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.
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:
- 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.
- Controlling voting machines (manufactured by GOP supporter Diebold), and in addition, making sure that there is no paper trail so any fraud is undetectable.
- 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.