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Noble and Ignoble Lies in the Era of Post-Truth

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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On January 20, 2017, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the US, the era of fact-free information (or misinformation, or fake news, as the case may be), the era of the tweet as policy determinant, the era of Post-Truth will have officially been inaugurated.

For quite a while now, there is around journalistic and even scholarly circles an ominous tendency to ignore facts (empirically, or rationally and logically arrived at) and simply manufacture and propagate outright lies with little if any challenge by the media.

After all, if we are to construe lying in a subjectivistic Machiavellian mode, truth telling and lying is ultimately in the eye of the beholder and the intentions of the liar. The rationalization seems to be this: if the ends are noble and worthy, then a lie said for that end and specifically for the love of one’s country is amply justified. In more modern terms such an ethical approach toward lying for political reasons can also be construed as utilitarian, that is to say, the results are what count, never mind moral codes, the Kantian categorical imperative, intentions and means.

In fact, such an approaches would be rejected as specious by deontological ethics. Kant insisted that categorical imperatives, such as that of never to lie under any circumstances, are universal and are one’s duty to be considered such at all times. But even within that universalistic approach there are disagreements. Some neo-Kantian philosophers distinguish between prima faciae duties in conflict with each other and suggest that we need to establish and observe priorities when such is the case. They point out that the guidance of ethics is needed exactly when duties and values are in conflict. For example, if one is hiding a Jewish family in one’s attic and the Gestapo knocks at the door to inquire, one may weight the value of duty toward life in general against the value of being truthful at all times and favor the former over the latter. The Gestapo has no right to invade one’s privacy and ask questions to begin with. So even as a deontologist one has a loophole available when it comes to lying. Kant would of course counter that to begin down the slippery slope of lying, even that of telling white lies to avoid inconveniences to oneself, something most people engage in, is to contribute to the undermining of the general trust and the very foundations of a civilization or a community.

Be that as it may, to come down to the current concrete examples of American politics, I suppose the crux of the problem lies in the now accepted political demonizing of one’s adversary introduced by the Tea Party and its final product, Donald Trump, some two years ago to be soon inaugurated as official policy. In other words, when the lie is told by oneself or one’s party, it is a noble lie, when it is told by one’s opponent then it is slander or pernicious propaganda. If I go around slandering the legitimacy of a sitting president for a whole five years (the so called birther movement), that’s ok; but it is not ok when representative questions the legitimacy of the same propagandist, now president, due to reprehensible Russian interference. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Hence the past sad spectacle of congressman Wilson from South Carolina yelling “you lie” to President Obama as he delivered a state of the union speech before Congress. It would never have occurred to him to do like-wise to a Republican president; in his mind, a Republican president would ipso facto be a real bona fide patriotic American and he would only be capable of noble lies concocted via tweet for the common good. One may now begin to wonder what ever happened to the old myth about George Washington, that he never told a lie. But wait a minute, isn’t that myth too a falsehood or a lie? It appears that we have a real conundrum on our hands, which, if truth be told, goes back to Plato’s Republic, the first philosophical tract to talk about noble lies.

In fact, in The Republic 414 b-415 d, Plato talks about the noble lie, a phony reality given to the people for their own good. Some have interpreted this function as the very role of Socrates, to corrupt the youth of Athens with a noble lie, thus explaining why he was put to death. So, lo and behold, we find out that Plato precedes Machiavelli in dealing with this conundrum by some 2000 years and a case can be made that Machiavelli is closer to Kant when he unmasks the myth of the noble lie and ideals on paper which are then disregarded in practice, and proceeds to tell things political exoterically and realistically, just as they are, as they have always been; that is to say, from time immemorial might is right and the end justifies the means.

Many have in fact criticized the dissemination of information from ruling body to constituency as mere propaganda, assertions aimed at convincing the target audience of a specific agenda. The prevailing logic seems to be this: governments should keep their citizens ignorant of sensitive data that could potentially distract them from what is paramount: promoting the stability of the state. Only those in the know, deserve to know; hence classified information. The public, primarily concerned with following its immediate interests, is ill equipped to dictate the fate of a nation; that is reserved to philosopher kings. Of course the emperor may be going around naked but the public has to admire his sartorial splendor. A representative such as John Lewis who calls him “illegitimate” imitating the boy who has the courage to say that he goes around naked, is branded as a racist unpatriotic American, that is to say somebody subverting the theory of White Supremacy.

