Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

One of the most common refrains when a democracy collapses into an autocracy is that no one could have seen it coming.

The motivation behind this myth is the absolution of the powerful. After all, what cannot be predicted cannot be prevented, and therefore the failure of officials to safeguard our freedoms should be forgiven. This is the story we hear as Donald Trump approaches a possible second term and the U.S. plunges into unprecedented turmoil.

The premise, of course, is a lie.

Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

What “No one saw it coming” tells you is who the powerful consider to be “no one.” “No one” are the multitude of marginalized Americans who warned in 2016 that their rights had always been on the line and would be even more so now. “No one” are the people who knew that a future American autocracy was possible because their ancestors had been subject to past ones: slavery, Jim Crow, internment camps, and other forms of legal subjugation that were destroyed only through decades of defiant demands for their eradication.

Freedom was always a moving target. So are Americans under Donald Trump.

Trump is not the cause of the American crisis, but its culmination. The fragility of rights that members of marginalized groups have always experienced has been widened to encompass the country as a whole. In the 21st century, political, economic and technological freedom were all radically curtailed. Americans signed away their rights unwittingly and unwillingly – through the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance in the wake of 9/11, through social media companies turned surveillance monopolies, through the deference to corporations that is a survival mechanism in an economy structured on precarity.

The loss of legal rights over the past 20 years – voting rights chief among them – has been accompanied by a culture of fear that is as effective in derailing democracy as any decree. What does it mean to have freedom of speech when your words are data-mined and shot back at you as targeted propaganda? What is freedom of assembly when your every movement is recorded and reproduced online, when human lives are reduced to hashtags?

There are few worse feelings than being watched but never seen.

Trump exemplifies this era of exploitation. The reality TV president sees citizens not as human beings, but as disposable background players in a show starring himself. The U.S. media — an industry both exclusionary and desperate after decades of financial turmoil — has long proven an easy mark for the Trump team. Complex catastrophes are no match for the easy media lure of personality politics. The framework of spectacle to which Americans have always been drawn — soap operas and pro wrestling, talk shows and tabloids – is Trump’s native vernacular. To some degree, this was always our national political language, but there is a soullessness today that feels new. Whatever entertaining quality politics once possessed is gone, replaced by a culture of profound dehumanization that endangers the American experiment.

What Does Freedom Mean?
Protesters demonstrate in Freedom Plaza against family detentions and to demand the end of criminalizing efforts of asylum seekers on June 28, 2018.

WIN MCNAMEEGETTY IMAGES

Freedom is never just about rights or laws. Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

That yearning — to simply be and have that be enough, to not have to prove your innate worth time and time again to a dubious arbiter — is at the heart of every struggle for human rights.

At a time when the world seems to be closing in on us, whether through apocalyptic change disasters, like the wildfires in Australia, or surveillance apps that monitor our every move, the dehumanizing quality of the Trump era — like separating migrant families and housing them in unsanitary border camps — is particularly gutting. With dehumanization comes disposability — a cheapening of the cherished, a commodification of every casualty.

There is a litany of horrifying images from the Trump era, but the worst may be a grinning Donald and Melania Trump holding a baby orphaned in the El Paso mass shooting like it was a trophy, giving the world a thumbs up after the baby’s parents were gunned down. What future does that child face? What present, so devoid of empathy and teeming with violence, made that moment possible?

Along with “No one could have seen it coming” lies also the idea that “The Founders never predicted this” in the archive of excuses for democracy’s demise. But the Founders absolutely predicted this — if not the legal architecture, then the moral forfeiture, which they often framed in terms of suicide.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long,” John Adams wrote in 1814. “It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln expressed similar thoughts on what would ultimately destroy America: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

Each warned that America was its own worst enemy. Many also believe we are our own best hope.

We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

The problems Americans face are so innumerable that they overwhelm. As a nation, we are indeed weary. Still, there are concrete actions people can take to slow the entrenchment of autocracy: voting, protesting, and creating or supporting independent organizations that combat corporate or state control are a few suggestions. But all of this requires maintaining presence of mind in a political environment designed to annihilate it. The greatest threat of the Trump era is the loss of what makes us human – our empathy, our individuality, our imagination.

The antithesis to freedom isn’t subjugation but surrender.

