As the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, a police state exists when “the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the people, especially by means of a secret police force.”
Ten years ago, then-Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) asked whether the United States fit such a description, and someone responded: “Where are you? Are you wondering?”
“Now,” Paul says, “everybody knows we live in a police state.”
Paul shared these remarks during a recent Mises Institute Circle in Houston, Texas: “The Police State: Know It When You See It.” However, despite the seemingly glib assessment of the question at hand, he sees this awareness as progress.
“The people are waking up; they realize what’s happening; and they’re getting annoyed.”
As is his tendency, not following notes, Paul drifted between a variety of topics as he commented on the police state in the US context. However, one particular segment drew my attention. As Paul referenced 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he offered “the tank man” as a role model of courage against such tyranny.
This man — whose identity remains unknown — had the brazen confidence to face a line of military tanks, armed with nothing more than a couple of shopping bags. “It’s so symbolic,” Paul says, “of man against the state,” and the tank man merits his place as an icon of civil disobedience. So impressed, Paul had a framed photo of this incident in his congressional office.
While many see this act as a total failure, since the communist regime remained in place and hundreds of people died that day in China, Paul sees otherwise: “I am convinced the tank man won.”
Why would he say that? Because that David-versus-Goliath act disarmed any legitimacy the regime had. It was also a wake-up call to those in power, that people would defy them if they did not change their ways. The reality is that no regime can contain a population that possesses great anger, even with police state tactics.
These days, China is no haven of liberty — far from it — but in some regards, doing business there has become easier than in the United States. As of 2013, China has surpassed the United States and become the world’s largest economy, and in January, Houston became the sixth US city to have daily, nonstop flights to Beijing.
On this side of the ocean, Paul points to heroes such as Edward Snowden and legislators nullifying unconstitutional federal activity as leading the way towards reform: “We’re really in the middle of something going on in this country. . . . There’s every reason to believe that the police state is going to continue to crumble.”
Whether that reversal will come about peacefully, via the political process, or through a more severe economic downturn and civil unrest, Paul does not know. The necessary anger, though, is building, amid an unfortunate economic environment.