How Strong Is Our Democracy Really?
Okay, I’ve taken a lot of heat in the past for continually bringing up fascism, and I think I’ve finally figured out that I’ve been asking the wrong question. It isn’t whether or not we are moving toward fascism, the real question is, how strong is our democracy?
My aunt, a lovely lady, not overly political but an informed citizen, actively gives back to her community, a working mother and wife of a very politically minded Republican, has expressed concern about us not really being as free as we think we are. I went on a local cable access television show about a month ago and after the airing, she called me up to, of course, tell me what a great job I’d done and how much she enjoyed watching it. The topic of the show was religion and politics (one of my favorites) and I said many things not flattering about the Bush administration, and my aunt said, “While I was watching it, I thought, oh my, I hope there isn’t a black sedan out in front of the studio waiting to take her away, never to be heard from again.” Now mind you, she said this in a joking manner, but there is a hint of fear in that kind of thinking, a tinge of how we really feel when we make jokes like that.
I can see how some people could call me a “tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist”, it’s not true or fair, but I understand how some could view me that way, but my aunt, no way. Yet she and I (and I would venture to guess more and more people everyday) have the same sense that our freedom is in some ways an illusion that we willfully buy into because not to, is just too scary.
When we read news stories about citizens arrested for refusing to show ID while riding a public bus, “free speech zones”, pacifists and Quakers investigated by the FBI, toy stores forced to remove toys from their shelves by Homeland Security due to copyright infringements, getting a ticket for displaying an anti-Bush bumper sticker, being fired for supporting progressive radio, paying off credit cards and triggering an investigation from Homeland Security, a retiring Supreme Court Justice warning of dictatorship, and the latest in this string of disturbing incidents, a teacher handcuffed and slammed against a car by Homeland Security agents in front of the elementary school kids for asking the agents to move their car out of the school bus zone, it’s hard not to wonder how free we really are.
As Leander Pickett, the teacher involved in the bus zone incident, said, “You now you hear these stories everyday and say, 'This will never happen to me,' but yesterday it happened to me.” While I will concede that these stories do not mean we are moving toward fascism, the fact that they are happening is clearly having an affect on whether or not many of us feel as if we are, at the very least, moving into uncomfortable territory.
It’s a combination of the authority we are willfully giving to the executive branch, the way in which the current administration handles that increased authority and how their lack of concern for individual rights is trickling down to those charged with exerting that authority over the people. Whether or not we are moving toward dictatorship as Sandra Day O’Connor warned, in the end may not be as important as the way we process that kind of warning. If we feel oppressed, we will act accordingly and avoid confrontation by censoring ourselves and that is a direct threat to our democracy. I already feel uncomfortable expressing my displeasure with this administration, even in my own home. Sure, I do it anyway, but I’m somewhat confrontational by nature and to me security is overrated. But how many other people, like my lovely aunt, will stop expressing themselves out of fear, or if not fear, just the desire to not be hassled for it.
Life is challenging enough for most people with work, family, friends and community, why make expressions of political thought one more thing we have to censor in our lives? Especially since we were raised to believe that we didn’t have to. That’s a lot of history to overcome and behavior that we, as Americans, have become accustomed to. Is security really worth changing, in a fundamental way, how we operate as a county? I certainly hope not.