Scenes from the Rally to Reopen New Hampshire, 04/18/2020
The pandemic had discredited, shattered, and exposed many of our patriotic myths, though perhaps none of them are as salacious as the claim that the American government fears its citizens, and that this enduring “fear of the people” has stayed the hand of many a would-be tyrant or despot. When we promote this self-aggrandizing superstition, we seek to persuade ourselves of our supremacy—a supremacy earned, paradoxically enough, through our subservient relationship to the state—and simultaneously to reassure ourselves of our government’s impotence—an impotence developed, as you can probably imagine, through the state’s dominion over us. Fortunately, the incoherence of this creed has been irreversibly exposed in the time of the coronavirus, as the American people have submitted to their government’s repressive measures—unfathomable to those who have long believed in the “fear of the people”, but hardly unprecedented for this unfree nation.
According to the government, that amorphous institution of unlimited control, it reluctantly and humbly adopted these measures in order to protect its citizens from an uncommonly lethal disease. The American people have accepted this explanation, remarkably reminiscent of the justification for the revocation of civil liberties after 9/11, with nary a timid question or critique: six weeks into the pandemic, and there is still no popular discourse challenging the government’s motivation in sentencing three hundred million people to house arrest. The only controversy surrounds the need for, or efficacy of, such a massive lockdown: “Is this necessary? Is it working?” The official debate must adhere to the intellectual template approved by the government, the template stating that the government has always had the best intention, even if its actions were ill-advised.
You probably don’t need to be reminded that this is the same framework with which every foreign policy debate is introduced: we are told that the American government intended to do the right and honorable thing when it annihilated another nation (for imperialist violence is our foreign policy), but mistakes were made and the wrong, undesired outcome was achieved. Faith in our government remains paramount precisely because it attenuates and suffocates our intellect. Why else would we hear President Trump’s most bloodthirsty critics demand that his government continue to revoke the people’s freedom of movement? Conversely, why are those who are demanding an end to these restrictions sporting pro-Trump, pro-Republican Party merchandise at rallies in New Hampshire and elsewhere? It is because these groups cannot operate outside the structural limitations of state propaganda: in their mind, the government must provide the solution.