Curiously enough, Platonic thought follows this line of elitist argumentation, claiming common laborers and ordinary people do not possess the training, nor the constitution required to properly rule, nor would they ever. Administering the government is simply not within their nature. What sort of individual would then be qualified to fulfill the role of legislator? Plato is not comfortable to leave such a decision up to chance or even up to a democratic selection; rulers are not found, they are cultivated. Dividing the population into three distinct groups: producers, auxiliaries, and guardian-rulers, Plato outlines the steps necessary to establish the best city imaginable. Most importantly, the founders of this perfect city must convince the inhabitants that they should not strive for more than they are capable, a daunting task given the covetous envious nature of humanity.

How could such a Herculean feat be accomplished? Plato believed his doctrine of the Noble Lie held the answer, persuading the people of a falsehood, so that a greater good than satisfying their immediate desires could be met. To contemporary society, which espouses the belief that all things are possible for the individual willing to apply themselves, the notion of sanctioning a rigid caste system seems counter-intuitive. They prefer Machiavelli’s transparency. For Plato, on the other hand, for the sake of the common good, individual freedoms must submit to the will of the community. That of course goes against the grain of rugged individualism and self-reliance buttressed by the guns one owns with which to “stand one’s ground” even against what one perceives as a tyrannical state. Enter the Tea Party and its hero Trump, and the rest is history. Vico would describe such a situation as one of decadence, what he dubbed “the barbarism of the intellect.”

There are in Plato identifiable traditional myths, such as the story of Gyges (Republic 359d–360b), the myth of Phaethon (Timaeus 22c7) or that of the Amazons (Laws 804e4). Sometimes he modifies them, to a greater or lesser extent, while other times he combines them. There are also in Plato myths that are his own, such as the myth of Er (Republic 621b8) or the myth of Atlantis (Timaeus 26e4). Many of the myths Plato invented feature characters and motifs taken from traditional mythology The majority of the myths he invents preface or follow a philosophical argument: the Gorgias myth (523a–527a), the myth of the androgyne (Symposium 189d–193d), the Phaedo myth (107c–115a), the myth of Er (Republic 614a–621d), the myth of the winged soul (Phaedrus 246a–249d), the myth of Theuth (Phaedrus 274c–275e), the cosmological myth of the Statesman (268–274e), the Atlantis myth (Timaeus 21e–26d, Critias), the Laws myth (903b–905b).

The question arises in all its urgency: why did Plato who in many instances in his dialogues expressed the desire to replace Homer and his poetry with rational philosophy, as the teacher of Hellas, then resorts to myths or noble lies? The answer seems to be that as a philosopher he did not believe that philosophy should be an esoteric discipline for the few and the chosen, but that he should share his philosophy with others. But since others may sometimes not follow his arguments, Plato is ready and willing to provide whatever it takes—an image, a simile, or a myth—that will help them grasp what the argument failed to tell them. In some way, he becomes a competitor with Homer whom he recognizes as a poet and a teacher. The myth or an image, or analogy becomes a good teaching tool, just as it was for Homer. Myth can indeed embody in its narrative an abstract philosophical doctrine as Vico, the one who truly understood the true nature of the myth, has well taught us in his Scienza Nuova. A whole book in that work is dedicated to Homer and poetic thinking.

In the Phaedo, Plato develops the so-called theory of recollection (72e–78b). The theory is there expounded in rather abstract terms. The eschatological myth of the Phaedo depicts the fate of souls in the other world, but it does not “dramatize” the theory of recollection. The Phaedrus myth of the winged soul, however, does. In it we are told how the soul travels in the heavens before reincarnation, attempts to gaze on true reality, forgets what it saw in the heavens once reincarnated, and then recalls the eternal forms it saw in the heavens when looking at their perceptible embodiments. Among other things, the fantastical narrative of the myth helps the less philosophically inclined grasp the main point of Plato’s theory of recollection, namely that “knowledge is recollection”.

