Cable news corporations are unnerving in more ways than one. Now, as always, they have made the alarmingly narrow spectrum of opinion allowed on public airwaves evidently clear. The latest scandals concerning election hacking and the impending “pro-Putin” Trump presidency have spawned an infotainment vortex intent on putting Big Brother to shame.

While only recently overshadowed by Donald Trump’s inauguration, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the interference of foreign entities in U.S. elections has fueled a firestorm of (what passes for) critical exchange on the allegedly Russian role in the meddling and Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin. These exchanges have often been tinged with indignation in the face of this seemingly unprecedented foreign meddling in domestic U.S. electoral affairs. The irony of such indignation is not lost on students of U.S. foreign policy.

When defending Trump’s pro-Putin bluster conservative talking heads pivot (fallaciously) to reminding the audience of Obama’s permissiveness in “allowing” Putin to invade Crimea. Democrats rebut by showcasing Obama’s resolve in applying sanctions swiftly (thereby “punishing” Putin). Such spineless and sophistic posturing reveals an ailment that has long plagued commentary on geopolitical concerns.

Similarly, over the last few years, when debating the Iran nuclear deal (delaying the nuclear program through negotiation vs. increasing sanctions to punish Iran for their nuclear program), the Cuban embargo (tightening the embargo to hasten regime change vs. eliminating the embargo to hasten regime change), the Syrian Civil War (simply funding rebel fighters to overthrow the Syrian government vs. putting soldiers on the ground to help overthrow the Syrian government), and countless other issues (a look to recent history would frame the invasion of Iraq or the expansion of NATO as matters of democracy and defense rather than occupation and belligerence) comparable parameters of debate emerge.

These parameters are informed by the unspoken premise that we own the world, should exercise dominion over it, and punish anyone who gets “out of line.” Or, as the Ministry of Peace or Ministry of Truth might put it, we must defend the free world by forcing the world to be free. While both official and mainstream commentary subjects us to the usual barrage of paternalistic euphemisms (be it U.S. leadership or the need to enforce “good behavior”) this premise remains unquestioned.

Such a questioning would be blasphemous. Since it challenges the unspoken assumption that the US is well within its right to shape world affairs through economic and military coercion to further “US interests” (a concept so distorted and incongruous in our increasingly oligarchic society that it’s barely worth mentioning) it is invariably met with a unanimity of familiar reactions that would delight any Putin-style strongman. Such reactions include ridicule, accusations of treason, a smug rolling of the eyes, an invitation to leave the country, or some appeal to the nobility of U.S. foreign policy (that is, it is never addressed directly).

To address it directly would be to acknowledge its existence. This is unacceptable because such an acknowledgement would admit the U.S. is just like any other nation. Our proverbial doublespeak would be undone. US “leadership” in the world might then be understood as US “interventionism,” “expansionism,” or, heaven-forbid, “aggression.” This simply won’t do. Being the “indispensable nation” is dear to our collective heart and is fiercely defended by familiar omissions, lest we confuse “indispensable” with simply meddlesome, misguided, or worse.

Thoughts on Freddie Gray and Baltimore

The HBO series “The Wire” comes to mind as I see images of Baltimore’s youth unleashing a violent rage that mostly reflects pent up frustrations and anger aimed (mainly) at law enforcement. For those who haven’t seen the show, its focus is power and how it’s exercised in the service of both law enforcement and the criminal element of Baltimore’s underclass while painting a morally ambiguous picture of both. Besides the obvious parallel of setting the show chronicles generational cycles of violence and poverty, the consistent abuses of law enforcement, as well as the diffuse nature of power channeled “officially” and “unofficially” that shed light on the explosive events of late.

The barbaric violence exercised by those entrusted to “protect and serve” this past year, from New York City to Ferguson to Baltimore, has ignited a spontaneous and sometimes violent revolt against police brutality and impunity. Every abuse of power is now magnified in the imagination of folks who’ve been consistently marginalized. The reaction to such barbarities is predictable. As an astute observer has noted, it’s like “lighting a match where the kindling is pretty dry.”

Like in the show, there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” here. There is no morally unambiguous judgment we can make in light of such events. However, we can prioritize our outrage. We can choose to first be outraged by the heinous killing of a young man thanks to his treatment while in police custody and only then consider condemning violent reactions against an institution that systematically perpetrates similar crimes. We can choose to first be incensed by the impunity enjoyed by much of law enforcement before we criticize looting perpetrated by some who will never enjoy such license. We can choose to first be angered by the assassination of young men of color by an organization entrusted to protect us before protestors who block traffic in the hope of highlighting the issue annoy us.