The land of the free

I’ve been wondering for many months why conservatives aren’t upset at the cocooning of the president to the point that only toadies are allowed to ask him questions at his “town halls” and attendees at his rallies must sign loyalty pledges and even peaceful protestors are arrested simply for their T-shirt or a sign they hold. When did this become acceptable, and why isn’t there outrage?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but I do know the outrage isn’t there, and that this passivity has led to a mindset where this is okay. The scary thing is where this will take us next, because it’s certainly going to get worse before it gets better. As Orcinus points out, the situation has already metastasized, and we are accepting actions that clearly criminalize the dissent that is at the heart of American liberty. Just a few short years ago such repressive actions would have been utterly unthinkable. Now they are commonplace and no one flinches.

I hate to make the Nazi comparison because it’s so tired, and Bush isn’t Hitler. But forcing people to wear yellow stars was shocking at first, and soon it became a part of everyday life. That’s how society shifts from decent to indecent. It starts with indifference or a willingness to look away. And then, suddenly, it’s too late. Despite all the warnings, no one acts, no one questions, and the door is open to calamity.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

I agree with you, the Nazi Germany comparison is a little off, but it is scarily reminiscent of Germany during the early Nazi period. Especially with the heavy handed banning of opposition.

Freedoms are seldom lost in one go, they are normally eroded slowly as people accept one restriction after another. Then one morning they wake up and see the police arresting their neighbors for sedition.

I thought that America was supposed to be the land of freedom of expression, but to see police arresting peaceful demonstrators simply for wearing a protest logo on their t-shirts, this isnโ€™t the US that I grew up with and it certainly isnโ€™t the image of democracy and freedom that I used to look up to.

America needs to open its eyes, today it will be protesters carrying banners, tomorrow it will writers who disagree with the state and teachers who teach who say that the constitutional right to freedom of expression means that you can criticize the government.

February 8, 2005 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

I am always very cautious with the Nazi analogy, which is why I preface it — Bush isn’t a Nazi. But there are thuggish and repressive aspects to his rule that merit at least some comparison with the tactics of fascists, from Peron to Mussolini to Hitler (and to other pigs like Stalin and Castro). The thing is, this is exactly what America is NOT supposed to be about. It’s one of our strongest national characteristics, the toleration of dissent and alternative viewpoints. Absolutely never in my lifetime have we seen a regime so willing, even eager, to prohibit dissent, on pain of the threat of imprisonment. And, to my utter shock, no one seems to care. Complacency and passivity are the great enemies. When you give Bush an inch, he grabs a mile. By our silence, by our laxness we are giving Bush free license to impose Draconian restrictions on our cherished right to free speech. We’re asking for it. Thanks to a cowed media and a president devoid of any true moral values, we are set up for a potential catastrophe. (Yeah, I know it sounds alarmist — that’s exactly what they said about people fleeing from Germany before the war. Can’t we learn, for once?)

February 8, 2005 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

The land of the free

I’ve been wondering for many months why conservatives aren’t upset at the cocooning of the president to the point that only toadies are allowed to ask him questions at his “town halls” and attendees at his rallies must sign loyalty pledges and …

February 8, 2005 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

This is an opportunity for Democrats. Explicitly campaign as the party of liberty, rejecting the Security-Police State, in stark contrast to the other guys.

Political slogans can go along the lines of “Republicans are afraid of their own citizens.”

And give examples. Not just what you said, but the routine ritual humiliation of travelers at airports, the lockdown of Washington DC, and countless other examples.

Unfortunately, in areas of militarization and security, too many Democrats sound like Republican Lite these days.

February 8, 2005 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

I am also completely mystified as to the location of the OUTRAGE. I left the US four years ago, before 9/11. Maybe I’m underestimating the trauma to the American psyche from that rude awakening?

I think religion is also a factor. Dubya talks about being the chosen tool of GOD in ways that no president has before. This appeals to that weird streak of zealous religiosity that differentiates America from other western nations.

