In the immediate aftermath of Sept-ember 11, 2001, many Americans were seized by a thirst to know what was behind the destruction at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. College professors and other experts eagerly came forward to initiate discussion on the wellsprings of the very ignorance that had caught the country by surprise.
Soon, all the worst, self-deluding impulses of Team America kicked in. The mainstream media gave the White House the benefit of the doubt on just about everything, even as the administration instituted a wave of secret arrests and closed court hearings, jacked up the military budget, tore up international treaties, and pushed for a whole new generation of nuclear weapons. Nobody seemed to want to believe that these things were happening, or if they were that they were really as grave as they sounded.
And the same soothing message, the same drip-feed of political Prozac, found its way quickly into the education system. Trust the President and everything will be okay. Educators sent notes home to parents on how to deal with the aftermath of September 11, but not on how to explain why it had happened. Educational books appeared, purporting to tell schoolchildren what they need to know about September 11. But mostly they were filled with meaningless platitudes about Americans being united by patriotism and the firm belief that terrorism is a Bad Thing.
People don't understand what their government is up to because they don't understand how government works. The disconnect between the people and the rulers they elect, and between the rulers and those most directly affected by the consequences of their actions, is little short of frightening.
A glimpse into history suggests empires often build up illusory images of themselves, images that through their deceptive power eventually conspire to bring them down. It happened to the Romans, and to the Japanese, and to the Soviet empire. Could the United States be so very different?