The United States is in a major upheaval. Trump’s cabinet shake up moves the country into an alarming direction. From the nomination of torturer Gina Haspel as a head of the Central Intelligence Agency to Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director and a vocal opponent of nuclear deal with Iran as a new secretary of state, his selection exposes the White House’s dangerous kill instincts.
An ultimatum came with the president’s appointment of John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations as his 3rd national security advisor. Bolton who served in the George W. Bush administration is notorious for his hawkishness, with a great zeal for military action against Iran and North Korea. This rearranging of the deck chairs on the sinking empire signals the great calamity of foreign policy ahead with potential threats of nuclear war.
In this seeming free-fall toward despotism, what can ordinary people do about it? Tackling corruption of our political system and averting a doomed future requires us to truly understand the problems we are facing. The crisis of representation is now amplified with increasing trends toward authoritarianism, violence and white supremacy. This trouble didn’t just arise with Trump, the new commander in chief. A glimpse of it was shown during the 2008 financial meltdown, which was covered up swiftly by bank bailouts and politics of ‘hope and change’. The truth is that the seed for dystopia has been inside this country all along. The roots of the issues that are now emerging in Trump’s America go back to the very beginning of this nation.
In its modern formation, the United States inspired the world with its torch of liberty and equality. At the same time, this beacon of light had its own darkness within. From the onset, America contained internal contradictions manifested as the founder’s hypocrisy and the violation of its own ideals with genocide of natives, slavery of blacks and suppression of women. The Founding Fathers of the United States brought a victory of rejecting the power of the King’s monarchy and pioneered a path for one’s own self-determination. The concept of a nation governed by laws, not by a man was groundbreaking at that time. Yet, without reconciling its own shadow, this nation of law failed to fully shield the republic from the tyranny of the Old World.
Supremacy of reason
The unredeemed darkness found in America’s troubled past was a force inside Western civilization that tries to define history, subjugating other perspectives to its single vision. Author and essayist John Ralston Saul (1992) in Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West described how:
“reason began, abruptly, to separate itself from and to outdistance the other more or less recognized human characteristics— spirit, appetite, faith and emotion, but also intuition, will and, most important, experience.” (p. 15)
Europe, with its ethos of separation and objectivity set out to conquer the world, spreading its influence across many continents. This domineering power of reason found its new front of exploration in the New World. America, driven by the monotheistic goal of Manifest Destiny expanded its territory with brutality. It swallowed what is edible, assimilating immigrants one by one to its conception of what is civil, while spitting out those that it considered impalatable, relegating them into three-fifths of a person or exterminating them from the earth altogether as savages.
This maddened head centricity was manifested in the structure of a new government. Sheldon Wolin, author of Democracy Inc noted how the framers of the Constitution created a so-called managed democracy, a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (2008, p. 228). The intellectual elites regarded the democratic majority rule as an irrational force and they feared the tyranny of popular majorities. While the faculty of reason positioned itself as a supreme force, enslaving all other human characteristics, a potential to account its autocratic power was found inside America.
Civil disobedience of We the People
Expressed in the preamble of the Constitution “We the People” was faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. This was an intention to shift from the model of government that acts as authority of their lives to one that places power in the hands of ordinary people. In this government established under the rule of the people, the source of legitimacy was not derived from a God or King, but was meant to come from people themselves.
This arrangement of governance was not granted from above. It was first demanded by those who opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution that lacked the guarantee of individual liberties. A loose coalition of several states who saw inadequate separation of power in the proposed structure of checks and balances contended to restrict governmental power, in order to safeguard the rights of individuals. The proponents of the Bill of Rights articulated essential parts of the sovereign power of We the People as a freedom of expression; freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
By building upon First Amendment rights, further efforts emerged from below. From abolitionists’ defiance to the women’s suffrage movement, people’s determination for individual autonomy persisted. On December 1, 1955, history saw another strong will for self-determination. During the usual evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, 42 year old Rosa Parks took courageous action that changed the entire landscape of this nation.
