Decades in the Making: The U.S. Police State
by David Swanson
February 1, 2011
Andrew Kolin’s new book “State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush” actually begins with the war for independence and continues into the Obama years. A 231-page monotone recounting of endless facts, it doesn’t pick up with Bush the Lesser until page 137. Kolin chronicles a gradual slide into an imperial presidency that really got going after World War II. Along the way he chronicles the damage done to the forces of resistance, making a compelling case that our movements for peace and justice are weak in part because of the extreme repression of recent decades.
Kolin’s second chapter takes us through the early twentieth century, chapter three from Truman to LBJ, chapter four Nixon to Bush the Older, chapter five Clinton and Chimpy, chapters six and seven all Dubya, and chapter eight Captain Peace Prize. Only without the cutesy names (that’s me) and without much commentary, analysis, outline, or subheadings. “State Power and Democracy” is like an unrelenting stream-of-consciousness recounting of general trends and, in large part, specific detailed events of the past 60 years. It is thus an excellent reference book, as soon as you figure out where to find things.
Kolin’s book is also an excellent corrective, that he himself seems to somewhat miss in his closing paragraphs, to the notion that partisan politics can reverse the movement toward a police state. Kolin says we’ve arrived at a police state but recognizes, I think, that we can still go further down this path. He recommends, however, that we try to work with the Democratic Party. More valuable perhaps than that bit of advice tacked onto the end of the book is the history Kolin tells of the two-steps-forward-and-a-half-a-step-back progress decade after decade, as Democratic and Republican presidents alike have seized ever greater police state powers. Had this happened under a single political party, the primary difference would probably not have been the increased speed in the fascist advance but the increased awareness and resistance among Americans.
When we get beyond the idea that George W. Bush ruined a perfect republic, and read a fuller account, like Kolin’s, of what’s gone wrong, it becomes evident that Bush could never have done what he did without Clinton’s efforts to expand war and police powers, including the power of rendition. Similarly, Clinton could never have gone down that path without Reagan, or Reagan without Nixon, or Nixon without LBJ, or any of them without Truman, who would have been lost without the already huge accumulation of power in the White House and the abusive precedents of Abraham Lincoln and those who went before. It appears, as many of us warned in 2008, that what Kolin writes in this passage will determine our fate: