strip searched in order to be an elected politician, then they are either going to be guilty of something or they are insane. In either case, they will not be fit for office. Maybe that way we can keep the criminals and crazies out of politics. And then we can keep politics out of American society and return America to the rule of law and not the rule of the wealthy corporatists and the police. Call it the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. What a dream it was to think it could last. What a nightmare American Democracy has become.

Ko Tha Dja has worked for over five years in both Thailand and Burma on issues of education and refugee resettlement. Read other articles by Ko Tha Dja.