Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

We are living in scary times. In my nearly sixty years on this planet, the world has experienced other scary times.  Just in my lifetime, we've seen war, the threat of global nuclear annihilation, economic collapse and terrorism, and those experiences pale in comparison to the things my parents' and grandparents' generations experienced. But I don't know of a time in the past century when Americans seriously questioned the future of this nation and its core values, as they do now. We have a president who appears to have zero respect for the constitution and the rule of law, especially when it comes to the restrictions it places on his office. During the campaign, he expressed a higher regard for the dictator of Russia than for the President of the United States. He and his administration have demonstrated time and again that they have no particular interest in freedom of speech, unless it is their own. The POTUS has made it clear he has no intention of giving up his huge stakes in worldwide business interests and the issues of conflicts of interest they will inevitably create. This administration's utter lack of regard, even contempt of facts is downright appalling. Perhaps most disheartening of all is the fact that many of my countrymen and women are perfectly OK with it.

As I can remember exactly where I was upon learning the news of nearly every horrific event in world history that took place in my lifetime, I will never forget the moment I read the statement made by a top advisor in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway, when she used the Orwellian term "alternative facts" to describe blatant lies the president made through his press secretary, to over-inflate the size of the crowd at his inauguration. It was at that moment when it occurred to me that this nation might very well be doomed. If this administration could so overtly lie about trivial, easily verifiable stuff, imagine how they plan to deal with the important issues that take place behind closed doors. I didn't feel much better last Sunday when this same advisor lamented the fact that to date, no one in the "mainstream media" has been sacked for criticizing her boss.

It's becoming clear that the division in this country between supporters of the POTUS and everyone else, is becoming deeper and deeper as we speak, which seems to work to the advantage of his administration. Like so many totalitarian wannabes, this administration seems to draw its life-force from the ability to create a home grown enemy. And that enemy is anyone, wherever their political leanings may lie, who has the nerve to criticize them.

This leaves those of us with misgivings about the current administration in a quandary. Do we openly protest the administration, thereby fueling the fire in the bellies of the president and his supporters who are looking for any excuse to repress the liberties of their detractors? Do we do so subversively much like the bumbling, crazy (like a fox) Good Soldier Švejk, the eponymous character from the series of novels written by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek? Or out of fear of retribution do we just keep our mouths shut, hoping the storm will pass over our heads without causing too much damage?

This is not my paranoia speaking, I know people who have chillingly called for marshal law to suppress the demonstrations that are taking place throughout the country. The president himself has expressed his enthusiasm for using strong arm tactics. In a tweet last week he threatened to "send in the feds" to Chicago in order to control this city's growing murder rate. This weekend he signed an executive order to ban the entry into the United States, of people from specific nations, including many green card holding legal residents of this country. Even small children were not spared, one of whom was reported to have been handcuffed for several hours during his detention at Dulles Airport in suburban Washington DC last weekend. Amazingly, the president's press secretary told the country that it is perfectly acceptable to handcuff a five year old child, who turned out to be a US citizen. After the incident, the press secretary, Sean Spicer said this:
To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong. 
You read this stuff, at least I do, and wonder if there are no ends to which the administration would not stoop in order to achieve their objectives.

Yet there are folks who are perfectly happy with the way things have been working out since the president was inaugurated a scant twelve days ago at this writing. It's not something new in history, that people of a nation, fearful of the unknown, would choose security over liberty. These arrangements seldom work out well. The current administration is only happy to oblige the fearful, taking advantage of an existing atmosphere of anger and resentment, and blowing it completely out of proportion. One school of thought has it that the protests that have taken place since the inauguration, especially the very small handful that have erupted in violence, only work to the benefit of the administration, as for them it would be justification for the use of force to quell the violence. Once that begins, where will it end?

An even more cynical, but not outrageous viewpoint, is that the administration is well aware that, rather than promoting safety, its actions over the weekend, suspending the arrival of refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya, will only exacerbate anti-American hostility in the Muslim world, making terrorist attacks all the more likely. The resulting crisis would then justify the suspension of constitutional rights in the name of "national security". Steve Bannon, the president's right hand man (or is it the other way around?) has written that he is in favor of the need to tear down society in order to rebuild it, which in his world view it would seem, would mean an oligarchy ruled by Caucasians, with a few useful Christian values cherry picked out of scripture thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure but perhaps non-Caucasians could live here if they wished, they would just have to tow the line, and bow to the master in charge.

How things have changed in a mere generation. Judging from the following words advocating understanding among the people of the world, and an open door to this country, you might think the man who spoke them was a progressive, liberal Democrat. You would be quite wrong:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here." --Ronald Reagan
Eighty four years ago, a president on the verge of a new administration, facing a much more difficult challenge than the current president as he entered his new administration, told a struggling nation that:
...the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself, - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Until now, for 228 years, American presidents have told their country not to fear, that by working together as a nation, there is no problem we cannot solve. In the meantime, dictators have told their subjects to fear everything, but leave it to them, in their hands, and in their hands alone, they will solve all the nation's problems.

The struggle against the current administration is not a struggle between the left and the right, between Republicans and Democrats. It is a struggle for liberty, truth, and common decency, in other words the values that Americans of good will have shared for over two centuries. Fed by the fear and anger inspired by a handful of opportunistic demagogues who draw their very breath from our division, many of us seem to have lost those values over the past year.

But we as a people are better than that. We protest out loud whether it be on social media, in the halls of Congress, or out in the streets, over the injustices of this administration. We do so not because we are crybabies and sore losers, but because we are Americans, and because we love our country.

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