By Sherwood Ross
Fear for an individual's personal security common to a people whose leaders are taking their nation down the road to dictatorship has begun to grip America.
In church this Sunday one man said only half in jest, "When the arrests begin I will probably be the first one picked up." He told of a woman he knew personally just released from a mental institution in Texas where, he said, the Federal government had locked her up for a year after she tried to show officials "proof" Iraq's Saddam Hussein had no WMD.
I found this anecdote incredible until I recalled a recent reliable press account of a man arrested by the Secret Service merely for politely telling Vice President Cheney after hearing him speak that he disagreed with his policies.
Whether the story of the woman tossed into an asylum is factual, there are growing numbers of people who fear retribution for exercising their right of free speech. People warn their friends: Better not say that in public. Better not put that in writing.
After hearing the story of the woman's arrest, a second congregation member stood up to warn dictatorships commit their dark deeds out of sight of the general public. He told of growing up in Argentina under the junta, oblivious to the fact the torture barracks was within blocks of his home. Life went on normally even as people were murdered, and he prayed America would not suffer a like fate.
After the service, another church-goer circulated a petition seeking signatures in opposition to the Administration's Military Commissions Act that Amnesty International warned strips arrested captives of "any opportunity for meaningful judicial review."
The petition reflects the palpable fear the misery President Bush has inflicted upon military detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere may soon become the fate of Americans as well.
This fear is spurred by a growing mistrust of, and anger towards, government. A majority of Americans, polls now tell us, think President Bush knew Iraq had no WMD when he made the war. In short, they regard the man as deceitful. And when people do not trust their leaders, they fear them and what they fear they also hate.
Columnist Molly Ivins long ago wrote in The Progressive magazine why she felt justified in hating President Bush. That feeling is spreading. Automobile bumper strips declare "Enough Bushit." People commonly refer to Bush in conversation as "King George." One Website dubs him, "The Smirking Chimp."
(During the Civil War, when anti-Administration newspapers compared President Lincoln to an ape it was based on their view he was a bungler rather than of any personal fear of the man.)
Among Democrats --- as among some conservative Republicans who feel their principles have been betrayed --- anger against the president is palpable. The New York Times reported Sunday, October 15th, "48 percent of Democrats say they are 'more enthusiastic about voting than usual'" in the midterm elections. "Enthusiastic," yes, as so many are actually furious. Much of what they write Congress is vitriolic.
Gays are among the more apprehensive. Their concern is heightened by GOP-sponsored referendums, such as the one on the Virginia ballot next month, prohibiting gay marriage. They worry about being officially stigmatized as second-class citizens. Liberals are also apprehensive. After all, right-wing radio talk personalities have long used the word "liberal" much as Hitler used the word "Jews."
Fear is also spread by press reports of people being denied civil liberties, such as being kept from boarding an airliner without an explanation; of foreign scholars denied teaching opportunities here because of their views; of foreign students denied the right to study here by State Department officials who give no reason for refusing visas.
Fear also spreads when those in government positions who speak the truth are demoted or dismissed. Public confidence is shaken when a general who disagrees on tactics in Iraq is dismissed and a high Army Corps of Engineers official is demoted for charging contracts are being let without competitive bids. There is a growing conviction a vindictive Bush regime will punish anyone who opposes it. This has a chilling impact on free expression.
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