History shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. According to Naomi Wolf in this morning’s Grauniad, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all :
- Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
- Create a gulag
- Develop a thug caste
- Set up an internal surveillance system
- Harass citizens’ groups
- Engage in arbitrary detention and release
- Target key individuals
- Control the press
- Dissent equals treason
- Suspend the rule of law
It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”
As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are “at war” in a “long war” – a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president – without US citizens realising it yet – the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.
How long do you think it will be before US citizens start paraphrasing Martin Niemöller?
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.