Pedagogically Spell Bound

Skip!  Slow down, damnit !  I need more quarters !

Both Skip Gates and Obama were right the first time. Even the birthers know it.

A Long Time Ago, In An America, Far, Far Away . . .

Three men are in a bland GMish car. They are departing from an evening gathering featuring massive consumption of liquid refreshment. A more innocent time. Before Reagan and all that ‘Just say no’ nonsense. Everyone assumed ‘Animal House’ was a simple documentary. That particular gathering had run out of key ingredients. So the stalwart three had volunteered to venture forth and procure more. Back in a flash type thing.

After duly making the rounds and heading back, cue sirens. What follows at first is the usual script . . . ‘license and registration’ . . . ‘do you know how fast (erratic) you were going?’ Blah, blah. Adam 12 stuff.

The stopped vehicle positively looked like an aluminum recycling pick up site. Crammed on top of the empties and packed against the windows? Fresh, gleaming, cold unopened receptacles and various colored bottles, some of which would catch fire if lit. Today, this would trigger a Homeland Security Orange Alert. But this America was untainted by either Bush. All the men had to do was sit out the usual unnecessarily long wait with the spot light on the vehicle. We’ve all probably been there — twiddling thumbs in the bright light as officers pretend to look things up. It’s all a charade. Everyone knows they’re trying to enforce psychologically their, er ‘digit’ is bigger. Back in that day without Internet or computers they’re likely flirting with the dispatcher via radio.

Is It Against The Law If I . . .

Eventually, the caucasian officer dawdles back up to the vehicle’s rolled down window. The script now starts to go horribly wrong. Before he can speak, the caucasian driver asks “Is it against the g*****n law for me to call you a g****** m*****f*****g c***s*******g Iranian (hostage time) d**l******g . . . ? For literally about 45 seconds. A run on beat down lasting 45 seconds can be an eternity. Or it can be an epiphany of sublime supernatural inspiration. This one was beyond sublime. And given the amount of refreshment already consumed, one must acknowledge with accolades there was not one repeat of a phrase the entire 45 seconds – and very little slurring.

So the beefy Man with the Badge replies, “Well, there is some controversy about that in the courts . . .”

And the driver jumps back in and says, “So, I can call you (repeat 45 second brutal beat down) !!” The Man with the Badge tosses the ticket. And off we all went. (The Driver became a senior partner in one of Washington D.C.’s bluest of blue chip law firms and law review graduate. Passenger No. 1. became a pediatrician. And you know what happened to the Stiftung). All happy to pitch in and cover fine costs. There oddly is not much excitement or febrile reaction in the vehicle. Some laughs. But not in the OMG stratosphere. An inconvenience over and done with. The police, you see, were not seen as Towering Unchallengeable Platonic Figures of Authority. Yet.

All Rise And Kiss The Badge

Besides being a fun memory, it’s also instructive. Everyone involved was from a prosperous suburb. The Right Wing had yet to hijack social mores. Or launch the Cult of Authority. (MADD also didn’t exist). More importantly, the people had not given officers permission yet to vent a militant psychological inadequacy of somehow being both Man and Victim.

In 2009 the same scenario would play very differently even with the same actors. It’s not just race. The Nation surrendered to authority figures who mingle their own individual personas with their official duties. The most obvious cases? The pharmacist who is Anti-Choice refusing to fill ‘scripts even for skin treatment. Or even a Scientologist acting out their own views. Law enforcement has always been a blend of individuals as well as intense ethos (for good and ill). Add the Cult of Authority? We get law enforcement that does a thing because *it can*, not because *it should* or otherwise seek a solution away from the exercise of fullest Power. In parallel with the bloated National Security State. Under Obama Americans are as enthralled to the Authority Cult as ever. That’s the bigger issue, not just race. Gates didn’t bow. (It also explains the Rightist frantic lunacy about Obama as Commander-in-Chief; the cognitive dissonance of him as the ultimate secular Authority short circuits neural pathways).

Local Cult Of Authority In Action 2008-09

Around here, not that long ago, parents of a high school senior wanted to throw a party for their kid and friends. So in advance they invited all the kids over with the knowledge everyone was going to spend the night. Got some beer. Collected everyone’s car keys. And basically said, ‘Happy graduation, stay here, stay safe and we’re up stairs.’

They also got arrested. (Someone ratted on them). And yes, they protested. And yes, they were splashed across the WaPo as essentially pedophiles, pushers, terrorists and just plain *A*wful *P*arents. Po po in force. From the local TV and print media lurid hyperbole you’d think the parents tried to build a dirty bomb. Forcing high school kid slaves to drink beer and be unAmerikhun. Not an isolated incident and all with the same outcome.

Perhaps that kind of police reaction doesn’t bother you? We’ve watched local caucasian police (initial twosome) force a different 50-something caucasian law firm partner from his own million dollar house. And just like Skip Gates, when he protested while complying, they kept calling for ‘backup’ until the street was choking with squad cars, whirling lights. Race had nothing to do with anything. It was all about failure to Kneel Before The Badge.