In conclusion to this cursory examination of the Noble Lie it can perhaps be stated that it will yield various truths concerning American politics. Amongst them, how seemingly “noble falsehoods” are used as a means of meeting dubious ends. It also has implications on how one conceives philosophy, as an esoteric or as an exoteric discipline. The choice one makes in that regard will in turn lead to different implications concerning the future of American and, more generally, Western politics; for indeed both the US and the EU, for better or for worse, are in the same boat called Western Civilization. When truth is prostituted, so is civilization. As per Vico, so is the return to barbarism.

N.B. This article, in a slightly modified form, appeared in Ovi magazine on April 23, 2012. It was relevant four years ago, it is even more relevant today.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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A different hybrid war

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Imagine such a scenario of hybrid warfare: Russia uses speculation on financial markets to collapse the currency of some Western country and as a result acquires a huge amount of money. Russia uses this money to sponsor different public organizations and media that spread Russia’s ideology and criticize its opponents. 33 million dollars are invested in an ethnic minority protection group that exacerbates divisions among the public and even causes occasional mass unrest. It then happens that especially severe unrest takes place right before the election where an anti-Russian president has to be dethroned. The unrest is so violent that the army has to be engaged, but the network of Russian-sponsored NGOs and media outlets will call this the “rebirth of fascism” in order to discredit the president.

It is hard to imagine such a scenario, because in Russia’s case such methods would be eradicated in their early stages and would elicit a response that would be long remembered. But this scenario has already taken place, but it was not Russia. It was the most humane and generous philanthropist known to world – George Soros, who invested the money he acquired from speculations because of his good heart and nothing else to do, and he doesn’t even ask anything in return – at least so we are being told. Or the newest trend is to deny that George Soros has any influence in Latvia, calling it a “conspiracy theory”, and this puts an end to any discussion about the topic, despite information about his networks of influence being publicly accessible and quite eloquent.

In the case of America, Soros has invested 33 million dollars in the Black Lives Matter movement, which is the main organizer of these “protests”. The same George Soros who believes Trump has to leave the White House because he is against globalism and the ideology of open borders. The same person thanked by numerous NGOs and media outlets for their existence, which is also the reason they uncritically spread his ideas. Every revolution has its sponsors, and the course of these revolutions does not depend on any objective factors, but on the emotions provoked by politicized media and their interpretation of who is the “victim” and who is the “suppressor”.

This information reaches those who want to be reached, especially among the generation indoctrinated in the “wisdoms” of the neo-Marxist victim cult – it is a rationalization of crime, because according to neo-Marxist views only “victims” can be moral, whatever they may be doing, while the “suppressors” are always amoral. Therefore, the formula of unrest in America is as follows: money from financial speculation + neo-Marxist ideology + exploiting the divisions of a multi-cultural society.

Every multicultural society is like a powder keg. Ethnic and racial unrests in the US are frequent, and as a rule they always begin with a case of brutality highlighted by the media in order to raise the already existing tensions to a critical point. This happens despite violent crimes being committed every day by different racial combinations, but they are being ignored because they have no use in their particular form at the particular time. Then the looting and killing starts and it affects people who are unfortunate to live in a specific area (mostly inner cities) and most often these are the ethnic minorities themselves. Conflicts erupt not only between blacks and whites, but also blacks and Mexican immigrants, as well as Asians who own small businesses. After the unrest, the economies of these inner cities slump which creates a negative spiral of poverty.

It is clear to anyone who has been following the cruelty of these “protests” that they have nothing to do with the tragic death of George Floyd anymore. Small business owners are the ones suffering the most (and these also include blacks), while those who try to resist being robbed get brutally beaten up. How such idiotism as stealing clothes and cheesecakes serves the memory of George Floyd is unclear – at least to normal people.