Oppressive governments can control what they take from you, but not your willingness to fight for it. They can never fully know you, and the unpredictability of human nature means no outcome is an inevitability, even in an aspiring autocracy. We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

Freedom of thought is a freedom that can never truly be taken, but you must guard it nonetheless. In an era of rampant dehumanization, it is more important than ever not to surrender in advance.


Sarah Kendzior is a writer, scholar, and author of the best-selling book, The View From Flyover Country, and the upcoming book Hiding in Plain Sight. Kendzior is also the host of Gaslit Nation, a weekly podcast which covers corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. Follow her on Twitter @SarahKendzior.

Source: Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

Former CIA profiler Jerrold Post on Donald Trump’s “dangerous charisma” | Salon.com

It is obvious even to the untrained eye that Donald Trump is mentally, emotionally and psychologically unwell. Trump has shown himself to be detached from empirical reality, vengeful, a compulsive liar and a probable sexual predator. He lacks empathy, care or concern for others, and possesses utter contempt for the rule of law, the Constitution and other restrictions on his behavior. In total — as leading mental health professionals have repeatedly warned — Trump’s behavior appears to be sociopathic.

For those and many other reasons, Trump merits impeachment and removal from office. But this state of emergency is also an opportunity for hostile foreign countries (especially Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer) — as well as America’s “friends” — to advance their own interests over those of the United States by manipulating a psychologically vulnerable president.

From OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Chauncey DeVega

Source: Former CIA profiler Jerrold Post on Donald Trump’s “dangerous charisma” | Salon.com

The Detention Camps at the Border Are a Crime – The Atlantic

“The initial rollout of the family-separation policy, and then its denial, showed the Trump administration that its campaign of dehumanization against Latino immigrants is weakest when it targets children. This is the reason for the secrecy behind the squalid conditions at immigrant-detention facilities holding minors, which contrasts sharply with the very public announcements of “millions of deportations” by the president himself.“They don’t want eyeballs on the actual conditions of these places,” said Amy Cohen, a doctor who consults on cases involving the 1993 Flores settlement, which continues to govern the conditions for children in immigration custody. “What they tell you is that they are protecting the privacy of these children. That makes no sense. What we need to be doing is protecting the lives of these children. And unfortunately, that does not seem to be a priority of the government.”The journalist Jonathan Katz argued in May that given the intent behind these facilities, and the conditions that migrants are being held in, they are best described as a concentration-camp system in the United States. That assessment was echoed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was promptly accused of trivializing the Holocaust. “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous,” Representative Liz Cheney wrote. Although Ocasio-Cortez did not mention the Holocaust, the association between the Shoah and concentration camps is strong, and attacking an opponent for hyperbole is easier than defending the torture of children—not that Cheney is at all opposed to torture.”

Source: The Detention Camps at the Border Are a Crime – The Atlantic

The Trump Administration to Congress: Drop Dead | The New Yorker

“In addition to refusing Congress’s demands for documents, Trump’s legal team is moving to prevent key witnesses from testifying at hearings, or to place strict limits on what they say, by looking to assert executive privilege retroactively over issues covered in the Mueller report. An appearance by by Robert Mueller himself, which had been rumored to be in the works for this week, didn’t take place. And it looks like Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, won’t be appearing next week, either. The Washington Post reported on Friday evening that “any hopes of . . . McGahn facing a congressional panel on Tuesday are slim, as the White House moves to block all current and former aides from cooperating with congressional inquiries.”

Source: The Trump Administration to Congress: Drop Dead | The New Yorker

Reasons for Impeachment, Beyond the Mueller Report – The Atlantic

“Even setting that aside, the Mueller report sets out substantial evidence that Trump criminally obstructed justice in at least some instances. The former Justice Department and FBI official Chuck Rosenberg has said that, in the absence of the Justice Department guidelines against the indictment of a sitting president, as a prosecutor, he would have brought an obstruction case against Trump. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates have made similar arguments. And while lawbreaking is not required for impeachment, it is notable both that all three serious efforts to impeach a president in U.S. history have involved allegations of legal violations and that two of those three instances—against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—concerned criminal behavior, specifically obstruction of justice.”

Source: Reasons for Impeachment, Beyond the Mueller Report – The Atlantic

The Coming Collapse [TruthDig]

The Coming Collapse

Chris Hedges, TruthDig
Mr. Fish / Truthdig

“The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age . . .

. . . “The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism.” . . .

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Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…