The Emperor Has Many Faces

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A recent Gallup poll found that public confidence in most American institutions, apparently excluding Gallup polls themselves, has fallen over the past year. Confidence in many entities, such as HMOs and the labor unions supposed to combat HMOs, was extremely low to begin with, but typically popular institutions like police and churches are being turned against by their previously enjoyed majority. Small business reaches the chart's second place, possibly gaining more trust as an institution by being, well, not an institution at all. Still, small business is only 9 points above the perilous 50% mark, with many Americans deeply concerned over charges of global terrorism and genocide conducted recently by rogue cabals of local oil change shops and nail salons.

Only one American institution is in the clear of the 50% tipping point: the military. Carrying a bold 69%, the US military is nearly three times as trusted as its own highest ranking member, the US President. It's interesting to note that criticizing the President for the Iraq adventure is a sport practiced nightly by every non-Fox talk show host without any fear of reprisal by the public; even Bush's rumored supporters can admit, at the very least, that the man's speaking difficulties are worthy of endless mocking. Certain members of Congress openly support the termination of Bush's employment, without any apparent concern for their own well-being or job security. So allegations made by fringe crazies that America is becoming a personality cult fascist state or a monarchy are just way off, right? Since we can all jeer and howl at our President, we are truly free? This argument sets American politics against presumably inferior nations we've been told about that feature a single tyrant who screams 'off with his head!' at dissenters, and assumes with pride that we do not live in such a society.

In fact, it's socially acceptable to bluntly deride the Presidency because it is not the highest-ranking institution in the nation; the military is. I've never heard it said that we should support the Decider no matter what he decides, and, alternately, I've rarely heard it stated that we should hold every military member accountable for every action, no matter who orders it. Is decorated Army vet Colin Powell ever included in the lists of dreaded Neocons that people enjoy rattling off when placing blame for Iraq ? Ask yourself how often Bush is publicly criticized, and how often the military receives anything beyond a, 'but we've got to support the troops.' They ought to change the name of it, anyway, since all it's ever called is The Troops. The phrase recasts the devouring juggernaut of departments, corporations, killers, nuclear weapons, criminals, and bureaucrats as, simply, the kids from down the street who postponed college to go defend you and me, kids shaken but brave with boots tied tight. The Troops. Not the machine, not the President. We've got to Support The Troops, family.

Never mind that Supporting The Troops means supporting the Commander in Chief by extension, making Bush, therefore, at best a lightning rod of a figurehead, and at worst a red herring. Supporting The Troops has no logical cutoff point which war critics can point to and say, 'That guy, him, I support everybody under him, but not him.' Through every step in every logistics scheme, the poor troops require the full investment of The Troops. The impossibility of distinguishing between the troops and The Troops is demonstrated by the pathetic Democratic Congress, which forks over money instead of forcing The Troops to bring the troops home. The machine and the men have become synonymous When citizens are asked about the military and their first mental images are not of blood-starved megawarlords armed for Armageddon but white kids cleaning their weapons while reading letters from Mom, the Establishment's rebranding of the ministry of empire as The Troops has completely succeeded. We can see the marketing of The Troops in everything from Marines commercials apparently inspired by Halo 3 to the recent Republican semi-debate thing, where Duncan Hunter attacked the Democrats for only Supporting The Troops a little bit.

Claiming to Support The Troops was, only a few years ago, a workable qualifier to tack on the end of any socially disapproved statement. I hate the war, But I Support The Troops. I hope to assassinate every member of Congress in alphabetical order, I burn Laura Bush dolls in voodoo effigy, I believe God approves of abortion by sodomy, I enjoy dog fighting on Jewish holidays, I make deaf children read rap lyrics and Imus transcripts while smoking, But I Support The Troops (BISTT). Once this tactic was found out, it became necessary to maintain Troop Supporting cred by sticking yellow ribbon magnets to our vehicles. This stamped out the pretend-Supporters and BISTTers without the need for government intervention. Markets at work.

Because as past totalitarian states have proven, the job of thought policing goes much smoother when the populace is willing to enlist itself in sniffing dissent, and ours has become very quick to crush those who fail to Support The Troops enough. It's startling how rare they are, since the BISTT Clause was uncovered, but they're out there. Cindy Sheehan ran at odds with The Troops by obsessing over her murdered son like a total bitch. Jane Fonda faces harassment for Supporting the wrong Troops thirtysomething years ago. Ron Paul Unsupports The Troops by whining about all the dying and killing they do. gives talk radio a week of kindling by its blatant Supportlessness of The Petraeus, himself used just as Powell was. The Troops, also known as Brave Men And Women Defending Our Freedom and, formerly, as Our Boys Overseas, meanwhile get a free pass from their slaughter of innocents and impositions of imperial will, with the mean old President taking all the blame.

Evaluating The Troops' position as the most powerful American institution, it's almost comical to suggest that presidential elections have any bearing on what happens in our world. In our bizarro Oz, the public face is a patsy, not a threat; he knows that his role is not to carry out the will of 'the people,' or remain popular, or follow any set of rules, but to provide growth opportunity for his military and military-industrial complex. He is an agent of the military, not like the badass secret kind, but more like a talent agent who negotiates jobs for his client, and Bush has done a good enough job securing work for his clients The Troops, but is always ready to pitch for a new gig. The Troops Tour 2007 is close to adding dates in Iran as we speak.

Americans can take pride in their power to criticize, fire, replace, and choose the occupants of the Presidency, but until they realize that the office is reserved for whichever man or Hillary can most effectively Support The Troops, everything else is worthless. I sympathize for young people convinced to kill, steal, and die for the colossal apocalypse monster nicknamed The Troops. May the fodder churned through the machine someday refuse to continue, and let the machine labeled The Troops buckle beneath itself with no more consistent and assured Support. Fuck The Troops.

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Jason Kirk's picture
Columns on STR: 3

Jason Kirk blogs at Mutiny Baby and is working on his debut collection of short fiction.