But there are plenty of people willing to justify this, because they don’t live in the reality of the people who have suffered from the demolition, but they live in a social network bubble where everything is determined by “racism”, “capitalism” or other smart keywords. Justifying the unrest goes hand in hand with normalizing the ideas of communism, which is being done by the modern “expertocracy”, left-liberal faculties, thinktanks and media. In the US this indoctrination has taken place for more than a half of century and we can see the consequences – it is not just about “different views” but about an attack on civilization, which in Latvia is currently in its initial stage.

Marxism is returning as a farce where leftist activists find honor in serving the interests of financial speculators and support ruining the lives of small business owners and the working class in useless protests. And for this reason Trump will most likely be reelected – just as in 1968 the Americans elected a president of “law and order” Nixon, there will now too be the need for someone able to ensure the safety of peaceful citizens against low-life thugs. And with this I congratulate you!

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George Floyd Movement and Its Future Prospects

Chan Kung

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The death of George Floyd, an African-American man, has sparked a social movement in the U.S. Presently, most of the participants and leading forces are Whites, while the Blacks appear to play a supporting role. It has been that way since the second day of the incident, and things are starting to shape up more and more by the day. The movement is evolving, and the rate in which it is doing so is rapid, like the hippies during the Vietnam War period. Only, its scale is far smaller and it does not possess a deep cultural influence. Still, like the hippies, this current movement is actively participated by the younger generations.

What most Chinese nationals are curious at the moment, is if the movement could change the American society. Will this cause the U.S. to be friendlier to them in the future? Unfortunately for the Chinese, it seems unlikely. The hippie movement happened at a time when the U.S. sent its armed forces to Vietnam and failed to change its geopolitical strategy. Hence, it should be remembered that the social structure of the U.S. allows its government to act according to the established plan while allowing internal differences.

The nature of this social movement is currently seen as anti-establishment. The main political demands are increasingly focused on the system rather than a specific political leader. Since the possibility of a sharp change is obvious, we cannot rule out the possibility that President Donald Trump’s next speech would result in a public outrage again. In fact, he is doing exactly that right now. Trump has repeatedly urged the states to take decisive measures, not to be too weak, and to end this protest and demonstration as soon as possible. Trump’s wishes most likely will not be fulfilled because they are in conflict with what the people want, and Trump might have to pay the price of not getting re-elected if he continues to carry himself in that manner.

The leaders of the movement do not belong to any individual organizations. There are always far-left and far-right organizations in the American society, and not a few among them are anti-establishment. Usually, these organizations are harmless, as they merely represent the values of the minority, and Americans have long become used to their presence. After all, America is a pluralistic society. However, when given the opportunity, such obscured organizations will step into the limelight, and become leaders of a social movement. Currently, several organizations with extreme positions have been considered “terrorist organizations”, though the possibility of “suppressing” them is slim, because this is a social movement and they can be easily replaced.

As far as the American media is concerned, they are neutral towards the movement, and stand by their principles of producing “objective reports”. However, due to competitions and for the sake of greater publicity, they have greatly exaggerated their reports. When on camera, it is obvious that close-up shots are taken to make up for the small protest; when there are many media covering the story, panoramic shots are used in place. In any case, the media cannot afford to remain on the fence for long, and as time goes on, they would be forced to pick sides too.

The internet has contributed to the movement’s growth in the U.S., and such contributions are ongoing and apparent. In most demonstrations, there were more people recording the event than there were actual demonstrators. Scenes featuring thick walls of police and demonstrators captured with hand-held cameras, mobile devices and videocams are a common sight. Some demonstrators even had to push past the crowd of such people to get into the picture. It is also the reason the American authorities are getting increasingly annoyed by these “internet celebs” and reporters. Of course, this is what allowed the information to spread like wildfire in the first place too, and there are demonstrations happening in the UK and the rest of the world.

