Thursday, January 12, 2017

Looks like life

I’m against the practice that developed in the last decade or so of TVs in restaurants. The constantly moving image is distracting, pulling my eye away from the person I’m with (when I’m by myself I’m pretty good at keeping my eyes on my book). I was in one of those restaurants yesterday with my friend and debate partner and there was a TV directly behind his head – and I’m now convinced the camera work of whatever show was on was designed to attract the eye with its flashing change of scene.

I’m done with that rant. It was just a way of introducing another topic…

The nasty guy’s first press conference since July was on a TV in that restaurant on a screen off to the side. In that position we were both able to ignore it. Conversation with my friend was *much* more interesting.

Melissa McEwen, editor-in-chief of Shareblue watched it, so I didn’t have to. But what she saw was alarming. The nasty guy at first seemed rattled about being in front of all these reporters. But when a reporter looked like he was about to ask a question the nasty guy didn’t want to answer he insulted the reporter and the company he represents. And the nasty guy realized he could be his usual belligerent and bullying self.
Trump’s entire press conference was a brazen statement of rejection of ethical recommendations, combined with evasion of concerns regarding his disloyalty and a continued campaign of hostility and intimidation toward the press.

Those are not features of the leader of a free democracy. They are the behaviors of despots.

Trump’s changing demeanor during the press conference, from nervous to belligerent, is very concerning. As he managed to bully through questions and exhibited stunningly troubling behavior without consequence, his back stiffened with empowerment.

This was a turning point. A very alarming one.

Fannie Wolfe of Shakesville wonders if we would recognize the onset of authoritarianism. By “we” she means those who are not already oppressed and subject to violence in our society. In other words, the white men who were core voters for the nasty guy. Wolfe notes that the rest of us are told we need to empathize and understand these white men. But the white men are not being pressured to understand and empathize with us – women, LGBT people, immigrants, people of color, etc.

But back to the question. Tom Pepinsky, professor of Government at Cornell University, answered that question for Wolfe. Many of us have watched too many movies of events leading up to WWII. We think of authoritarianism and imagine jackbooted thugs. But life under authoritarian rule looks a lot like … life.
Everyday life in the modern authoritarian regime is, in this sense, boring and tolerable. It is not outrageous. Most critics, even vocal ones, are not going to be murdered like Anna Politkovskaya, they are going to be frustrated. Most not-very-vocal critics will live their lives completely unmolested by the security forces. They will enjoy it when the trains run on time, blame the government when they do not, gripe at their taxes, and save for vacation. Elections, when they happen, will serve the “anesthetic function” ... Life under authoritarian rule in such situations looks a lot like life in a democracy.
But will people accept authoritarian rule?
The premise upon which this question is based is that authoritarianism is intolerable generally.
Most of the time we’re thinking about daily life and if most things happen as they should – trains run on time, highways are patched, water is drinkable – we’re good.

If authoritarian life looks so much like life in a democracy how do we tell? We usually learn we’re not in a democracy
not because The Government Is Taking Away Your Rights, or passing laws that you oppose, or because there is a coup or a quisling. You know that you are no longer living in a democracy because the elections in which you are participating no longer can yield political change.

It is more likely that democracy ends, with a whimper, when the case for supporting it—the case, that is, for everyday democracy—is no longer compelling."
Democracy is no longer compelling? I wrote about that back in August 2009 as the Tea Party was gaining steam.

Commenters of Pepinsky’s post provide more insight.

Democracy may not be compelling if under authoritarian rule you have a job, plenty to eat, and a comfortable social life (see Singapore) while under democracy those things were kept from you.

There are those of us who haven’t enjoyed democracy. Been to Brightmoor in Detroit? Heard of the war on drugs (and understand who that has been a war against)? What about Stop and Frisk? Notice who was not prosecuted for causing the Great Recession? Did you lose your house?

If you’re white and not poor you don’t have to notice those things. It won’t look like an authoritarian state if you’re not the one being stepped on.

As for elections no longer yielding political change… Many corporations donate to Democrats as much as they do to Republicans. Would some of our big issues, such as poverty and a lack of opportunity in rural areas decimated by WalMart and factories gone to China, be much different under Democrats?

As for what the current GOP is doing (usually in the middle of the night) in working to get rid of of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – yes I think people will notice that. And for many life will be much harder. Which brings us back to whether the next election will bring politcal change.

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