Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Or Why Trump’s Wars Should Seem So Familiar

MOAB sounds more like an incestuous, war-torn biblical kingdom than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka “the mother of all bombs.”  Still, give Donald Trump credit.  Only the really, really big bombs, whether North Korean nukes or those 21,600 pounds of MOAB, truly get his attention.  He wasn’t even involved in the decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal for the first time in war, but his beloved generals — “we have the best military people on Earth” — already know the man they work for, and the bigger, flashier, more explosive, and winninger, the better. It was undoubtedly the awesome look of that first MOAB going off in grainy black and white on Fox News, rather than in Afghanistan, that appealed to the president.  Just as he was visibly thrilled by all those picturesque Tomahawk cruise missiles, the equivalent of nearly three MOABS, whooshing […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

A Nation Made by War and a Citizenry Unmade By It

On successive days recently, I saw two museum shows that caught something of a lost American world and seemed eerily relevant in the Age of Trump.  The first, “Hippie Modernism,” an exploration of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s (heavy on psychedelic posters), was appropriately enough at the Berkeley Art Museum.  To my surprise, it also included a few artifacts from a movement crucial to my own not-especially-countercultural version of those years: the vast antiwar protests that took to the streets in the mid-1960s, shook the country, and never really went away until the last American combat troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973.  Included was a poster of the American flag, upside down, its stripes redrawn as red rifles, its stars as blue fighter planes, and another showing an American soldier, a rifle casually slung over his shoulder.  Its caption still seems relevant as our never-ending wars […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home

If you want to know where President Donald Trump came from, if you want to trace the long winding road (or escalator) that brought him to the Oval Office, don’t look to reality TV or Twitter or even the rise of the alt-right. Look someplace far more improbable: Iraq. Donald Trump may have been born in New York City.  He may have grown to manhood amid his hometown’s real estate wars.  He may have gone no further than Atlantic City, New Jersey, to casino-ize the world and create those magical golden letters that would become the essence of his brand.  He may have made an even more magical leap to television without leaving home, turning “You’re fired!” into a household phrase.  Still, his presidency is another matter entirely.  It’s an immigrant.  It arrived, fully radicalized, with its bouffant over-comb and eternal tan, from Iraq. Despite his denials that he was […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

How the U.S. Invaded, Occupied, and Remade Itself

It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news. And you know exactly what — and whom — I’m talking about.  No need to explain.  I mean, you […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The 25/8 News Cycle Is Already Rolling, But the Looting of America Hasn’t Really Begun

It started in June 2015 with that Trump Tower escalator ride into the presidential race to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” (“But there’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead, there’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead, don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them…”) In a sense the rockin’ has never stopped and by now the world, free or not, has been rocked indeed.  No one, from Beijing to Mexico City, Baghdad to Berlin, London to Washington could question that. Who today remembers that, in those initial moments of his campaign, Donald Trump was already focused on the size of his first (partially hired) crowd?  (“This is beyond anybody’s expectations.  There’s been no crowd like this…”)  And he’s been consistently himself ever since — less a strong man than a bizarrely high-strung one.  In the process, while becoming president, […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The Collective "Wisdom" of the U.S. Intelligence Community

They call themselves the U.S. “Intelligence Community,” or the IC. If you include the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which in 2005 began as a crew of 12 people, including its director, and by 2008 had already grown to a staff of 1,750, there are 17 members (adding up to an alphabet soup of acronyms including the CIA, the NSA, and the DIA). The IC spends something like $70 billion of your taxpayer dollars annually, mostly in secret, hires staggering numbers of private contractors from various warrior corporations to lend a hand, sucks up communications of every sort across the planet, runs a drone air force, monitors satellites galore, builds its agencies multi-billion-dollar headquarters and storage facilities, and does all of this, ostensibly, to provide the president and the rest of the government with the best information imaginable on what’s happening in the world and what dangers […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

Thank You, Donald Trump

Know thyself. It was what came to mind in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory and my own puzzling reaction to it. And while that familiar phrase just popped into my head, I had no idea it was so ancient, or Greek, or for that matter a Delphic maxim inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo according to the Greek writer Pausanias (whom I’d never heard of until I read his name in Wikipedia). Think of that as my own triple helix of ignorance extending back to… well, my birth in a very different America 72 years ago. Anyway, the simple point is that I didn’t know myself half as well as I imagined.  And I can thank Donald Trump for reminding me of that essential truth.  Of course, we can never know what’s really going on inside the heads of all those other people out there on […]

Shadow Government by Tom Engelhardt

The Future According to Trump

Can you doubt that we’re in a dystopian age, even if we’re still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his “basket of deplorables.” I’m referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again. It’s already a stunningly depressing moment — and it hasn’t even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination […]