We are living in a state of institutional dementia

That is what Kevin Baker argues in the September 2019 issue of Harper’s Magazine. He says that it explains why we seem to live in a state of permanent murkiness where abuses happen but are never investigated or if investigated are never resolved or if resolved the findings are buried, one after another, until we get numb and inert. He reviews how little we still know about the major deceptions carried out by the US government in the 55 years that have elapsed since the Gulf of Tonkin.

What happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, fifty-¬five years ago? Good luck finding out. There is no full accounting, not to this day.

Consider how little we really know—¬how much was ultimately concealed—¬about the other, potentially major scandals that have come and gone in those fifty-¬five years from Gulf to Gulf.

Did the Reagan Administration cause the Challenger disaster by pushing for the launch of the space shuttle to take place on the same day as the president’s State of the Union address?

Did Nixon try to disrupt peace talks in Vietnam so that he would be elected president in 1968? Well, there’s a mountain of evidence now that he did, including an H. R. Haldeman note revealing that Nixon had instructed him to “monkey wrench” the talks, but we don’t really know for sure.

Did the Reagan campaign purloin President Jimmy Carter’s briefing materials before their debate in 1980? Yes, “it seems virtually certain that a crime was committed,” according to evidence that a House subcommittee investigation churned up in 1983, but no one went to jail for it. Exactly what role did President Reagan and then Vice President Bush play in Iran–¬Contra? Any chance of full discovery on that matter ended when Cover-¬Up General Barr advised then President Bush to pardon Caspar Weinberger before his pending perjury trial, which he did.

How exactly was it that a rent-¬a-¬mob organized by Republican congressmen was able to stop the vote recount in Florida after the 2000 presidential election? How was it that only one banker went to jail when Wall Street collapsed the entire world financial system back in 2008? How come nobody went to jail for poisoning the water supply of Flint, Michigan? And is the water safe to drink yet?

A sort of institutional dementia is created, one in which we can barely remember how we got to where we are today. And in our inability to impress the truth upon our leaders, we give them the leeway to impress their lies upon us. A Ronald Reagan, able to avoid responsibility for selling arms to Iran—¬well-known backer of terrorists!—continues selling his stories of notorious welfare cheats and Sandinistas ready to storm the border. A George W. Bush, able to steal an election, lies us into a war in Iraq. A Lyndon Johnson, not held accountable for the Gulf of Tonkin fabrication, keeps telling us there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And Donald Trump, permitted to sell out his country to foreign agents, is here to say that we must confront Iran. What could possibly go wrong?

I think this particular form of amnesia or deliberate suppression of ugly facts is an act of collective self-deception, urged along by the political establishment and its allies in the media because it is necessary if people are to think of themselves and the nation as essentially good, even exceptionally so, so that patriotic and jingoistic feelings can be whipped up easily when required.

After the events of 9/11, the immediate narrative that was foisted on everyone was that that murderous act was committed on a wholly innocent nation that had done no ham to anyone and hence any response to it was justified. As a result, Congress passed the infamous law known as the AUMF (Authorized Use of Military Force) that was rushed through in just a few days after that event. It is the AUMF that has been invoked ever since to give us the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, the prison at Guantanamo, the black torture sites around the world, and killer drones that routinely murder innocent people in so many countries.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only person who foresaw the problems with giving the Bush administration and future administrations such unchecked power, because she did not have this form of amnesia. She remembered the history of similar laws like the one that gave Lyndon Johnson such powers after the Gulf of Tonkin non-event and enabled him and later Richard Nixon to massively escalate the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. After the 400-1 AUMF vote in which she was the sole dissenter, she was inundated with abuse and deaths threats for being unpatriotic. Fortunately she was strong enough to be able to withstand the vitriol and still thinks she did the right thing and is proud of it, as well she should be.


  1. Owlmirror says

    And Donald Trump, permitted to sell out his country to foreign agents, is here to say that we must confront Iran.

    Yet Trump avoided attacking Iran after the alleged provocation.

    I’ve had several speculative notion as to why not. They are of course based on what I’ve read, which is not particularly deep or broad, but, nevertheless. They are also not mutually exclusive.

    One idea is that Trump has an aide or close advisor who actually takes seriously the idea of antiglobalism, and helps Trump oppose the obvious attempts of the warhawks to pressure the president into yet another globalist military adventure. That’s probably the weakest idea.

    Something more likely is that there are powerful people reminding Trump that he has something to lose by war with Iran. The most likely candidate is Valdimir Putin, whom as I recall has a beneficial relationship with Iran. “If the US went to war with Iran, it would make me very unhappy, Donald. [. . .] On a completely different topic, remember those novichok deaths? Shocking, isn’t it, that someone could just die so suddenly and painfully? The press blames me, but of course, we both know that’s just the fake news, right?”

    A somewhat less likely possibility is that Iran has ways of pressuring Trump because of his business interests. I note that Azerbaijan is just north of Iran, and Trump was invested in building property there, in cooperation with the “Mammadov family, which had financial connections with the Darvishi family of Iran. The Darvishis were associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which had been regularly accused by the U.S. government of criminal activity”. I am unsure whether the Trump Organization still is involved — the Wiki page has the claim that the “Trump Organization appears to have withdrawn from the Baku Tower deal”, but the real problematic aspect is that the deal was made at all. So I’m just wondering if Iran told Trump to back off or they would release the details of Trump’s involvement with the corruption.

    I note that the building has been plagued by several mysterious fires. Who has the insurance claims, I wonder?

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