By John W. Whitehead
“The qualifications for president seem to be that one is willing to commit mass murder one minute and hand presidential medals of freedom to other war criminals in the next. One need only apply if one has very loose, flexible, or non-existent morality.”—Author and activist Cindy Sheehan
Long gone are the days when the path to the White House was open to anyone who met the Constitution’s bare minimum requirements of being a natural born citizen, a resident of the United States for 14 years, and 35 years of age or older.
Today’s presidential hopefuls must jump through a series of hoops aimed at selecting the candidates best suited to serve the interests of the American police state. Candidates who are anti-war, anti-militarization, anti-Big Money, pro-Constitution, pro-individual freedom and unabashed advocates for the citizenry need not apply.
The carefully crafted spectacle of the presidential election with its nail-biting primaries, mud-slinging debates, caucuses, super-delegates, popular votes and electoral colleges has become a fool-proof exercise in how to persuade a gullible citizenry into believing that their votes matter.
Yet no matter how many Americans go to the polls on November 8, “we the people” will not be selecting the nation’s next president.
While voters might care about where a candidate stands on healthcare, Social Security, abortion and immigration—hot-button issues that are guaranteed to stir up the masses, secure campaign contributions and turn any election into a circus free-for-all—those aren’t the issues that will decide the outcome of this presidential election.
What decides elections are money and power.
We’ve been hoodwinked into believing that our votes count, that we live in a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, and politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics—green.
As much as the Republicans and Democrats like to act as if there’s a huge difference between them and their policies, they are part of the same big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan. Watch them interact at social events—hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing with each other—and it quickly becomes clear that they are not sworn enemies but partners in crime, united in a common goal, which is to maintain the status quo.
The powers-that-be will not allow anyone to be elected to the White House who does not answer to them.
Who are the powers-that-be, you might ask?
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the powers-that-be are the individuals and corporations who profit from America’s endless wars abroad and make their fortunes many times over by turning America’s homeland into a war zone. They are the agents and employees of the military-industrial complex, the security-industrial complex, and the surveillance-industrial complex. They are the fat cats on Wall Street who view the American citizenry as economic units to be bought, sold and traded on a moment’s notice. They are the monied elite from the defense and technology sectors, Hollywood, and Corporate America who believe their money makes them better suited to decide the nation’s future. They are the foreign nationals to whom America is trillions of dollars in debt.
One thing is for certain: the powers-that-be are not you and me.
In this way, the presidential race is just an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.
It’s a straight-forward equation: the candidate who wins the White House will be the one who can do the best job of ensuring that the powers-that-be keep raking in the money and acquiring ever greater powers. In other words, for any viable presidential candidate to get elected today that person must be willing to kill, lie, cheat, steal, be bought and sold and made to dance to the tune of his or her corporate overlords.
The following are just some of the necessary qualifications for anyone hoping to be appointed president of the American police state. Candidates must:
Help grow the military-industrial complex: Fifty-five years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the growth of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, the partnership between the government, the military and private corporations has resulted in the permanent militarization of America. From militarized police and the explosive growth of SWAT teams to endless wars abroad, the expansion of private sector contractors, and never-ending blowback from our foreign occupations, we have become a nation permanently at war. As the New York Times pointed out, “the military is the true ‘third rail’ of American politics.” The military-industrial complex understands the value of buying the presidency, and has profited from the incessant warmongering of Obama and his predecessors. If money is any indicator of who the defense industry expects to win this November, thus far, Hillary Clinton is winning the money race, having collected more campaign contributions from employees with the 50 largest military contractors.
Police the rest of the world using U.S. troops: The U.S. military empire’s determination to police the rest of the world has resulted in more than 1.3 million U.S. troops being stationed at roughly 1000 military bases in over 150 countries around the world, including 48,000 in Japan, 37,000 in Germany, 27,000 in South Korea and 9800 in Afghanistan. That doesn’t include the number of private contractors pulling in hefty salaries at taxpayer expense. In Afghanistan, for example, private contractors outnumber U.S. troops three to one. Now comes the news that the U.S. is preparing to send troops to Libya on a long-term mission to fight ISIS.
Sow seeds of discord and foment wars among other nations under the guise of democracy: It’s not enough for the commander-in-chief to lead the United States into endless wars abroad. Any successful presidential candidate also needs to be adept at stirring up strife within other nations under the guise of spreading democracy. The real motive, of course, is creating new markets for the nation’s #1 export: weapons. In this way, the U.S. is constantly arming so-called “allies” with deadly weapons, only to later wage war against these same nations for possessing weapons of mass destruction. It happened in Iraq when the U.S. sold Saddam Hussein weapons to build his war machine. It happened in Syria when the U.S. provided rebel fighters with military equipment and munitions, only to have them seized by ISIS and used against us. Now comes the news that President Obama has agreed to sell weapons to Vietnam, lifting a decades-long embargo against the nation whose civil war claimed the lives of more than 90,000 Americans.
