Bush recently issued an executive order, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, which has raised some alarms in the blogosphere.
Sara Robinson at Orcinus explains why this is alarming:
It’s that B clause that concerns me — and should concern all of us who blog, comment, organize, write letters, and otherwise exercise our rights to agitate against this unholy war. "Undermining the efforts" is a term that can be defined very, very broadly. And since those of us opposing this war have been told repeatedly, from the beginning, that our efforts to change our fellow citizens’ minds were in fact treasonous acts that undermined the war effort, emboldened America’s enemies, and harmed our troops, it’s not unreasonable to believe that those warnings are now being backed up by official action. "At risk of committing significant acts of violence" is more overbroad weasel-speak: How many of us have said things that could be construed (at least by the certifiable paranoids in the White House) as a threat of violence against the Bush Administration?
This government has now asserted — without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress — its right to take away our houses, cars, savings accounts, the stuff of our lives, on the say-so of the President and his Treasury Secretary. They are not kidding. What we do here, what I am doing right now (unless I choose my words very carefully) is being done in defiance of the Law According to George Bush.
When the President can take away your life’s savings without due process, under authority of a law no people’s legislature ever approved, for simply disagreeing with his policies and publicly stating your intentions to do something about them, we are treading so close to that line [between proto-fascism and the real thing] that it’s hard to tell whether we’re actually over it.
And, worse, we’ve reached the point where these outrages seem to occur weekly — bigger and more blatant every time, but by now we’ve seen so many so often that we’re inured. We don’t even know where to start fighting. In any other administration we’ve ever had, this one act on its own would be an impeachable offense. In this one, it’s just another drop in an overflowing bucket.
Commenters to Sara’s article have been taking issue with whether this order really is as bad as she thinks, and there certainly is room for disagreement. I want to put this type of debate into context, by highlighting an excerpt Sara also posted in the same article, from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free. Mayer was an American Jew who traveled to Germany after World War 2, to document the mindset of ordinary Germans, who revealed how their country slid into fascism:
"Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty."
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have….
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."
The debate about whether this executive order is serious or not, is part of the uncertainty Mayer talks about. The cabal commits some outrage, which knocks some of us off balance, creating rage and uncertainty, we try to sort it out, and then we adjust and life goes on. We regain our balance. The net effect, to use a parable, is the familiar story of the frogs who were slowly boiled to death by ever so slowly increasing the temperature.
The ease at which this happens is captured in the title of a DailyKos diary on the same topic, Bush Declares Martial Law. Country Yawns, Changes Channel. This diary refers to yet another diary that talks about why the founders of this country really revolted against England. It’s not what you think:
Contrary to the beliefs of many, American colonists did not go to war against the British because of taxes. Colonists went to war against the King because the British government had become so corrupt, so despicable that the colonists feared if they didn’t take drastic action, this corruption would flow across the pond to America. Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1775 (quoted from The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn):
. . . when I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this old rotten state, and the glorious public virtue so predominant in our rising country . . . I fear they will drag us after them in their plundering wars which their desperate circumstances, injustice, and rapacity [greed] may prompt them to undertake; and their wide wasting prodigality [living the high life] and profusion is a gulf that will swallow up every aid we may distress ourselves to afford them. Here [Franklin was writing from England] enormous salaries, pensions, perquisites, bribes, groundless quarrels, foolish expeditions, false accounts or no accounts, contracts and jobs, devour all revenue [which will serve] to corrupt and poison us.
Why is this important now? Because when you read Bailyn, you will clearly see that we are facing a crisis equal to that faced by the colonists. Corruption, waste, war, and greed is swallowing up the America that other countries admired before and rallied around after 9/11. We are facing the same constitutional crisis the colonists faced in the late 1700s. They had been governed by the British constitution, which the colonists felt the King and his "minions" were plotting to weaken and dissolve. Here is another passage from Bailyn:
For their power and interest is so great that they can and do procure whatever laws they please, having (by power, interest, and the application of the people’s money to placement and pensioners) the whole legislative authority at their command. So that it is plain . . . that the rights of the people are ruined and destroyed by ministerial tyrannical authority and thereby . . . become a kind of slaves to the ministers of the state.
Sound familiar? Pass whatever laws they please, apply the people’s money however they choose and for whatever purpose they deem fit, whole legislative authority at their command. This could have been written in the early 21st century and rather than saying it of King George III in 1775, it fits perfectly with King George II of America.
I can add nothing to this, other than to urge you to read the whole illuminating piece. I’ll close with Sara’s conclusion:
The America that would accept this kind of edict in silence is not the America that we grew up in. Something has changed. We are poised to accept this like we’ve accepted every other insult. It’s hard to imagine that, even when bloggers and other dissenters start losing their property, that there will be tens of thousands in the streets to protect us. As long as the forms are still there, and the system continues to do what it must to sustain itself, we will simply be collateral damage.
If we accept the forcible removal of our property without due process, forcible removal of our lives will not be far behind. And there are people eager to accomplish this: according to Barna Research, there are about 50 million hardcore fundamentalists who have been eagerly awaiting the day, training and planning and praying for the chance to do just that — to take out their frustrations on the liberal traitors whom they have been taught to believe are responsible for everything that’s wrong with their lives. They believe, in their bones, we have stabbed God’s America in the back; and they are out for vengeance. This is the edict that will provide "legal" support and justification for their first tentative steps toward mob rule.