There are several motivating factors for the movement. First, the raison d’être of anti-establishment social movement is founded on “unfairness”, which is the same reason for anti-globalization. The income growth of marginalized social groups is slow and they feel that they have been discriminated. Second, the American society is elitist, and remains so for a hundred years, its arrogance too remains there. The U.S. suffers from bureaucratism, and the slow reform has caused much anger. Third, due the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and unemployment, 40 million people are without job, and the national economy is under a lock-down. The impact is still huge. After being locked down for two months, people need to vent their frustrations. Fourth, the level of social welfare supply is low, and robbery is the best example of the matter. There are two prominent groups robbing stores. The first being the Whites and Blacks from the bottommost society, who seek daily necessities. The latter are the Hispanics and Asians, who thrash boutiques for branded goods. This is an issue concerning the level of welfare supply. Fifth, all middle schools and universities are not open, which means students can participate in demonstrations on the streets too.

Currently, the movement in the U.S. is ever evolving, and one simply cannot predict what is to come next with confidence. It may leave as quickly as it came. It may also continue to grow and become larger, lasting, and far-reaching. If we were to slap a figure to the matter, there is a 60% of probability that it will end soon; and a 40% probability for it to turn into a lasting movement.

However, surface-level social phenomena are always easy to analyze and understand. The changes in the foundation of truly deep social movements however, are easily overlooked. Before Tsai Ing-wen won the election in Taiwan, I have already predicted several things accurately when observing Taiwan. One, Tsai Ing-wen would be elected. Two, Taiwan is undergoing a rapid evolution. Three, Taiwanese business communities simply cannot determine the outcome. Four, Taiwan has the potential to rise, and there will be a complete imbalance between Taiwan and Mainland China. At that time, most brushed off these opinions, and people did not really pay much attention to it, yet now it has become a reality. Likewise, the current movement in the U.S. has profound and influential social changes and evolution. To sum it up simply, the participants involved are basically ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders’ ideals. The idea of ​​democratic socialism is taking root in the American society and is deeply ingrained among the younger generations. From “Occupying Wall Street” to the “George Floyd incident”, there will be unceasing waves after waves of such movements in the future. Therefore, in the future, the U.S. will definitely follow the Scandinavian-style democratic socialism, and the growth of the younger generations dictates that this will happen. All the pursuit of welfare supply and the social anti-discrimination movement are in fact social welfare movements, and the result can only be the end point that pushes the U.S. increasingly towards democratic socialism.

Knowing this, we are certain that the Wall Street is seeing the last of its prosperity. The U.S. financial industry rooted in the insurance system will inevitably make major structural adjustments in the future. The Warren Buffett-style business model has fallen behind times, and such times are undergoing unimaginable changes. The strength of the U.S. will depend on the overall strength of the country, rather than the strength of capital or the U.S. dollar. It will be more stable and more integrated into the world, and that will also be the age of where globalization recovers.

And we, shall wait for that moment to arrive.

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Beneath the Skin of America’s Protest

J. M. Jakus

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Credit: Fibonacci Blue / flickr

Just a few short weeks after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging near his home in Georgia, George Floyd’s death in Minnesota has sent shockwaves through an already grieving nation (CBS, 2020).After a week of national protests erupting around the nation in opposition to racism, police brutality, and widespread unrest over the treatment of unarmed civilians persecuted for their skin color, socio-political issues once stashed into the shadows have been thrust into the limelight. There are three dimensions of American society that George Floyd’s killing and the large scale reaction to his death have exposed: deep social divisions, complex civil-military relations, and withering press freedoms.

1.0 Social Division

Above all, George Floyd’s death highlights the fact that the humanitarian demands of the Black Lives Matter movement—among them, equal treatment before the law, anti-racism measures, non-antagonistic civil-police relationship – remain unmet. Reactions to the systemic entrenchment of racial injustice in America, the melting pot, have boiled over internationally. In response to the undeniably racial characteristic of the homicide of Mr. George Floyd, BBC radio presenter, Clara Amfo, delivered a passionate speech about the severe social dislocation that comes with racial tension and violence. She eloquently expressed the dichotomy between “…how the world enjoys blackness and seeing what happened to George.” She expanded upon this concept beautifully:

“[W]e as black people get the feeling that people want our culture, but they do not want us.  In other words, you want my talent, but you don’t want me. There is a false idea that racism and, in this case, anti-blackness is just name-calling and physical violence when it is so much more insidious than that” (Clara Amfo, 2020).

