About forty years have passed since an American president, in an as-of-then unprecedented act resigned from office. It might be too much of an exaggeration to say that the Watergate Scandal singularly fomented a newly sardonic and cynical attitude in the United States, but the public has certainly moved in that direction. The illegal break-in and wiretapping at the Watergate Hotel subjected only several people to constitutional violations, but it was met with public outrage that would come to destroy the otherwise highly popular and successful presidency of Richard Nixon (who really was only indirectly involved), whose very name to this day embodies corruption in the American psyche. Yet in our times, when it has been casually revealed that the American government has been systematically wiretapping and cataloging information on millions of Americans, most citizens respond with despondency, apathy and an impotent and uncreative cynicism.
More importantly the very issue reveals precisely how unimportant constitutional limitations are to the public in the first place. I wasn't my intention to either induce controversy or promote conspiracy theories in using the word "totalitarianism" in the title of this essay, but in a literal sense, the United States, and most other modern democracies, have literally become totalitarian. A totalitarian state is simply one in which there is no theoretical or practical distinction made between areas that are legitimate grounds for government action and what are not.
In our society, we refuse to place any area of life, whether driving, eating, hiring, charity or privacy beyond the purvey of government: this is literally totalitarian. The American government may be properly called happy, democratic, caring and genuinely concerned about the public's interest, but its lack of practical constitutional restraints literally makes it a totalitarian state. We may not have laws that regulate how long we can spend on the internet or drive or how much we can eat (except in New York), but no one would dare suggest that the demos and the state don't have their divine right to regulate just that. Everything good must be mandatory; everything bad must be illegal.
Of course the public's reflex is to say that the problem is a certain set of politicians or policies or judges, but the fact is the largest and most significant change has been in the electorate itself. Decent judges still grapple with constitutionality quotidially and politicians have always tried to violate constitutional convention, but it was the public and cultural values that held them to their job and to general integrity. Nowadays appeals to "natural rights," limitations on power and constitutionalism are met with queer stares and confusion. People who dare to restrict the government's pen to its original constitutional limitations are lambasted as either "Far-Right" or "Far-Left;" it's almost comical how members of our two main parties vacillate on which is a civil libertarian or authoritarian depending on which holds the seat of the presidency.
The thing is neither party has the legs to stand on. Republicans used to laugh it up when Ron Paul pontificated on the constitution in the debates and when Democrats insisted on civil liberties in wartime, while Democrats (save a brief and politically advantageous interlude from 2005 to 2008) have been deriding constitutional "obstructionism" since the Roosevelt Regime. If there's one common denominator among all modern political streams of thought, it is that they all have big plans for themselves and everyone else, requiring a nation unburdened by individualism, privacy and governmental limitations. No one can live and let live anymore.
Additionally there is a status quo bias in the public apathy to the entire issue of government abuses. Only a land of madmen or masochistic fascists would voluntarily support legislation that allowed and ordered government agencies to collect data without court order or justification from cell phone providers and internet services. Nevertheless, because agencies in the government have skipped the oh-so-stringent bindings of popular consent, legislative approval and the constitution itself, we apathetically remark that "that's what governments do" or "I have nothing to hide" or "I mean there's no way of stopping them."
I openly wonder how far government agencies can go before arousing public antipathy. There is literally nothing stopping the state from compiling everything from psychometrics to internet passcodes and history and to clandestine nude photographs; it would be entertaining to see how deep the chasm of cynicism goes. Keep in mind that it is not just true that the state is the largest and more organized stalker in the nation; it's perusing its desires at the public expense. It would tangibly be better for us to save ourselves the money and openly send our personal information, browsing habits, call logs, locations, and weekly itineraries to the government directly. Surely anyone who would object to that must simply have nothing to hide. Put simply, it isn't an issue of privacy: I'm not worried about the government knowing my data, but allowing it to compile that data without my own or constitutional or even legislative permission is a precedent that allows for unlimited breaches of personal liberties.