This Week in Tyranny

Picture 2Over the past week, a few videos have come out, purporting to show the “indoctrination” of children into Obama’s “personality cult,” along with the slow slide into tyranny that inevitably follows. This, of course, is the latest in the GOP’s brilliant strategy of freaking out over their own shadow. It’d be funny, if it weren’t so insulting to actual victims of tyranny, and in such marked contrast to the Republican Party’s behavior over the previous ten years. Let’s compare, shall we?

The following are, according to the loudest voices on the right, sure signs of emergent dictatorship:

Most of these are prime examples of truly tacky encomium — really, guys, stop, all politics aside — but their sins all derive from style, not substance. In the school videos especially, the message is one of unity, and draws its power from the President’s identity as the first black president, not from his politics. The latter might be scary. But it’s just not there.

In contrast, here are examples of increasing state power which, though not tyrannic, ought to have worried these sudden proponents of limited government, but didn’t:

  • Warrantless wiretapping that exceeded FISA allowances by tapping purely domestic calls, done without even a semblance of an effort to work with Congress,
  • The assertion that habeas corpus applies where the President says it applies — excluding even American citizens, should the mood strike him;
  • Official flirtation with the idea of using soldiers as stateside police, on American soil, in flagrant violation of 100+ year old law;
  • State inspection of library borrowing records, in the name of “national security”;
  • Sending prisoners abroad, for the sole purpose of seeing them tortured and their information delivered here (“extraordinary rendition”), and, of course, the kicker;
  • Lying to the American people about the motivations towards, and likely costs of, a major war. No link needed.

Note that the first two links go to articles here, about how Obama has improved upon but not yet solved some of the imperial excesses of the Bush administration. Those concerned about tyranny would do best to start there, before worrying about what kids are singing.


  1. I think you’re right that this sort of discourse is much more a question of identity than of politics, and going up another level of abstraction, it’s probably also a matter of using the symbolism of the office of the President at the head of what Robert Bellah called the “civil religion” – sort of a personification of the government as a whole.

    Besides, it’s not like Bush didn’t have his share of praises sung as well.

    (BTW, I greatly admire your casual use of the word encomium. Some words really get used far too rarely.)

    1. Lanfranc, your comment describes exactly what I’ve been perceiving over the past decade. The extreme religious right has been systematically treating government as if it was a religion, or an adjunct to their view of religion. The President has been recreated into a symbol of all that they perceive their US Christianity to be — a symbol of their religion on Earth. Which adds another aspect to the Obama-bashing, doesn’t it?

    2. Certainly there are large parts of the religious right trying to tie up the government in a traditional religious context, however that’s not exactly what I meant.

      Bellah’s idea of the role of ‘civil religion’ is that there are elements in American political culture which from a sociological point of view are comparable to, and can be analysed as if they were religion, but are still independent of particular denominations.

      In particular, such elements can be identified as an American creation myth (the Revolution, the Founding Fathers), scriptures (the Declaration, the Constitution), certain shared political creeds or ethoi, specific holidays, even a ‘high priest’ of a sorts in the President.

      In other words, when you get things such as school children singing about the President or the like, that’s not really a purely political act, but rather a sort of quasi-religious invocation of the office of the president as what you could call a vicarius Americae – a personification of the American community, if you will.

      1. Ah, I understand — more of a Americanity rather than Christianity.

        So when you overlay other religious context (Christianity) over the Americanity, does it become a unique entity (perhaps we can call it Christian Americanity)? The base civil religion is covered and cloaked by the more spiritual religion, creating a new vision of the spiritual religion (or a new vision of the civil religion). This would explain the massive differences I’ve seen comparing American Christianity to European Christianity. Although (using terms that I’m more familiar with) at what point does a dialect become a new language — and is American Christianity at that stage yet?

        Thanks for the food for thought (and the explanations!)

  2. It was between that and “panegyric,” but I like the Latin better :).

    1. Hey, if “panegyric” was good enough for the Appendix on Newspeak, it’s good enough for me!

  3. In contrast, here are examples of increasing state power which, though not tyrannic , ought to have worried these sudden proponents of limited government, but didn’t:

    Um, go ask folks in the old Soviet Union if these practices are not tyrranical. Or many ofour neighbors in South America (where some of these are still practiced). Or our new “pal” China. Then come back and revisit this again. I admire you as a writer and a liberal, but you blew this particular call.

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