The new American flag forever postage stamp series recently released by the U.S. Postal Service represents a degree of hypocrisy heretofore unimaginable. Below the American flag on each stamp is one of the following four words – freedom, equality, justice, or liberty – followed by the word “forever.” For example, “freedom forever.” The not so subtle message of American exceptionalism is that the United States is a country in which freedom, equality, justice, and liberty will surely live forever. The sheer arrogance underlying this postage stamp series is almost beyond belief.
Freedom. “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,” sang Kris Kristofferson back in 1969, “And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.” The land of the free and the home of the brave is no longer what it was once cracked up to be. With every passing day our once highly touted freedom becomes more illusory and less of a reality.
Since 9/11 our government has created a plethora of new laws and institutions severely restricting our freedom and civil liberties while pretending to protect us from Islamic terrorists. At the top of the list is the highly intrusive, inept, ever-growing, money-guzzling Department of Homeland Security which together with other intelligence agencies uses the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Detainee Security Provision of the National Defense Administration Act of 2011, and other covers for citizen surveillance and suppression of civil liberties. Among the instruments of surveillance currently being used by government authorities are the Internet, cell phones, concealed cameras, drones, and even old fashion moles to infiltrate suspicious groups.
Equality. If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street has brought the issue of extreme disparities in the levels of income and wealth in the United States to the forefront of national political consciousness. By focusing on the degree of control which the 1 percent have over the 99 percent, OWS has exposed the myth of equality in the United States. In his book Why America Failed, Morris Berman argues that it was not by chance alone that the United States has become one of the least egalitarian nations in the world. The U.S., according to Berman, has always been about “hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others.” If you are poor, you deserve to be poor because you didn’t hustle enough.
Justice. There are six million people under “correctional supervision” in the United States (more than were in Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago), including more black men than were in slavery in 1860, 50,000 men in solitary confinement in “supermax” prisons, and 3170 on death row, 704 of which are in California, 407 in Florida, and 308 in Texas.
In addition our government has embraced the illegal rendition of terrorist suspects, prisoner abuse and torture, and the obscene Guantanamo Prison.
Our immoral, often clandestine and illegal, foreign policy is based on the principles of full-spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and might-makes-right. The White House and the Congress remain unconditionally committed to the technofascist terrorist state of Israel and its policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing aimed at the Palestinians.
Perhaps the most egregious form of injustice practiced by the U.S. Government is epitomized by President Barack Obama’s kill list. Obama has decided that he has the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, no due process – just pure law of the jungle. The frontier spirit of the Old West is alive and well.
Liberty. “Give me liberty or give me death,” proclaimed Patrick Henry in 1775. Unfortunately, liberty, as we once knew it in this country, is dead in the water.
Today a group of political elites use corporate, state, and military power to manipulate and control most of the population. What has evolved is a global system of dominance and deceit in which ostensibly free individuals allow Wall Street, transnational megacompanies, big government, and the Israeli Lobby to control their lives through money, markets, media, and technology resulting in the loss of political will, civil liberties, collective memory, and traditional culture. It resembles a giant international Ponzi scheme whose victims suffer from the effects of affluenza, technomania, cybermania, megalomania, robotism, globalism, and imperialism. It’s all about a government which is too big, too centralized, too undemocratic, too unjust, too powerful, too intrusive, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities. But liberty it is not!
When I first saw the new forever postage stamps I thought surely the struggling postal system had to be kidding. Maybe the USPS had lost its marbles? But maybe not. The USPS desperately needs a bailout from a dysfunctional Congress which can agree on little other than American exceptionalism. For the narcissistic patriots who make up the membership of Congress, freedom, equality, justice, and liberty are code for American exceptionalism. My bet is that the Postal Service will get its bailout.
Thomas H. Naylor
August 4, 2012
Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.