Her lifelong rebelliousness came to momentum on that day when she refused to give up her seat. Young Rosa once said to her grandmother, “I would rather be lynched than live to be mistreated than not be allowed to say ‘I don’t like it.’” This refusal to obey unjust laws of segregation was her act of free speech and with this, she was claiming the power to speak back. This instigated non-violent direct action. Instead of appealing to authority, those who have been denied their liberty boycotted buses and by walking one step at a time they paved a way toward freedom.
Solidarity of civil disobedience that united the destiny of black and white people appeared in the Bay Area in 1964. Mario Savio, a young student of the University of California at Berkeley, upon returning from his volunteer in Mississippi Freedom Summer saw the similar struggle on the campus in the administration’s ban on students’ political activities and their effort to regulate the content of speech. Inspired by the courage of black people fighting for first class citizenship, students who had been treated as raw materials that are to be made into products, began pushing the boundaries of free speech.
With sit-ins, picket lines and weeks of demonstrations, white middle class youth exercised speech that had consequences to rebel against bureaucracy and the university’s crackdown on students who were participating in the civil rights movement. In his impassioned speech, Savio liberated human emotions that have been oppressed by the dictatorship of reason. The iconic image of this freedom’s orator atop the police car ignited radical politics, giving birth to the free speech movement (FSM) that put the city of Berkeley at the center of world’s attention.
Taming corporate power
In the U.S. political system of managed democracy, giant corporations began to assert their influence, gaining control over media to manipulate public perception and manufacture consent through illusions of choice. In the structure of corporations that legally authorize a single entity to act on behalf of a company or a group of people, an unchecked colonial mentality was incorporated. Under the legal fiction of corporate personhood, these artificial entities that are separate and distinct from owners gained equal rights as humans.
Manifest Destiny has now become Nike’s slogan of “just do it”. With limited liability and having no human beings in charge, the abstraction of the head inside transnational corporations took flight from the communal ground. Under the banner of a free market, Wall Street cowboys in suits with their unbridled greed plundered their way into the globe, without ever having to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
When commercial interests got out of hand and the ruthless mentality of profits at any cost penetrated into every aspect of our lives, political activist Ralph Nader began taking on corporate abuse, fraud and crime. This launched the beginning of civic arousal in a form of a modern consumer movement. Law students and graduates across the country came together to form what is known as Nader’s Raiders, dedicating themselves to causes of environmental protection, workers rights and government oversight.
A few decades later, Nader who became an icon revived in the American people an appetite for democracy. In his presidential runs as an independent and third party candidate, the man who took on General Motors’ Chevrolet Corvair for the issues of automobile safety began to challenge the defective engine of a concocted political system of the lesser of the two evils that itself was unsafe at any speed with either party. By providing a choice that is not available in this charade democracy, he called for direct action of voting with conscience. This people’s lawyer empowered all to awaken a fire in the belly to defy the rules of corporate masters and reclaim their own significance.
The rise of cryptographic direct action
In the political winter of the post-911 war on terror, as fear and apathy spread around the globe, a new insurgency surfaced online. The waves of whistleblowers began shedding light on the collaborative secrecy of elites that deceive and manipulate the public behind the façade of democracy. WikiLeaks, with its motto of “privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful”, opened an avenue for the conscience of a young generation who grew up on the Internet.
Here the conscience that led black people’s struggle for racial equality burst into the digital space. Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement described conscience as a subtle intuitive voice within that tells one legalized racism is unjust and calls him or her to disobey such laws. With the idea that cryptography is the “ultimate form of non-violent direct action” (2012, p. 5), WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange built the system of scientific journalism that would give everyday people around the world tools to combat military might and confront the madness of fallen reason that censors and suppresses intuition that knows what is right.
