Sunday, November 11, 2007

The New Normal

Frank Rich’s column today brought tears to my eyes. He clearly outlines the destruction of our democracy which has happened before our very eyes. Had it played out through a bold coup, there might have been some kind of protest. But it happened subversively, through soft lies delivered to a gullible populace, frightened and desperate to be comforted with fairy tales.
In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to democracy-lite. That’s why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s.

I often hear people lament, “why aren’t we hitting the streets? Why aren’t we protesting?” But we are. Millions of us protested in New York, in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and elsewhere. When the media covers these events, it’s a brief blip on the radar between celebrity news and the latest government propaganda. We have short attention spans in this country; if it didn’t happen last week, we have trouble remembering it happened at all. And half the time, we don’t even know what is happening. For example, I don’t remember hearing about this:

Take the Musharraf assault on human-rights lawyers. Our president would not be so unsubtle as to jail them en masse. But earlier this year a senior Pentagon official, since departed, threatened America’s major white-shoe law firms by implying that corporate clients should fire any firm whose partners volunteer to defend detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere.

This is shocking. I don’t remember any outrage in the media last January when this news first broke; in fact, I don’t remember hearing about it at all. Have we really become so numb that the Pentagon can threaten law firms for defending certain clients and we don’t even notice?

If this isn’t an errosion of democracy I don’t know what is. Rich concludes with this sobering thought:

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.

This is most apparent in the Republican presidential race, where most of the candidates seem to be running for dictator and make no apologies for it. They’re falling over each other to expand Gitmo, see who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of constitutional rights. The front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, boasts a proven record in extralegal executive power grabs, Musharraf-style: After 9/11 he tried to mount a coup, floating the idea that he stay on as mayor in defiance of New York’s term-limits law.

Indeed, when whackadoodle politicians like Rudy and Huckabee and Ron Paul are considered viable candidates instead of being laughed out of the room, I have to wonder at the mass psychosis that has created this chilling “new normal.”

The Democrats refuse to throw any cold water on this insanity, instead they’ve bought into it: Waterboarding is and always has been illegal in this country, but instead of demanding the Attorney General abide by the established law of the land, Sen. Chuck Schumer vows to write a new law stating what is already established law. The whole purpose is to get Mr. Mukasey out of the awkward position of having to prosecute senior administration officials for breaking anit-torture laws. That would just be too embarassing for the new Attorney General. And in the “new normal,” it’s perfectly acceptable for the opposition party to ignore basic facts to provide cover for the criminals that have launched this quiet coup against our Democracy.

I don't like this "new normal." And I want my country back.