Truth does not comprise facts, for the most part. Truth comprises what we attend to. Take Bill Cosby and the #MeToo movement, for example. One commentator said, no one wants to live in a country where Bill Cosby, America’s Dad, is a rapist. I respond, how do you like to live in a country where America’s Dad is a rapist, and he gets away with it? He gets away with it because his victims can’t speak up. Why? Because no one will pay attention to them.
On the political front, who wants to live in a country where the government’s national security apparatus assassinates a president, and conceals the crime for decades? Same response: who wants to live in a country where the government does all that, and gets away with it? Why does the crime go unpunished? Because we have an implicit social agreement, or deal if you like, that we do not want to pay attention to that sort of thing. It is a family secret. Who knows what would happen if we face the truth about family secrets?
A basic truth about truth is that we cannot pay attention to more than a few things at a time. To use a phrase from communications networks, vigilance requires a lot of bandwidth. People who find and digest the truth about government’s crimes devote large chunks of energy to the effort. Yet when investigators try to communicate what they find, people suggest, “We don’t want to think about that.”
Consider the recent issue of family separations. INS, ICE, and other agencies have deported people aggressively for about fifteen years now. These actions inevitably result in scattered families. A court orders the current administration to reunite families, and news sources appear ready to move on to the next issue. Yet who believes the whole deportation machinery will simply cease operation because a judge says you can’t take children away from their parents when you imprison the family?
See how limited vigilance operates when authorities, the same authorities who practice cruelty, plague us with advisories. Public warnings, “If you see something, say something,” appear even more sinister, and insidious. When authories ask us to watch each other, and rat on each other, they direct our attention away from government’s crimes, toward everyone else. Thus we have Paula the Pool Snitch, people calling 911 if they see a black person in their neighborhood, and so on. After all, you can’t be too careful. Moreover, people who believe they command our respect tell us to do it.
Let’s show these authorities their mistake. Let’s show them they can’t build a 9/11 Memorial, and be done with their crime because they honored their own victims. That’s like DC putting on a big show for JFK’s funeral on November 25, after they wasted the president in Dallas. Then the new president has the FBI and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court spend nearly a year to make it all seem okay! Why aren’t we indignant about that? Because we all have families to support, friends and jobs we want to keep, careers to pursue.
How can you spend your life being indignant, when your emotional resources are so limited? Then the next crime comes along, and you wonder why these things keep happening. Why do we witness 9/11, then a year and a half later, we invade Iraq? Why do these things keep happening? They happen because we have limited resources, and because we do not have freedom to act on our knowledge or intuition. We have to keep our eyes on the ground to stay out of trouble. We may have time to discover the truth, we may even have fortitude and insight to contemplate it, but not, perhaps, if it discloses that America’s Dad rapes women.
Crimes of assault
If you think assaults against women and republics are not so comparable, think some more. Both crimes violate the victim, as crimes usually do, but similarities do not end there. First, rape is the kind of crime that often leaves victims with a sense of shame. You do not want to talk about it, with your family, or with your closest friends. Instead it eats at you, and you wonder why you should feel ashamed at all.
Another similarity is the enormity of it: how could this happen to me? Could I have prevented this assault on my body? Why do I feel so terrible, whereas the perpetrator feels great? Well, one reason the perpetrator feels great is that no one calls him to account for the crime. No charges, no trial, no punishment. It’s all hush, hush, until the crime transforms itself into a “We don’t talk about that” subject. When you don’t talk about it, the truth at the heart of the event ceases to be real for everyone except the victim. When a crime reaches that status, the perpetrator’s guilt takes on an abstract quality, where we begin to think, “Of course he gets away with it. What power do we have?”
The difference of course is that when a man rapes a woman, you have two individuals: one perpetrator and one victim. When the state rapes a republic, a lot more people are involved, on both sides of the equation. The number of perpetrators magnifies when you count those who participate in the cover-up. In Dallas, we had two victims, one of them unintended: first the president who died, second the governor of Texas who survived. In the case of 9/11, we had approximately 3,000 victims, all of whom fell to a plot that, in retrospect, looks exactly like rape. The plotters created a crime where no one dared speak up, where it became dishonorable even to suggest that this event was a state crime against democracy.
As Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, priests named and unnamed, and numerous other rapists who assault women and children get away with their crimes for a long time before their victims call them to account, so the state manages for too long to conceal and escape responsibility for the crimes it commits. As individuals who assault women or children eventually must face true accusations, so the state eventually pays for what it does to the people and institutions who trust it to preserve and protect the republic and its constitution. The state cannot escape history’s judgment, or ours. It never does.