We watched it unfold while carefully showing our Warlord face of sorrow and sympathy for the inconvenienced public servants. In return we received the expected secret nod and eye recognition from the officers that we were One. It’s subliminal. But they groked our faked signal that they were, in Les Grossman’s terminology, ‘Big D*** Players.’ Rather like 4th grade.

That’s where America is today in our opinion. Yes, the Skip Gates case has race issues. How could it not? But the larger issue is how this Nation allowed itself to become mere petitioners before its own employees – black, white, orange, green or purple. How the Cult of Authority remains as vibrant and expansive in 2009 as it was in 2008. Or 2003-04. If Obama had any balls, that’s what he should realize and include in his ‘teaching moment.’

Our bet? Not even an oblique mention. More change we can believe in.


  1. says

    The framing of the story itself interesting. First, the officer arriving at the scene confronting disorder. Then the threat posed by the child. The 6 year old, as CNN reports numerous times, damaged ‘school property’ after all. (Only later in the story do they mention a door nob and sign over a paper shredder).

    So much unspoken subtext here and about the family. Little likelihood this ominous farce could be used to engage in constructive, restorative political dialogue. Agree, let’s hope Sharpton remains disengaged. As you note, however, where does one draw the line? When systemic degeneration becomes common place and unremarkable, arguably it’s already too late.

  2. Sam Lowry says

    Oy vey. This 2009 bunker entry came to mind when I read about a 6 year old in Georgia getting handcuffed by the police. About all you can say is that she’s probably lucky she didn’t get hit with a Taser.

    IIRC, it has been said here something to the effect that empires collapse from internal rot, but that said rot first manifests itself at the periphery of the empire. I tend to think when we get to the point where cops handcuff 6 year old kids we’re entering the phase where the internal rot becomes undeniably obvious. Especially when, at least based on a limited sample of comment sections at a variety of news sites, the reaction to such an incident isn’t universal horror. Quite the contrary, there are no shortage of defenders for the cop’s actions. (Again…based on a limited sample of comments at news sites)

    Sadly (if this article is to be believed), the family is considering reaching out to Al Sharpton. Which cannot possibly help their cause. But there you go.

  3. neil says

    The Nation surrendered to authority figures who mingle their own individual personas with their official duties.

    I think this happened sometime in the Nineties — at any rate it was long enough ago that I grew into manhood believing that it was normal. Then, in 2005, I left the U.S. for a land where such a surrender had not taken place, and all was revealed to me. I found that I was constantly anticipating some self-appointed authority figure — a sales clerk, a hurried commuter, a security guard — to bust me for breaking one of their own personal rules. But instead, a feeling of relief when the anticipated rebuke never came. The feeling of freedom. I’ve been trying to explain this very point to Americans ever since. I’ve rarely seen it put so well.

    It seems to me that both Gates and the cop were enforcing their own personal rules (cop: Kneel before the Badge; Gates: Let the Black Man Be) and both lost their shit when when the other wouldn’t submit.

  4. Anon says

    Authoritarianism and micro management would have been a disaster on 9/11 NY. The reason the first responders did so good is because they were able to reform a control center and procedures “on the fly” since they were seeing an entirely new emergency and their former control center was under the rubble.

    But of course the Bushevicks don’t see that as plus.

  5. Proper Gander says

    Some months ago, I was hired by a Midwestern city government to enforce HUD regulations for publicly-funded housing. My job description stated that I was to use independent judgment and initiative. I used my independent judgment- for which I was repeatedly subject do disciplinary action and finally fired.

    You see, I was violating The Process. The Process is all that matters now. If The Process requires you to do something nonsensical, something counterproductive, something that would result in denying a family housing for a superficial technicality, then you better have done it for when the auditors come and HUD comes calling.

    There’s something fundamentally schizophrenic about this, in its cart-before-horse arrangement. Bass ackwards, as my truck-driving father would say. I couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance well enough to keep that job, and I marvel that anyone could.

    The point is, authoritarianism is when you’re told to go out and do a real good job for the city/county/nation whatever, so relentlessly micromanaged. You either do what I did- get out of the business- or find a way to live with yourself, which, from what I can see, generates a lot of compensatory neurosis.

  6. Comment says

    How this authority thing get out of control is pretty convoluted – but it does sometimes seem to have really get traction — Clinton and Obama went with the tide – tried to surf, but not really.
    It seems odd that support for Crowley action and his shaky less than accurate report is close to 100 percent within law enforcement circles. It should be 50/50 with most just rallying for their side while being aware it was an error. But no – they are sincere. Gates was not nice, they say – The head of the union was accidentally accurate though when he said “Obama is not my commander in chief.”

  7. corey says

    This is the best damn article I think i’ve ever read. Ok, maybe it’s not that great. But it is extremely refreshing given that nowadays our so-called “champions of the people” (democrats) are vastly authoritarian.

    Anyone familiar with the game of ‘good cop/bad cop’ should see right through our “embarassingly narrow political spectrum.” But they don’t. What in sam hell is going on? Was Orwell a prophet?

  8. Anon says

    Digby nailed it. We are now supposed to be as afraid of police with guns as we are of thugs with guns. Beer drinking in the White House optional.

  9. Hunter says

    I read his initial statement about the Officer having ‘acted stupidly’ in context as exactly such an oblique mention. Quickly walked back. Pussy.

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