Waco (as in Wacko) is back in the news, and big questions are being raised about truth, justice, and the ’American Way.’ In this case, truth is being subsumed by the larger issue - what does it mean when the government lies? Justice is, in this case, the FBI, and the American way - to people who stopped trusting government back in the 60s - is, well, the American Way.
Waco (as in Wacko) is back in the news, and big questions are being
raised about truth, justice, and the ’American Way.’ In this case, truth
is being subsumed by the larger issue - what does it mean when the
government lies? Justice is, in this case, the FBI, and the American way
- to people who stopped trusting government back in the 60s - is, well,
the American Way.
Now the FBI has admitted it deceived the Attorney General for four years
(shades of J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy) and
withheld from the country the information that it did indeed fire
incendiary tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993.
The conspiracy theorists are back in business.
That particular collection of ultra-right radio hosts, Militiamen and
even a few politicians in and out of office, who were stilled by the
Oklahoma City bombing from their fervid anti-government talk, can now be
expected back in full cry. And the FBI’s assertions that the stuff was
fired into another building several hours before the big fire are not
likely to be widely believed - at least until some neutral ’observers’
say it’s true.
It is all, alas, part of a continuing crisis of confidence, documented
as a steady decline for nearly 30 years, not just in government, but in
major social institutions as well - the military, intelligence agencies,
universities, business, labor, churches and, to be sure, politics.
The major public opinion organizations measuring this decline locate its
beginning in the early 1960s, probably triggered by Vietnam and some
other foreign policy adventures, and fueled by what came to be called,
in President Lyndon Johnson’s time, ’The Credibility Gap.’
From then on, it was easy. Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and
Iran-Contra are among the high spots, and the 1990s have merely added to
the lack of confidence, what with denials of sex by the President and
hypocrisy in high Congressional circles.
Where does this all leave us? First of all, the decline will now be
accelerated by the Waco revelations and the 2000 campaign will
undoubtedly be tainted.
We may have come to the point where if the government says it’s true -
or for that matter a labor leader, a prominent CEO, a high church
official, or a university president - that may be nearly sufficient
evidence that it is not. That can be extremely damaging to democracy
itself, and can ultimately make it impossible to govern. It has already
contributed to the low public standing of our business - ’oh, that’s
just for PR’ - even if we ultimately rank higher in public confidence
than do politicians, or even the FBI.