The invention of the anonymous drop box was truly revolutionary. It enabled anyone to send information securely without the trace of his or her identity. Through the robust decentralized infrastructure built around this game changing technology, WikiLeaks was able to provide unprecedented source protection in the history of journalism. Here, the organization that derived its source of inspiration in American founding ideas, freed the First Amendment that had been captured through corporate monopoly and co-optation of the media, making it available all around the world.
It is through WikiLeaks’ adamant commitment to the principle of free press that former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning was able to exercise uncompromising free speech and engage in an American tradition of civil disobedience. Manning, whom the late attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner described as the “conscience of our nation”, let the American public see their own culture’s barbarianism, atrocities of everyday collateral murder that had been carried out against natives and racial minorities at home, continuing on in a distant land.
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In her request for a presidential pardon, Manning stated her commitment to the ideal of America:
“I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”
Through her non-violent cryptographic direct action, she helped America find its conscience. One individual’s act of courage brought another. By following the step of his forerunner, political activist Jeremy Hammond exposed the inner workings of the pervasive surveillance state. At the sentence hearing, he explained how he perfectly understood the consequences of his action and that it was against the law, yet he felt a duty to confront injustice.
Then came Edward Snowden. Inspired by Manning, he too courageously released information that belongs to the public and informed people about the NSA’s mass surveillance. In one of the addresses he made, Snowden also described his act as a public service and connected it with Dr. King’s non-violent civil disobedience. Through his whistleblowing, the former NSA contractor defended individual privacy as fundamental civil rights for all people and tried to preserve the world where people can share creativity, love and friendship freely without every conversation and interaction being monitored and recorded.
Whistleblowers and their faith in ordinary people
From WikiLeaks disruptions to Snowden revelations, courageous act of truth-tellers renewed the faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. Both Manning and Snowden believed in the public’s right to know and held a view that when people are informed, they can make changes and determine their own destiny.
Faith is different than mere belief. It is not about one blindly trusting or passively accepting something. Faith is an active will that requires one to choose out of themselves to believe in something. When established media and trusted institutions failed, Manning chose to put her trust in the journalistic organization that was little known at that time. When the government’s internal mechanisms of accountability were broken, combined with the betrayal of Obama’s campaign promises and his war on whistleblowers, Snowden turned to American journalists whom he could trust by his own judgment of the integrity of their work. They placed faith not in political leaders or authority but in fellow men and women.
It is to this faith in the ability for the wise and knowledgeable public to govern themselves that fearless journalism responded. WikiLeaks, the publisher of last resort kept its promise to the source by publishing full archives with maximum political impact and bringing information back to the historical record. Through honoring Snowden’s wishes, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman broke the story of NSA surveillance and led the Guardian’s independent journalism, making the established media fulfill its duty. In the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures, when this young whistleblower was stranded in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks demonstrated its extraordinary source protection with journalist Sarah Harrison risking her own liberty to help Snowden attain asylum.
With this faith given by peers, citizens around the world who have been distrusted by their own governments and made powerless began to claim their own power. By recognizing that someone believed in them and sacrificed their lives so that they can be free, these ordinary people were able to believe in their own ability to protect those they love and preserve rights that they cherish. The will to respond to this faith in one another awakened love for one’s neighbor. This made it possible for ordinary people to carry out extraordinary acts, to choose paths that do not lead to financial success, fame and security, but one of scourging, persecution and punishment.
Manning was sentenced to prison for 35 years, initially being held in a cage in Kuwait and then being put in a tiny cell in solitary confinement. Hammond was sentenced for 10 years and is still confined. Snowden remains in exile, being called for execution by the president and his new nominee for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. WikiLeaks has been declared an enemy of the state by the most powerful government in the world, being subjected to legal and extra-legal pressure. Unconstitutional secret U.S. Grand Jury investigation against WikiLeaks and its staff continues, keeping its founder in long years of arbitrary detention in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in violation of the UN ruling. Now, threats of a free press increase with Trump’s Department of Justice stating the arrest of the Assange is a “priority” and the former CIA chief calling the whistleblowing site a “hostile intelligence service”.