Speak of peace while slaughtering innocent civilians: Barack Obama’s campaign and subsequent presidency illustrates this principle perfectly. The first black American to become president, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize long before he had done anything to truly deserve it. He has rewarded the Nobel committee’s faith in him by becoming one of the most hawkish war presidents to lead the nation, overseeing a targeted-killing drone campaign that has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties and deaths. Ironically, while Obama has made no significant effort to de-escalate government-inflicted violence or de-weaponize militarized police, he has gone to great lengths to denounce and derail private gun ownership by American citizens.
Prioritize surveillance in the name of security over privacy: Since 9/11, the Surveillance State has undergone a dramatic boom, thanks largely to the passage of the USA Patriot Act and so-called “secret” interpretations of the mammoth law allowing the NSA and other government agencies to spy on Americans’ electronic communications. What began as a government-driven program under George W. Bush has grown under Obama into a mass surveillance private sector that makes its money by spying on American citizens. As Fortune reports, “In response to security concerns after 9/11, Americans witnessed the growth of a massive domestic security apparatus, fueled by federal largesse.” That profit-incentive has opened up a multi-billion dollar video surveillance industry that is blanketing the country with surveillance cameras—both governmental and private—which can be accessed by law enforcement at a moment’s notice.
Promote the interests of Corporate America and Big Money over the rights of the citizenry: Almost every major government program hailed as benefiting Americans—affordable healthcare, the war on terror, airport security, police-worn body cameras—has proven to be a Trojan Horse aimed at enriching Corporate America while leaving Americans poorer, less secure and less free. For instance, the so-called “affordable” health care mandated by Congress has become yet another costly line item in already strained household budgets for millions of Americans.
Expand the powers of the imperial president while repeatedly undermining the rule of law: George W. Bush assumed near-absolute power soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Unfettered by Congress or the Constitution, Bush led the “war on terror” abroad and championed both the USA Patriot Act and Homeland Security Department domestically. This, of course, led to the Bush Administration’s demand that presidential wartime powers permit the President to assume complete control over any and all aspects of an international war on terrorism. Such control included establishing military tribunals and eliminating basic rights long recognized under American law.
When Barack Obama ascended to the presidency in 2008, there was a sense, at least among those who voted for him, that the country might change for the better. Those who watched in awe as President Bush chipped away at our civil liberties over the course of his two terms as president thought that perhaps the young, charismatic Senator from Illinois would reverse course and put an end to some of the Bush administration’s worst transgressions—the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, the torture, the black site prisons, and the never-ending wars that have drained our resources, to name just a few. As we near the end of Obama’s two terms in office, that fantasy has proven to be just that: a fantasy. Indeed, President Obama has not only carried on the Bush legacy, but has taken it to its logical conclusion. Obama has gone beyond Guantanamo Bay, gone beyond spying on Americans’ emails and phone calls, and gone beyond bombing countries without Congressional authorization. As journalist Amy Goodman warned, “the recent excesses of U.S. presidential power are not transient aberrations, but the creation of a frightening new normal, where drone strikes, warrantless surveillance, assassination and indefinite detention are conducted with arrogance and impunity, shielded by secrecy and beyond the reach of law.”
Act as if the work of the presidency is a hardship while enjoying all the perks: The race for the White House is an expensive, grueling horse race: candidates must have at a minimum $200 or $300 million or more just to get to the starting line. The total cost for this year’s election is estimated to exceed $5 billion and could go as high as $10 billion. However, for the winner, life in the White House is an endless series of star-studded dinner parties, lavish vacations and perks the likes of which the average American will never enjoy. The grand prize winner will rake in a $400,000 annual salary (not including $100,000 a year for travel expenses, $19,000 for entertaining, $50,000 for “general” expenses and last but not least, $1,000,000 for “unanticipated” expenses), live rent-free in a deluxe, 6-storey, 55,000 square foot mansion that comes complete with its own movie theater and bowling alley, round-the-clock staff, florists, valets and butlers. Upon leaving the White House, presidents are gifted with hefty pensions, paid staff and office space, travel allowances and lifetime medical care. Ex-presidents can also expand upon their largesse by writing books and giving speeches (Bill Clinton was given a $15 million advance for his memoir and routinely makes upwards of $100,000 per speech).
Clearly, it doesn’t matter where a candidate claims to stand on an issue as long as he or she is prepared to obey the dictates of the architects, movers and shakers, and shareholders of the police state once in office.
So here we are once again, preparing to embark upon yet another delusional, reassurance ritual of voting in order to sustain the illusion that we have a democratic republic when, in fact, what we have is a dictatorship without tears. Once again, we are left feeling helpless in the face of a well-funded, heavily armed propaganda machine that is busily spinning political webs with which the candidates can lure voters. And once again we are being urged to vote for the lesser of two evils.
Railing against a political choice that offers no real choice, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson snarled, “How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?”
Remember, the lesser of two evils is still evil.