complain, but they are quickly put in their place by the authoritiesrnin this one-newspaper town: the mayor, the newspaper,rnand the local business and community leaders who do not carernwhat happens, so long as word does not leak out into the press.rn(A local committee of prominent citizens, after studying thernschool problems, concluded that the district needed to investrnin more computers.) But word has leaked out, and Rockford isrnquite properly listed in the Money magazine survey of 300 citiesrnas number 300: the bottom, the Pits, a sinkhole headed in therndirection of East St. Louis, and deservedly so, because with thernexception of Michael O’Brien (a lawyer who has contested thernuse of the school district tort fund to pay for “desegregation”),rna radio talk show host (Chris Bowman), who is actually willingrnto discuss the facts in the case, and a group of concerned citizens,rnno one in Rockford is willing to stick his neck out and leadrnthe resistance.rnThere is a remnant of the old republican regime, in the formrnof Congressman Don Manzullo, who has introduced a bill inrnCongress to prevent judges from levying taxes. But in thisrnnightmare world of the late 20th century, no one has ever defeatedrnthe Judges. Even Ted Turner, a man brave enough to cutrndeals with communists and marry Jane Eonda, pulled a TVrnshow on Justice Clarence Thomas, for fear of retribution.rnThe lawsuit which brought the Judge to power is as complexrnas Jarndyce v. ]arndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House and many timesrnmore destructive. When I first moved to Rockford, more thanrnone resident twitted me about the South. “Up here, we knowrnhow to handle race problems without stirring up a hornets’rnnest. We put the gifted and talented programs in predominantlyrnblack schools, but the programs are kept separate—inrnsome schools they even have separate entrances. On the books,rnhowever, these are integrated schools.” But, I protested, surelyrnthe minority members on the school board have complained.rnBut, they told me, here was the beauty of at-large elections: nornblack could get enough votes to win a seat.rnThe school board progressed from arrogance to recklessnessrnand decided to close down a school in a predominantly blackrnneighborhood, contemptuous—as boards and superintendentsrnalways are—of neighborhood feelings. When the inevitablernsuit came, filed by a group calling itself “People Who Care,” Irnwas initially sympathetic with their complaints, although it wasrnimpossible not to realize where the city was headed. After yearsrnof wrangling and millions of dollars of expenditures, black studentsrnare not one whit better off, and the case is out of thernhands of People Who Care and converted into a class actionrnsuit under the control of a lawyer who is sucking the lifebloodrnout of a city he does not have to live in. For that matter, thernJudge lives 25 miles away in Ereeport, meaning decisions aboutrnthis future ghost town are being made everywhere but here inrnRockford.rnLike most Americans today, the people of Rockford mayrnseem incurably stupid, but they are not evil. They want tornthink well of themselves and would not willingly do harm tornanyone. Once they changed the method of school board elections,rnthe whole question of equity could have been solved byrnthe usual rough-and-tumble course of political democracy: payoffs,rnkickbacks, and blackmail. Nobody would have been completelyrnsatisfied with the results, but the black neighborhoodsrnon the West Side of town would have kept their schools and receivedrnmore money, the white suburbanites on the East Sidernwould have congratulated themselves on how liberal the’ were,rnand Rockford could have held onto the 296 spot in the placesrnrated survey.rnIt is probably too late to save this city. In the last election,rnvoters reelected the Democratic mayor who supports, unequivocally,rnthe judicial tyranny that is destroying Rockford. Bothrnthe mayor and the city council take refuge in the fact that thernschool system is not their bailiwick, but if the city’s politicalrnleaders will not take a stand to defend the community, whornwill? So far, Rockford voters continue to elect politicians whornduck the issue. They might just as well dump heavy metals intornthe water supply; the effect is the same: a slow and painfulrndeath of the community. When sheep vote, they inevitablyrnelect the wolf who tells them there’s no such thing as wolves,rnand they continue to feel good about themselves on the longrnride to the slaughterhouse. Here in Rockford, there are no torchrnlight parades or monster meetings held to denounce the schoolrnboard or the mayor, no motorcade of buses to Judge Mahoney’srnneighborhood, and no all-night vigils outside his house. PeoplernWho Care is gone, and all that is left are People Who Couldn’trnCare Less.rnOnce upon a time in America, people like Judge Mahoneyrnwould have experienced the exquisite sensation of tar andrnfeathers applied to sensitive skin that has never felt the sweat ofrna day’s work. Today, federal judges can wreck whole communitiesrn(with the connivance of elected officials) without facing sornmuch as an unfriendly editorial. And foreigners wonder whyrnthere is so little outcry against the militias that have sprung uprnall over the hinterlands. A better question might be: Whorndoesn’t, in his heart of hearts, sympathize with them? Withinrnthe space of a few months, a plausible case has been madernagainst the CIA for importing cocaine into Los Angeles, thernDefense Department for covering up the accidental downingrnof the TWA jetliner, and the entire government for a concertedrndenial that soldiers in the Culf War were exposed to chemicalrnweapons.rnMost Americans appear to believe their President is a crookrnand a liar, and virtually everyone in the United States has seenrnat least one conspiracy tape giving evidence of murder plotsrnhatched in the White House against Vince Foster, Ron Brown,rnand a host of others. Most of us do not believe any one of them,rnbut what difference does it make? When Presidents routinelyrnorder the murder of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Bosnia forrnno apparent motive, what would they not do when they had arnmotive? Who knows? More to the point, who cares? Only thernnot quite 50 percent of the eligible voters who showed up onrnNovember 5.rnThe response of our free press is the same as it has beenrnthroughout my lifetime: the Big Lie spilling across miles of inksmudgedrncolumns and echoing down the electronic corridorsrnof radio, television, and NEXUS. As one refugee from communismrntold me recently, at least with Pravda they knew how tornget information by reading between the lines. Here in America,rnwe cannot find anything out. This is paranoia, of course,rnbut what explains the widespread paranoia—on both left andrnright—since the mid-60’s? Sunspots? Nuclear testing? Orrndoes it all go back to the day they took the Lord’s Prayer downrnfrom the walls of the little red schoolhouse? It is small wonderrnif many Americans believe in black helicopters and secretly admirernthe men who take potshots at them as they fly over theirrnproperty.rnNot too many years ago, a nice Ohio boy went W-fest lookingrnfor the frontier. After cowboying for a time, he took up trap-rnFEBRUARY 1997/9rnrnrn