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Incremental Despotism: Losing Our Freedoms Small Steps at a Time

Imagine your reaction if twenty years ago I shared with you that the following developments would take place and readily accepted by Americans as normal facets of everyday life:

  • Pervasive intrusion by the Federal government and private corporations alike in our lives and a capacity to sift through our private conversations without search warrants
  • Journalists and whistle blowers being prosecuted and harassed for the crime of doing their jobs
  • Habeas corpus effectively nullified at the behest of an executive order that sanctions extralegal assassinations of American citizens and foreign combatants alike
  • An 18 year “conflict” that is being fought without a declaration of war or the consent of the American people
  • Government paying media companies and “journalists” to purvey propaganda and practice military style PSYOPS against the American public

I’m sure you would immediately call me a conspiracy theorist and dismiss me as a lunatic in desperate need of help. Yet, what I detailed above is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the freedoms we have relinquished and the massive breach of our rights that is endemic of our time. The internet and the age of information that once promised to deliver freedoms and allow a free exchange of ideas has instead become a giant web that entangled Americans in the dystopian tentacles of Big Brotherism.

Yesterday evening, I decided to watch Hassan Minhaj’s new series on Netflix and tuned in to the episode where he talks about the dangers of social media. Instead of defending speech and speaking up against creeping despotism, Minhaj was warning us about the dangers of “misinformation”. He was advocating the virtues of “content moderation” and why it is important for a middle man to sanitize what the public hears, reads and watches so that we don’t get manipulated by nefarious actors.

Paternalism, nourished by the embryonic fluid of euphemisms, is the womb that gives birth to totalitarianism. Liberty is rarely snuffed out in one big instance, freedom dies in incremental steps. I always wondered how Germans allowed a madman to lead them into the wilderness of mass violence and chaos. Now I realize Hitler and his henchmen unleashed a reign of terror by chipping away at the periphery and targeting marginalized groups until fascism enveloped the whole nation. Day by day, we are heading towards the same path of implosion experienced by past empires as we blindly follow sociopaths who pretend to care about us.

I know it might seem hyperbolic to compare where we are at now to the evils of the Third Reich, but if we are not careful, future generations will judge us for our apathy in the face of corporate-state absolutism. We have been lulled into a coma while our rights are slowly eroding; as we bicker over politics and hot button issues, leaders and their enablers in mainstream media are quietly normalizing infringements.

This is not a left vs right issue nor a topic limited to any particular ideology or identity. What I’m writing about should concern all of us regardless of our belief system. In all honesty, our incessant focus on artificial constructs is the reason we are not universally alarmed over what we have allowed our nation to become.  Divide and conquer has been perfected and unleashed in ways that is truly breathtaking, we are so busy bashing each other over our differences that we don’t see the noose tightening around our collective necks.

Did you know that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration and continued by Donald Trump to this day, empowers the Department of Defense and the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies to coordinate propaganda to be used domestically against American citizens? As Zero Hedge notes, this bill is nothing more than a de facto Ministry of Truth that has been implemented without the consent of the public with the explicit purpose of conditioning us to accept narratives drafted by government officials. More terrifying, the NDAA allows the military to permanently detain American citizens without a hearing or court intervention in direct violation of the United States Constitution.

“For years, commercial advertisers have based their advertisement strategies on the premise that there is a positive correlation between the number of times a consumer is exposed to product advertisement and that consumer’s inclination to sample the new product. The very same principle applies to how we influence our target audiences when we conduct COIN.”

The above quote is from Brigadier General Ralph O. Baker, a Pentagon officer responsible for the Department of Defense’s Joint Force Development. Baker notes to Business Insider that it is vital to “shape the essential narrative of a conflict or situation and thus affect the attitudes and behaviors of the targeted audience”. The targets he is talking about is not some enemy in some far flung corner of the world or combatants who are at war with America, Baker is referring to American citizens—we are the ones with targets on our backs.

The Smith-Mundt Act used to explicitly forbid the US government from engaging in covert or overt campaigns to influence public opinion. Not only has the Smith-Mundt Act been shredded, it has been set on fire under the pretext of keeping us safe. This is why the Russia interference narrative is so dangerous, authorities are conditioning us to accept censorship and state propaganda by using bogeymen to scare us into compliance. It is getting harder and harder to differentiate news from information warfare; on any given day, cable TV and print media are populated by former intelligence officers and defense officials who laud the value of wars and preach the imperative of limiting our rights.

A free press was supposed to be our last line of defense, sadly the “fourth estate” has been co-opted by the very same powers they are supposed to be keeping tabs on. The era of muckrakers has given way to the age of preening talking heads who are more interested in enhancing their Q ratings than they are in rooting out corruption. The Washington Post’s tagline is “Democracy Dies in the Dark”, this is not a warning as much as it is the mission statement of mainstream media.

The clip below is from Jimmy Dore’s show as the panel discuss a stunning development on MSNBC where a pundit commits the gaffe of telling the truth in the face of massive war propaganda. Jeffery Sachs methodically breaks down the inception of the Syrian War, details the foolishness of chucking endless missiles and killing more civilians for the sake of peace that we aborted to begin with. Jimmy Dore comically notes that Sachs will have his access to mainstream media revoked for having the audacity to speak against the echo chamber of the military-financial complex. There is no place for truth-tellers in corporate media where talking heads get paid to propagate disinformation.

Some argue that Donald Trump is to blame for this age of lawlessness that has dawned upon America. This is a most simplistic view that doesn’t take into account that the slow walk towards despotism began a long time before January 20th, 2017. Trump is a perfect catnip for a nation obsessed with a cult of personality; we are so deranged by hating his presence or worshiping his likeness that we keep missing the forest for the branch. While we keep gazing at the reality show of politics and the personalities who are paraded before us, invisible hands are plucking away our freedoms one right at a time.

The perils that George Orwell warned us about were quaint compared to the realities before us. We have no idea whether journalists and reporters are getting paid by the very powers that they are supposed to be keeping in check. The synergy between government, corporations and media leaves us powerless to discern news from propaganda. You thought we are about to transition into 2019? No my friends, we are living in 1984. #IncrementalDespotism Click To Tweet

I arrived in America in 1982 as an immigrant from Ethiopia, my family escaped the clutches of horror unleashed by the Derg government. The United States offered us shelter where my birth land was bled by the hands of a strongman. The freedoms that were unraveled by tanks and AK47s in Ethiopia is being frayed by the hubris of the ruling class and the indifference of the governed here in America.

As we enter a new year, I really hope all of us pause and consider where we are headed. None of us know what the future holds but I pray that saner minds prevail and that the good in us overcomes our basest instincts of only thinking about self. The choices before us are simple: we can course correct and step away from destruction or we can take incremental steps towards our dissolution. I love America, this land gave me refuge where my once home sent my family and me into exodus. If we are to avoid the dangers that befell past empires as well as my birthplace, we better snap out of our slumber and demand a government that works for us instead of one that thinks it knows what is best for us.

“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” ~ Montesquieu

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Teodrose Fikre
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Teodrose Fikre

Founder at Ghion Journal
Teodrose Fikre is the co-founder and editor of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Teodrose Fikre
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