As the authoritarian state expands its dominion within American domestic life, the bourgeoisie are being taught to regard the empowerment of the state, and the disempowerment of the citizenry, as part of the welcome development of a virtuous political system. This miseducation has begun with the identification and publicized prosecution of certain unsympathetic criminals, the purpose of which is to persuade the masses that the authoritarian system is not only righteous, but effective. A collective lust for punishment is fostered among the subjects of the state, though it must never be sated, lest the authoritarian state undermine its own active raison d’être.
In the past week, we have encountered two especially provocative examples of this psychological phenomenon: the imprisonment of Derek Chauvin and the release of Bill Cosby. One could write an entire book on the psychic implications of either of these cases, but suffice to say they tantalize the agitated masses with the possibility of the righteous punishment of the wicked. The masses are eager to see Chauvin and Cosby, two villainous celebrities, vanquished on the global stage. The authoritarian state, which must continually assert its own omnipotence and infallibility, promotes public interest in these cases with the promise of the execution of justice. Alas, this promise was empty in both instances, as the vengeful public has been deliberately disappointed by the all-too-predictable outcomes.
In the case of Chauvin, the authoritarian state organized public demonstrations and encouraged public participation therein by presenting the protests as the fruits of grassroots activism. The mass media provided the gullible citizenry with incessant coverage of Chauvin’s trial and teased them with the hope and the expectation of retribution. It seemed as if a very large number of American adults, including those who were the most vocal about the need for retribution, sincerely believed that Chauvin could be sentenced to life imprisonment, if not capital punishment, for the crime of killing George Floyd. However, as we explained in a video released three months ago, neither verdict was possible, even theoretically, because Chauvin was ineligible for such a sentence, and the prosecution never pursued it.
However, this didn’t stop the mass media from making ominously vague allusions to “Chauvin’s fate” for an entire year, and their audience, who understand nothing of law, indulged their unbridled imaginations. At Overwritten, we predicted Chauvin would spend less than fifteen years in prison, but even if he does serve the entirety of his twenty-two-year sentence, the disappointment among the self-proclaimed activists is palpably deep. They express a melancholy puzzlement, inquiring of themselves: “How could this have happened? How could he have gotten off so lightly?” They will make hazy references to a racist culture and the preponderance of a condition known as “white privilege”, but the process of their disappointment, and the authoritarian state’s role therein, remain forever unconsidered.
The simplicity of the Chauvin case contrasts with the comic absurdity of the Cosby debacle, which affords us not only a lesson in mass manipulation, but also an illustration of the structural inanity and incoherence of the American legal system. In the mid-2000s, Bill Cosby made an agreement with investigators whereby he would render legal testimony in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. This is hardly an uncommon occurrence in the judiciary, and although we can vigorously object to the morality of this particular agreement, there is no denying its validity within a court of law. The legality of this agreement is so obvious that all who dispute it do so at the risk of their own credibility.
And yet, somehow, Cosby was called into court to stand trial for the very crimes from which he was granted legal immunity. Not only was this compulsion of his presence a shockingly illegal act on the part of the prosecutors, but the judge’s inexplicable, dumbfounding decision to convict him for offenses that, for all intents and purposes, never even occurred is simply staggering. It never made any sense at all, which is why it all too predictable that his conviction would be overturned on appeal. Alas, the perpetually misinformed masses are responding to this overturning with a pedantic moral horror and indignation, in large part because they understand nothing of the legal code that was cited in this most recent judicial decision. All they can do is complain about a sexist culture—though, curiously, the racial element is of little interest to them in this particular situation.
Of course, it is not the overturning of the conviction, but the prosecution itself that proves the failure of the authoritarian state. If the authoritarian state is predicated on the idea of the supremacy of law, then it must, presumably, follow its own law. However, Cosby stood trial in flagrant violation of that law, which proves that the law is completely meaningless. It proves that the state does not secure the freedoms and protections it mendaciously guarantees through the auspices of law, and while one might attempt to defend the state for acknowledging its error and releasing Cosby, one must not forget that Cosby lingered in prison for years, and that his case, or his cause, attracted the attention it did only because of his enormous fame. Undoubtedly, there are others who have been imprisoned without legal justification, either, though we do not know of them because they are only obscure private citizens.
The Cosby case will not be remembered as an important development in America’s descent into fascism, but it should be, and it brings to mind something Christy Dopf and I discussed in our most recent episode of the Overwritten Report. We discussed, not for the first time, the terrible precedent that has been set by the arrest and prosecution of Julian Assange: regardless of what happens with his case, the American government has now set the precedent that it can arrest you and detain you indefinitely if it disapproves of the content of your speech and publications. The Cosby case proves, probably not for the first time, that agreements and promises made by American prosecutors are worthless, and that there is truly no protection or escape from the immeasurable reach of the authoritarian state.