She is right. In addition to the perennial violation of fundamental rights, police brutality harms civilian faith in institutions and fills the population with even greater distrust. Rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper-spraying crowds, and baton beatings only escalate unresolved issues and often incite opportunistic criminal activity that might not have existed otherwise. Bellevue, Washington’s Police Chief, Steve Mylett, has stated that he believes that “the looters were separate from the peaceful protesters who were demanding police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s killing”(Kyro7, 2020). He indicated that such actors already linked to violence in the area may be exploiting the moment (Siemny, 2020). Unofficial reports about bribery stir suspicions that there are underhanded efforts to delegitimize the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Whether these postulations are rumor or reality, Trump seized the opportunity to label all protesters regardless of their respective positions toward pacifism of being “professional anarchists” (TIME, 2020). Growing uncertainty and distrust have driven the social fissures even deeper.

George Floyd’s tragic end revives painful memories of other high profile police fatalities such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Terence, Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDoyle, William Chapman II, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland among many, many others. May they rest in peace. In a recent article about police brutality titled “Where Did Policing Go Wrong?” international journalist, Matt Taibbi notes that:

“…we have two systems of enforcement in America, a minimalist one for people with political clout, and an intrusive one for everyone else.In the same way our army in Vietnam got in trouble when it started searching for ways to quantify the success of its occupation, choosing sociopathic metrics like ‘body counts’ and ‘truck kills,’ modern big-city policing has been corrupted by its lust for summonses, stops, and arrests. It’s made monsters where none needed to exist” (Taibbi 2020).

Sowing further division is, indeed, a threat to national security. However, Trump’s threats to deploy the military throughout the country to crack down on the civil unrest may reap more distrust than stability, particularly given that law enforcement and National Guard personnel and resources are already deeply involved in the situation.

2.0 Complex U.S. Civil-Military Relations

Although the U.S. military relationship with the American citizens they aim to serves wings along steep peaks and valleys, the military as an institution has generally enjoyed a reasonably positive public opinion relative to many other countries around the world. The surveys measure trends relating to the people’s confidence that the military will act in the interests of the public. Within these statistics, there is often an underlying association between public approval or disapproval of military interventions abroad. Vietnam was perhaps the U.S. military’s nadir, the lowest point of the institution’s public opinion in history, but the most recent low valley in public surveys was recorded between 2003-2008 in response to the invasion of Iraq. At this time, confidence that the military was acting on behalf of public interest hovered around a low 20-30%(Pew Research Center, 2008). Opinion polls have been critiqued at times because the data is dependent upon how survey questions are phrased, however, large swings either in favor or in opposition can be genuinely revealing of deeper social trends. Recent data indicates that favorable perceptions and confidence toward the military as an institution have gradually improved over the last decade— interestingly as trust in the federal government has plummeted within that same time frame( Pew Research Center, 2019).  With that said, the same study also reported that 84% of Americans believe that confidence in the federal government can be improved, which shows a strong adherence to institutional frameworks and the power structures they organize.

The greatest concern about deploying the U.S. military against the civilians it serves is not that it gives excessive power to military leaders (as would be one of the greatest fears in many institutionally wobbly countries), but that it creates a dangerous precedent for future executive overtures. It should be noted that deploying the military against civilians does not change the overall structure of the military, which it is always answerable to civilian control (National Guard to a State Governor and Federal Forces to the President of the United States), but it could undermine the role of the Constitution and Congressional Authority if emergency clauses are abused. The Posse Comitatus Act expressly authorizes the use of the US Armed Forces to execute the law. Within the Posse Comitatus Act, The Insurrection Act, Chapter 13 of Title 10 (10 USC Sections 251-255) reads:

“This act allows the President to use U.S. military personnel at the request of a state legislature or governor to suppress insurrections. It also allows the president to use federal troops to enforce federal laws when rebellion against the authority of the U.S. makes it impracticable to enforce the laws of the U.S. by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” (USNC, 2019).

