A California campus cop has become the face of the America that so many conservatives are striving for. He is all over the Internet, featured in parody after parody. He is Lieutenant John Pike, the now-iconic figure pictured pepper-spraying a group of protesting students at the University of California’s Davis campus (above).
The scene can only be described as un-American: Police in paramilitary gear line up in front of about a dozen students peacefully squatting on a pathway. Lieutenant Pike starts casually spraying the students. Others cops join in. The students wheeze and cry but they refuse to be moved away.
When they move, it is to advance resolutely, shouting “Shame On You! Shame On You!” . Shamed at last, the policemen retreat.
The photo of Lieutenant Pike spraying the students has inspired an avalanche of satire (click here for examples).
But what he symbolizes is no joke. As Abraham Lincoln observed, we laugh because we must not cry.
We must not cry even with pepper spray in our eyes. Even with pepper spray in the eyes of American democracy.
We are witnessing the militarization of American law enforcement. We are witnessing a new authoritarianism in America. As the ruling class becomes richer and more powerful, they are taking harsher measures to protect their property. Law and order will prevail. Riffraff will not be tolerated.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tells the Occupy Wall Street protesters to take a bath and get a job. Of course, there is no job to get. But what does Gingrich care? He is the male reincarnation of Marie Antoinette, who said that since French peasants could not find bread, they should eat cake. He is a mouthpiece for the new dictatorship. Cold and uncaring.
This is the society conservatives yearn for. A society in which the upper classes can enjoy their loot in a tidy world, where the peasants are clean and well behaved.
And if they forget themselves, if they dare to clutter the sidewalks or get in the way of decent, law-abiding, God-fearing (in other words, rich) American citizens, why there’s always pepper spray.
And there will always be someone like Lieutenant Pike to use it.