Recently the TV show "Dexter" has won my heart. Something about the deeply flawed individuals struggling both make sense of mysteries and keep their own facinates me. For the uninitiated the title character (Dexter Morgan) is a serial killer who preys exclusively on murderers. His foster father taught him to direct his sadistic and depraved instincts to something approaching justice. He claims not to be able to resist these instincts, but there is little evidence that he tries. Dexter is a bad man, if he makes the world better or fairer, it is in spite of his nature, not because of it. Relief floods his face when he finds out the Ice Truck Killer has not been found and will be killing again. The deaths of the victims are nothing to him compared to the prospect of taping the killer to a table and cutting off his head. Evil dictates, directly or through his efforts to conceal it, almost every one of his actions.
Part of Dexter's appeal is of course revenge fantasy, the idea that there is someone to inflict misery, degradation and death on those who frighten us. Dexter is powerful in a way we cannot and will not be. We are unable to dedicate the time and energy needed to find those who scare us, he gives up almost all his free time for it. We lack the strength and skill to seize them, he has it down to a routine. We fear the consequences of pursuing monsters, he can't be dragged off their track. Our conscience makes us hesitate to wound, his is not a problem. Every angry thought summons up a wish for a tame Dexter, to give us the blood and yet keep it from us.
The State is our tame Dexter Morgan. We know the State is evil. We know of it's murders, it's enslavements, it's discrimination, it's lies, it's unjust imprisonments and inhumanities of every stripe. We excuse them like uncles who get a bit overenthusiastic with the bottle at times. They not alcoholics, not like the neighbour's addict black sheep. But deep down we know the truth, that the State will always come back to badness, to viciousness, to evil, to power. We want to know that we can unlease that badness against our enemies, crush them and yet remain untouched. People who wouldn't shoot a dying dog are willing to let the State commit all sorts of horrors in their name and at their behest, safe in the knowledge that they did nothing.
However Dexter, unlike the State, does not believe in his own goodness. He knows, and we know, that he is deeply evil. He does not contend that he does what he does for the common good, and we would not believe him if he did. We do not celebrate our dedication to helping his bloody work. We do not feel that attacks on his credibility or honour are attacks on our own. Yet with the State we do. We feel insulted by slurs on "our" countries honour, and react emotionally to them, sometimes regardless of the evidence. Yet we know that the State is a far less discriminating killer than Dexter. They get it wrong all the time. Indeed more innocent Americans were killed by American cops (by the State's own figures) than by terrorists in all but 2 of the last 16 years. And in one of those it was pretty close. In none of those years did terrorism kill more Americans than the direct and indirect effects of government violence*. Yet most people defend it and justify and minimise it's crimes. The true danger of the State is not it's evil but the willingness of people to call it good and thus not act against it.
Currently the American State is run by people who openly boast of extrajudicial killings. They are openly declaring themselves to be Dexters, but nobody thinks they have his precision, self-awareness or intellect. So why are we settling for second best? Why not get the real deal? Dexter Morgan for President, because lesser evils are for wimps.
*Even if you don't count terrorism as the indirect effect of government violence.