Our native heart as the seat of reason
Contagious courage lit by people’s faith created a fellowship that no amount of state violence can break. It began to shift the balance of power, replacing the source of legitimacy from trusted institutions to the network of trust in one another. This faith as a seat of reason is a function of the heart that philosopher Jacob Needleman (2002) pointed to as an intelligence of very high order that Native Americans lived with. This knowledge of the heart was crushed by Anglo’s mission of territorial expansion, with the killing of natives and the destruction of their culture and land.
What was this knowing of the heart which early European settlers largely failed to understand? Needleman (2002) described how indigenous people of America regarded man as “the bridge between heaven and earth, between levels of being in the universe”. They lived their lives in a manner that aligns with cosmic law, “according to conscience, which is the voice of the universe within each man or woman” (p. 196). For them, conscience was linked to peace. Needleman described how:
“to be at peace within the community or to live in peace with other nations is to submit to a rule of law that is the communal expression of conscience and that provides conditions within which an individual is free to listen for that voice within himself.” (p. 196)
This peace as a way of living was at the foundation of this nation. It was the breath that inspired the document of the Declaration of Independence. The formation of the United States was influenced by the Iroquois and their great law of peace that set a model of governance based on decision-making processes on consensus rather than majority rule. The legendary peacemaker that brought order and peace in a time of chaos and formed the Iroquois Confederacy spoke of the constitution of Great Peace:
“We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.” (1994, p. 71)
At a root of enlightenment ideas, individual liberty and equality, there lies a native heart that remembers our kinship that extends into the Seven Generations to come. This First Nation’s idea of peace as an essential principle of government secures every individual’s ability to freely explore his or her own unique and diverse ways to develop their relationship to their own conscience.
This intelligence of the heart became silent as the reason that was cut off from its roots took charge to lead modern civilization. The heart buried deep inside the American soil yearns to breathe free, waiting for sparks that awaken its wisdom.
Revolutionary way of peace
Our forebears, no matter how imperfect they were, brought us ideas conceived in a revolutionary spirit. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes fundamental laws and principles of government amendable. The highest law of the land preserved space for people to not accept authority imposed on them and even to revolt against it when it is necessary, by giving ordinary people means to change rules. America indeed was founded on rebelliousness, demonstrated in the Declaration that reads “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and institute a new Government…”
The government that was brought by our founding fathers not only allowed dissent, but depended on our rebellion. The realization of the Constitution as the fulfillment of ideals in the Declaration required individuals with a strong and independent mind. It demanded people to develop moral courage to defend these ideals against special interests of single groups or nations and any adversarial forces that try to deny them.
Through revolutionary spirit kindled inside ordinary men and women, the heart becomes uplifted and its ideals come alive. From the civil rights movement to Nader’s Raiders, through people’s courageous civic action striving to keep the promise of equality, the quiet pulse of peace began to speak. Whistleblowers at the frontier of digital liberation through their act of civil disobedience upheld the great law of peace, to resuscitate the ideals of this country.
The national security state armed with intelligence agencies increases its power, trying to control the entire world. In this coming dystopia, will American people claim their own sovereign power and can We the People develop solidarity to form a more perfect Union?
Solutions to the crisis of representation are within us. Through freely associating with one another, united in love, we can walk the revolutionary way of peace, carrying the steps of our ancestors. The mind uprooted from the heart has long escaped accountability. Western civilization in its crusade to free the world from superstition and irrationality lost connection to the source of its own light. Now two worlds of the mind and heart that have long separated can come together. Logic of domination and separation yields to its higher mind of intuition and imagination, unleashing a creative power of the human spirit.
The light drawn out of our own darkness enlightens our civilization, illuminating the way for the intelligence that lost its course to come home. Ordinary people linked with their own wisdom can give birth to the rule of real democracy here on earth that embodies the divine law of the universe, allowing all to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.