A number of situational dimensions are mentioned within the Posse Comitatus Act discussing the nature of high-risk situations involving counterdrug and counter-transnational organized crime, crimes involving nuclear materials, and emergency situations involving weapons of mass destruction. Although Congress is responsible for authorizing War, under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the Executive branch has conducted military operations (which are technically not wars, but look and smell a lot like them) all over the globe.

The most extreme manifestations of executive power abuse can be seen in the traditions of authoritarian leaders who cultivate paramilitaries, who are considered to be semi-militarized not because they lack any aspect of tactical training, but because they are neither integrated into the main branches of the armed forces (army, navy, marine corps, air force, coastguard, and space force) nor its auxiliary forces (such as the national guard). Paramilitaries or irregular militaries explicitly execute the objectives of the leader, and their crimes go unpunished because they act as a reinforcement of existing monopolies over executive power structures (federal administrations) rather than as a guarantor of international security.

Of course, there are an immense number of steps between an executive power involving the military to deescalate an isolated wave of civil unrest versus the habitual use of private militias to control the population, but the issue is not one to take lightly. For example, President Duterte from the Philippines makes frequent use of these techniques to enforce his agenda and there is little evidence that the dynamic will be reversed in the interest of the people any time soon. With regard to domestically deploying the U.S. military, even leading members of the military and Pentagon officials have expressed deep concerns: “‘There is an intense desire for local law enforcement to be in charge, ’one defense official said alluding to the laws that forbid the military from performing law enforcement roles inside the United States,” (CNN, 2020).

Paradoxically, the 1807 Insurrection Act was most famously invoked in 1957 to enforce desegregation initiatives particularly for the Little Rock Nine (nine African American students enrolled at a previously all-white high school in Arkansas for the first time).In spite of Federal Laws newly declaring integration, the governor of Arkansas resisted so much that he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to bar the nine students from entering on grounds that he was maintaining order. In response, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard via executive order meaning that the National Guard now answered to the President of the United States rather than the governor of the State. Eisenhower then commanded the National Guard to escort the African American students into the school and ensure their safety. In this instance, a federal law was clearly being violated by a state, and therefore the grounds of national intervention to enforce compliance were quite clear.

Later, similar initiatives were applied to the Detroit Riot of 1967 as well as in the 1992 L.A. Riots also over racial tension. The complication with deploying the U.S. Military against civilians protesting the death of George Floyd is that it is unclear what specific federal legal institutions they are being deployed to protect. Protests are occurring in diverse pockets of the country and expressing themselves through equally diverse means ranging from passive to aggressive. Given that there are already mechanisms in place to manage general unrest, deploying the military not only harms the legal legitimacy of federal intervention, but it obfuscates the terms upon which it can be used (and abused) in the future. The following alarming because it sets the stage for future leaders to use unsubstantiated reasons to exert force:

“As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property” (Trump’s Rose Garden Live Broadcast, Monday 1 June 2020).

In this context, when Trump references ‘military personnel’ he is most likely only discussing Regular Army as opposed to the Army Reserve or Army National Guard. In an interview the day before, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard spoke candidly about deploying Regular Army troops in addition to the National Guard component: “Of all the things I’ve been asked in do in the last 34 plus years in uniform, this is on the bottom of my list” (Starr, Browne and Gaouette, 2020). Using the military forces against civilians to restore order is widely viewed as sacrilege given that there are already other bodies intended to do so, such as domestic law enforcement officers, local authorities, and the National Guard.

Additionally, curfews initially imposed in response to the emergence of the novel Coronavirus, harshened in the wake of widespread protest and public assembly (New York Times, 2020). It is an open secret that these curfews are designed to curb the spread of political unrest more than the virus. Correspondingly, the self-proclaimed “President of law and order” has also antagonized governors wishing to use less aggressive means of crowd control:

“And you can’t do the deal where they get one week in jail… These are terrorists. These are terrorists. And they’re looking to do bad things to our country… You have to arrest people and you have to put them in jail for 10 years…And you’ll never see this stuff again” (Trump, 2020).

