"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."--Philosopher George Santayana
Stay alert, America.
This is not the time to drop our guards, even for a moment.
Nothing has changed since the election to alter the immediate and very real dangers of roadside strip searches, government surveillance, biometric databases, citizens being treated like terrorists, imprisonments for criticizing the government, national ID cards, SWAT team raids, censorship, forcible blood draws and DNA extractions, private prisons, weaponized drones, red light cameras, tasers, active shooter drills, police misconduct and government corruption.
Time alone will tell whether those who put their hopes in a political savior will find that trust rewarded or betrayed.
Personally, I'm not holding my breath.
I've been down this road before.
I've studied history.
I know what comes next.
It's early days yet, but President-elect Trump--like his predecessors--has already begun to dial back many of the campaign promises that pledged to reform a broken system of government.
The candidate who railed against big government and vowed to "drain the swamp" of lobbyists and special interest donors has already given lobbyists, corporate donors and members of the governmental elite starring roles in his new administration.
America, you've been played.
This is what happens when you play politics with matters of life, death and liberty.
You lose every time.
Unfortunately, in this instance, we all lose because of the deluded hypocrisy of the Left and the Right, both of which sanctioned the expansion of the police state as long as it was their party at the helm.
For the past eight years, the Left--stridently outspoken and adversarial while George W. Bush was president--has been unusually quiet about things like torture, endless wars, drone strikes, executive orders, government overreach and fascism.
Suddenly, with Trump in the White House for the next four years, it's all fair game again.
Yet as Glenn Greenwald points out for The Washington Post, if Trump is about to inherit vast presidential powers, he has the Democrats to thank for them.
Unless Trump does another about-face, rest assured that the policies of a Trump Administration will be no different from an Obama Administration or a Bush Administration, at least not where it really counts.
For that matter, a Clinton Administration would have been no different.
In other words, Democrats by any other name would be Republicans, and vice versa.
This is the terrible power of the shadow government: to maintain the status quo, no matter which candidate gets elected.
War will continue. Surveillance will continue. Drone killings will continue. Police shootings will continue. Highway robbery meted out by government officials will continue. Corrupt government will continue. Profit-driven prisons will continue. Censorship and persecution of anyone who criticizes the government will continue. The militarization of the police will continue. The government's efforts to label dissidents as extremists and terrorists will continue.
In such a climate, the police state will thrive.
The more things change, the more they will stay the same.
We've been stuck in this political Groundhog's Day for so long that minor deviations appear to be major developments while obscuring the fact that we're stuck on repeat, unable to see the forest for the trees.
This is what is referred to as creeping normality, or a death by a thousand cuts.
It's a concept invoked by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond to describe how major changes, if implemented slowly in small stages over time, can be accepted as normal without the shock and resistance that might greet a sudden upheaval.
Diamond's concerns are environmental in nature, but they are no less relevant to our understanding of how a once-free nation could willingly bind itself with the chains of dictatorship.
Writing about Easter Island's now-vanished civilization and the societal decline and environmental degradation that contributed to it, Diamond explains, "In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism... Why didn't they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?"
His answer: "I suspect that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper."
Much like America's own colonists, Easter Island's early colonists discovered a new world--"a pristine paradise"--teeming with life. Almost 2000 years after its first settlers arrived, Easter Island was reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they failed to preserve paradise for future generations.
In Easter Island's case, as Diamond speculates:
The forest...vanished slowly, over decades... Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm...
Sound painfully familiar yet?
Substitute Easter Island's forest for America's republic and the trees being decimated for our freedoms, and the arrow hits the mark.
We've already torn down the rich forest of liberties established by our founders. They don't teach freedom in the schools. Few Americans know their history. And even fewer seem to care that their fellow Americans are being jailed, muzzled, shot, tasered, and treated as if they have no rights at all. They don't care, that is, until it happens to them--at which point it's almost too late.
This is how the police state wins. This is how tyranny rises. This is how freedom falls.
A thousand cuts, each one justified or ignored or shrugged over as inconsequential enough by itself to bother. But they add up.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, each cut, each attempt to undermine our freedoms, each loss of some critical right--to think freely, to assemble, to speak without fear of being shamed or censored, to raise our children as we see fit, to worship or not worship as our conscience dictates, to eat what we want and love who we want, to live as we want--they add up to an immeasurable failure on the part of each and every one of us to stop the descent down that slippery slope.
It's taken us 200 short years to destroy the freedoms our founders worked so hard to secure, and it's happened with barely a whimper of protest from "we the people."
So when I read about demonstrations breaking out in cities to protest the threat of fascism--when legal think tanks are threatening lawsuits over the possibility of free speech being muzzled--and when commentators who previously dismissed as fear-mongering and hateful any comparison of the government's tactics to Nazi Germany are suddenly comparing Trump to Hitler, then I have to wonder if perhaps we've been living in different countries all along.
Because none of this is new.
Indeed, if we're repeating history, the worst is yet to come.