America has changed in many ways since the fateful events of September 11, 2001. Two wars have been fought, Afghanistan and Iraq, while passage of the Patriot Act and a massive buildup in the intelligence community have forever altered this land. While some feel that these changes have made us safer, there is another view that should give us all pause. In her book, The End of America: A Citizen’s Call to Action, Naomi Wolf lays out ten warning signs that indicate America is moving away from the foundation of liberty as defined by our Founding Fathers.
The big picture reveals that ten classic pressures – pressures that have been used in various times and places in the past to close down pluralistic societies – were set in motion by the Bush administration to close down our own open society.
At the core of her argument is the notion that we feel separate from the events that have shaped other countries throughout recent history, especially the events that unfolded in Germany, Italy and Russia in the 20th century; it can’t happen here.
Naomi also contends that we have gradually relinquished our personal responsibility to protect the freedom and liberties that this country was founded on by subcontracting our patriotic duties to others.
Instead of our personal engagement, we hired lawyers, scholars, activists and politicians to protect our rights.
It’s no secret that our government engaged in torture and kidnapping while creating secret prisons and subverting the sacred rule of law, but have we turned a corner with regards to our own democracy?
“There are ten steps that are taken in order to close down a democracy or crush a prodemocratic movement, whether by capitalists, communists, or right-wing fascists. These ten steps, together, are more than the sum of their parts. Once all ten have been put in place, each magnifies the power of the others and of the whole.”
My first reaction to this hypothesis was disbelief, but having finished the book, Naomi does make a strong case that we’ve damaged the very infrastructure that brought forth the world’s leading democracy, and I would encourage you all to read the text for yourself and think about the ways in which this country has changed in the past decade. There is a chapter devoted to each of the ten steps mentioned:
- Invoke an External and Internal Threat
- Establish Secret Prisons
- Develop a Paramilitary Force
- Surveil Ordinary Citizens
- Infiltrate Citizens’ Groups
- Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens
- Target Key Individuals
- Restrict the Press
- Cast Criticism as “Espionage” and Dissent as “Treason”
- Subvert the Rule of Law
Naomi provides detailed examples for each of the ten steps on this list, and some of the comparisons to past totalitarian regimes are truly chilling to read. While it still seems far-fetched that America would, even under dire circumstances, abandon our democracy, it’s quite clear that the past ten years have opened up that possibility.
What are your thoughts in regard to protecting our personal rights and liberties vs. the desire to protect us from harm? Is it a valid trade-off to give up aspects of the freedoms we were guaranteed in the Constitution in order to defend America from those who seek to destroy us? Are you engaged in protecting our democracy?
“We have been slow to learn that liberty, like nature, demands a relationship with us for it to continue to sustain us.”