The majority of the protesters are students, minorities, Black Lives Matter advocates, and those who believe in human rights. President Trump’s abuse of the word terrorist is reminiscent of highly repressive regimes such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries with a history of inhibiting free speech such as Turkey (Voisich, 2020). In all of these contexts and others, terrorism is indeed a significant security issue, however, there are also circumstances when the word “terrorist” is invoked for the political purposes of shaping public opinion. Using such labels in conjunction with rhetoric to ‘dominate the streets’ and to create ‘an overwhelming presence until the violence has been quelled’ is a major red flag (Trump’s Rose Garden Live Broadcast, Monday 1 June 2020).

3.0 Press Freedom

The arrest of a journalist, Oscar Jimenez, by state police in Minnesota, who was covering the event on live television “drew global attention to how law enforcement authorities in the city were treating reporters covering protests that have descended into riots” (BBC, 2020). He is not the only correspondent who has suffered. One reporter, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, was targeted by police from a distance and shot in the throat with a rubber bullet after conducting an interview. Other reports have emerged of journalists being blinded, injured, and arrested while covering the protests (USA Today, 2020). According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, in the days since, over 100 incidents of reporter attacks have come under investigation (US Press Freedom Tracker, 2020). Similarly, The Niemann Foundation for Journalism has documented over 110 incidents since the 28 May 2020. The issue of receding press freedoms presents a microcosm of the already strained relationship between the media and President Trump:

“At contentious White House COVID-19 press briefings on March 19 and 20, he again angrily attacked the news media, saying that ‘the press is very dishonest’ in its reporting on his handling of the crisis and that journalists ‘truly do hurt our country” (U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 2020).

While the media is by no means perfect, the role of the press in society is that of a watchdog. Media outlets are the main source of information dissemination to the public about events they might not otherwise have known or content that certain actors have hushed. In many cases, the investigative nature of journalism draws uncomfortable truths from the shadows. For example, “after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Mo., a Post investigation found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half” (Washington Post, 2020). Following the discovery that police departments were grossly under-reporting these incidents, a database independent of the government was created to accurately reflect and record incidents of police brutality (Fatal Force, 2020).

These same statistics indicated that there have been approximately 1,000 fatalities each year, and that, although the absolute quantity of white individuals who died at the hands of police last year is slightly higher, African Americans account for a mere 13% of the population. According to the Washington Post, this indicates that “the rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as highas the rate for white Americans” (Washington Post, 2020). The press was incredibly important in driving attention to this issue, and, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s passing, they have been on the frontlines documenting this formative moment in U.S. history. The fact that they have been so harangued can also be interpreted inversely: those in power believe that the media wields such a significant weight that they are threatened by their own inability to control all aspects of it. In contexts where free speech is held as a value by leaders and society alike, press freedom is respected, and information flows openly. However, in environments where this liberty is contested (or where it simply does not exist), high-quality journalism becomes the victim of its own success. Those who dig too deeply or expose too much, are silenced with increasing aggression.

4.0 Conclusion

Today, we are witnessing a level of upheaval throughout the country that, while not unprecedented, is reminiscent of some of the most volatile eras in U.S. history. However, one critical difference between what distinguishes then and now is that today’s turmoil is flagged by deeply disturbing warning signs. If there were a political canary in the coalmine of U.S. politics, it would have long been dead. Some of these red flags include the diluted use of the word “terrorist,” suppression of public assembly and press freedom, invoking the military at the expense of subsidiarity, calling governors ‘weak’ who are hesitant to use aggression against their citizens, and a number of other infractions that run counter to traditionally cherished democratic values.

The nationwide – and truly, worldwide –response to Mr. George Floyd’s killing has brought to light the true extent of disequilibrium in America today in terms of social division, civil-military relations, and press freedom. How these dimensions will affect the upcoming November elections is as uncertain as the present volatility. As American institutions are being tried and tested by the country’s current and prospective leaders, the stability of the current social contract becomes ever more dependent upon them:“Everything is impacted by the lack of trust – and the driver of the declining trust is the head of the federal government. Trust cannot be repaired without truth – which is in short supply” (Trust and Distrust in America, 2019). How tenuous is the stability of the nation if it can wobble from a $20 bill?

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