Plus of course, nations usually rally around their leader during time of war, apparently even a war the leader himself initiated.

I’ve long held that if fascism ever comes to the US, instead of “Seig Heil!” Americans will say “Support the Troops!”. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

February 8, 2005 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

I’ll say it. You don’t have to compare the US with Hitler’s Germany. Just compare the US with China’s extreme ‘no-dissent’ policy.

As a Canadian, I’d hate to see the US go down the road of no dissenters, no protesters, no freedom of speech, etc. Soon (not that it hasn’t already), your blog posts will be analyzed for its level of criticism against the state and off you go to an unknown location, no trial…. oh, I’m describing China. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

[Sarcasm was intended.]

BTW, Thanks for running your site Richard. Great discussions.

February 8, 2005 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

Folks,

Actually there is a bit of free speech in China, at least for the moment: Check out the last 4 articles in the Journalism and the State series on WOW: We Observe the World.

Some real bravery is on display–I just don’t know how much longer the government is going to allow them to stay up. However, If they let us alone, then Bush & Thugs will truly be the most fascist regime among the major nations.

All the best,

Joseph

February 8, 2005 @ 11:53 pm | Comment

Richard:

I’m surprised that you raise such an important topic without invoking the role of media. While ACLU is fighting back tirelessly, our ‘liberal’ media is too eager to avoid contraversy by self-imposing censorship. They are not FOX yet, but are they up to their job? The networks even didn’t have the guts to air an ads criticising Bush’s medicare proposal.

If they can’t even stand up for what they believe under the auspices of constitution and myriads of checks and balances and, most importantly, a civil society with venerated tradition of tolerance and debate, why should I believe that they can possibly do a decent job reporting China, where the Nazi comparison is just relevant?

I should confess that I feel disillusioned and much disturbed.

February 9, 2005 @ 1:23 am | Comment

Joseph:

I’m now a regular visitor of WoW and thanks a great deal for your (groundbreaking) job. A good part of credit should be given to your students, for quite a few of them have demonstrated their courage to speak out their mind. That won’t give dubya the honor of being No.1 oppressor, but the intimacy of the encounter you offered there with Chinese college students is almost unprecedented.

I secretly believe that WoW is tolerated (so far) only because it’s in English. My guess is that its counterpart in Chinese wouldn’t survive a day.

February 9, 2005 @ 1:59 am | Comment

I tend to view it as a different approach, WoW is tolerated (presently) because it contains a modicum of legitimacy as being published by students at the Foreign Affairs University. Sometimes instruments of the government or those affiliated with it receive a certain amount of leeway. Oftentimes the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has much more freedom in publishing criticisms than any individual “rabble-rouser” if you will. If you have been reading Danwei earlier, you will noticed the irony of FHM magazine in China being warned for indecency while a similar magazine gets by with far more risque images, targeted at homosexual men no less. It is published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

On the other hand, it could be simply that government censors aren’t aware of the website yet.

February 9, 2005 @ 6:24 am | Comment

Bellvue, actually the entire post is about the media, even if I don’t mention them. The outrage has to start with the press, and they have abandoned their traditional role, feeling they need to soft-pedal around Bush ever since 911.

February 9, 2005 @ 7:04 am | Comment

Dear Bellevue, Jing, et al.,

All of the credit goes to the students. On their behalf, thank you for the kind words. As to why the university and the government has so far given WOW a free ticket, I believe both of the dynamics mentioned above are at play: It’s in English, therefore less threatening; and the Beijing Foreign Studies University, with the Party’s permission, has tasked me with making the new English Language Journalism Department number 1 in China, and to give it visibility outside of China.

We shall see how deeply they are committed to those goals. My immediate goal is for the Journalism and the State Series to be read by as many people as possible in case they do shut it down soon. Any help in that effort will be greatly appreciated.

Again, thanks to all,

Joseph

February 9, 2005 @ 7:20 pm | Comment

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