Rise of the Authoritarians

It’s been a while since I last posted.  Funny how politics seems less important when a major life event like marriage is on the near horizon.  Still, and despite the fact that there are still many hours of preparation to go before my wedding, it seems appropriate to comment on the eve of our Independence Day.

Not so long ago the world thought it was bearing witness to the birth of democracies all over the Muslim world.  Authoritarian regimes that had held power for decades or longer were toppling at what seemed an ever accelerating rate.  A triumph for the power of the human spirit.  I was nearly brought to tears as I watched people from Tunisia to Yemen overthrow their dictators and exercise democracy for the first time.  They had marched and bled and won their right to be heard.

And yet now much of that progress has been erased.  Egypt seems consumed in a cesspool of unfilled and broken promises.  Syria has quite literally become a hell on Earth.  Democracy has persisted elsewhere but remains unsupported by basic democratic institutions like an independent judiciary and a free press.

Other democracies have retreated from representative government.  Turkey has jailed numerous reporters, stocked judiciary benches and violently put down otherwise peaceful protest demonstrations.  Other countries on the Eastern periphery of Europe have had similarly disturbing developments.  Iran remains a basket-case thanks to religious gerry-rigging, despite overwhelming support for reform.

China, and to a lesser extent Russia, remain primary supporters of such repression.  China is in fact the chief incubator of repression techniques and is now exporting those techniques across the globe.  Russia continues to supply Syria with both diplomatic cover and munitions.

Perhaps the most disturbing is the selective use of such techniques in the United States.  The first step in any repression apparatus is information gathering.  Given the revelations from the Snowden saga I’d say it’s safe to call the United States’ monitoring system one of the most advanced in the world (possibly and only second to China).  The second step is control of major media outlets.  Again given the Snowden saga I’d say we’re in the middle of this step.  An American administration pulling journalist records from the Associated Press without notice is unprecedented.  According to the Associated Press, the publication of this event has had a “chilling effort” on sources.  Go figure.  Installing government workers throughout our information infrastructure companies to maintain monitoring equipment is eerily familiar in China, where Communist Party officers must be hired by companies where they are tasked with keeping company objectives in-line with Communist Party directives.  Thankfully the third step, physical repression and locking up of dissenters, hasn’t happened yet.

What I find most disturbing about all of this is the responses I get from my liberal-minded friends.  “We need to do it to catch terrorists.  Government can be trusted to handle this sort of thing responsibly.  Go look up the protocols they’re using – it’s no big deal.”  Maybe.  But I remember when Bush instituted some of these things and my same liberal friends were calling for our then President’s head on a spike.  Similarly many of my conservative friends are now calling for Obama’s head when they defended Bush’s use of the same or near-same techniques.

This really illustrates the biggest problem with America’s current political system.  First loyalty should be and always must be to the United States and the principles upon which it is founded.  Unfortunately friends of inconsistent principle are demonstrating a first loyalty to political party.  That is untenable and un-American.   The vitriol lobbed from both sides is beyond reproach.

So, from my little corner of the world, I call on all of you to take a moment this 4th of July to reflect on your core values.  What do you stand for?  What are you willing to sacrifice?  Do you have the strength of heart to stand up as our brothers and sisters from across the Muslim world have done?  Do you have the courage to call your adversary your fellow American?

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