This Morning's New York Times

This Let­ter appeared in the Let­ters to the Edi­tor sec­tion of the Times this morn­ing. (I’d nor­mal­ly point to it rather than quote it, but mate­r­i­al in the Times online becomes avail­able only through a fee after a short time):

To the Edi­tor:
Re “Guan­tá­namo Comes to Define U.S. to Mus­lims” (front page, May 21):
You write that in Europe, “there is a per­sis­tent and uneasy sense that the Unit­ed States fun­da­men­tal­ly changed after Sept. 11, and not for the bet­ter.”
Not only in Europe.
I hear more and more peo­ple here in the Unit­ed States, regard­less of their pur­port­ed blue­ness or red­ness, express cyn­i­cism about our coun­try, its spite­ful­ness over mat­ters of reli­gion and its lack of respect for any­one who is not one of the rich and the influ­en­tial.
The abus­es at Guan­tá­namo par­al­lel the down­ward drift of our high­est ideals and our pol­i­tics of bet­ter­ment, which lift­ed so many out of pover­ty and sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship.
A fun­da­men­tal change, all right, and one that I pray will be reversible in a few years’ time.

Ter­ence Hugh­es
New York, May 21, 2005

Mr. Hugh­es could­n’t have said it bet­ter, except for his last sen­tence. I don’t think that pray­ing is going to make things reverse in a few years’ time. Much of these changes are per­ma­nent.

Why do I think this? In past eras, there as a nat­ur­al swing of influ­ence from right to left and back again. There was the idea of a con­test, and that every­body was play­ing by the same rule book. I remem­ber Bill Clin­ton chuck­ling at on “60 Min­utes” a few years ago about how he had got­ten snook­ered into mak­ing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” pol­i­cy one of his first acts in office. The gen­er­al pub­lic was baf­fled by why he appar­ent­ly chose this to be the most impor­tant issue that need­ed atten­tion right after the inau­gu­ra­tion. The inter­view con­tin­ued (I’m para­phras­ing, but I do remem­ber this near­ly word-for word): “I answered the call to go to the Pen­ta­gon with­out real­iz­ing what was up. They got me. I was­n’t pay­ing atten­tion and they tripped me up. That’s what they’re sup­posed to do, and I’m sup­posed to be on guard for that.” Clin­ton was clear­ly rel­ish­ing this sort of game of try­ing to ‘play pol­i­tics’. You win some, I win some, and in the end, we end up with a gov­ern­ment that encom­pass­es com­pro­mise, as well as a few cas­es of crafty out-maneu­ver­ing.

Since a few years ago, the fol­low­ing items have been in the news:

  1. Redis­trict­ing States (by design) to ensure that the minor­i­ty par­ty can­not get elect­ed to any dis­trict. The State of Texas was the most talked about regard­ing this prac­tice.
  2. Con­trol­ling vot­ing machines (man­u­fac­tured by GOP sup­port­er Diebold), and in addi­tion, mak­ing sure that there is no paper trail so any fraud is unde­tectable.
  3. Attempt­ing (so far unsuc­cess­ful­ly) to change the rules of the Sen­ate so that fil­i­busters can’t be achieved by the minor­i­ty par­ty. With this his­to­ry change (some­times called ‘the nuclear option’) who­ev­er the Pres­i­dent appoints will go straight through, with a sim­ple major­i­ty vote for con­fir­ma­tion, to serve a life­time term on the court. That includes the Supreme Court, where the real rule-chang­ing can take off. With far-right wing judges con­trol­ling the Supreme Court, the laws of the US could be rewrit­ten from the ground up.

See a pat­tern? Each of these is not only ‘play­ing dirty’ and fol­low­ing an end-jus­ti­fies-the-means phi­los­o­phy where all tac­tics are employed. They are also attempts to change how the game is played for now and for the fore­see­able future. Change the bor­ders of the state dis­tricts, switch the tech­nol­o­gy for vot­ing and how votes are count­ed, and alter the rules by which the Leg­isla­tive branch delib­er­ates (and in turn, how the mem­bers of the Judi­cial branch are cho­sen and hence what the laws are), and you ensure that any rever­sal or changes that you don’t want will nev­er hap­pen. They can’t.

In the­o­ry, the Press would stop some­thing like this, by alert­ing and edu­cat­ing the pub­lic of the dan­gers of these activ­i­ties. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the US Media has been near­ly destroyed by the GOP. Pathet­ic NewsWeek can’t even stand it’s ground when a sto­ry that is cer­tain­ly clos­er to the truth than not (by the Pen­tagon’s own doc­u­ments from the past 3 years) is attacked and demol­ished as quick­ly as John Ker­ry’s mil­i­tary record. The Press is look­ing more and more like Prav­da under the Sovi­et Union. Soon it will be rel­e­gat­ed to ’embed­ded’ reports on all activ­i­ties (mil­i­tary or oth­er­wise), total gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship, and crank­ing out human inter­est sto­ries to keep the pub­lic enter­tained.

Like a can­cer, this re-writ­ing of the rules spreads through­out the polit­i­cal (and eco­nom­ic) sys­tem. I won’t go into why the Repub­li­can major­i­ty is doing this (Obvi­ous­ly, since it is ‘God’s will’ in the eyes of the Chris­t­ian Tal­iban, any­thing that changes the gov­ern­ment so that chal­lenges by dis­be­liev­ers are repressed is worth sup­port­ing). True, there are some con­ser­v­a­tives who blanch at this. After all, if the unthink­able hap­pened and they became the minor­i­ty, they’d be just as frozen out as the cur­rent Democ­rats. But these Rovians think in terms of short-term goals. Get pow­er, keep pow­er and make sure you’ll have pow­er far into the future as you can see.

That’s the rea­son I’m no longer par­tic­i­pat­ing in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. No mat­ter who runs for Pres­i­dent in 2008, the Repub­li­cans will win. They have their hands on too many levers and are not afraid to use them when the time comes. When the game is rigged, you can’t win. WIth that in mind, I’m not quit­ting or giv­ing up. I’m wis­ing up and leav­ing the casi­no.

2 Replies to “This Morning's New York Times”

  1. Well, David, I said that I prayed such changes would be reversed, not that I actu­al­ly believed or believe that they will be.

    Oh me of lit­tle faith.

    Ter­ence Hugh­es

  2. Mr Hugh­es — Thanks for com­ment­ing, and I’m also glad that your let­ter was print­ed in the Times.

    Recent­ly oth­ers (par­tic­u­lar­ly those with oppos­ing view­points) have ques­tioned why I keep harp­ing on how I grew up in a ‘dif­fer­ent Amer­i­ca’, as if I were pin­ing for the ‘good old days’. It’s hard to pin down exact­ly where the sea-change from a coun­try I was proud of to coun­try I’m fear­ful of hap­pened (aside from it being some time after 9/11/01).

    It will be a long road back, and I fear it may not be with­in our life­times. Hence our deci­sion to leave the US for Cana­da. This is very much on my mind these days, as we leave the day after July 4th (All too appro­pri­ate, eh?).

    I hope that you’ll con­tin­ue to speak out as long as you are able, and that the Times will con­tin­ue to print sen­si­ble opin­ions like the one you gave. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the US will return to it’s orig­i­nal ideals and virtues quick­ly. I’m not some­one who prays for things, but I cer­tain­ly hope that this will hap­pen.

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