Many of those who live in countries ruled by dictatorships―fascist, communist, inherited monarchy―are unaffected by the fact of the dictatorship. They are those who are members―by birth or achievement―of groups the government favors. The government gets to decide who it favors, and if one is a member of a favored group, life may feel like it is free, as long as one ignores that one’s neighbors are not free or, worse, are vanishing.
If one is a member of a preferred population, life under fascism will carry on and look much like a normal life. After all, many people in Nazi Germany fell in love and out of love and bought groceries and learned how to drive. They wrote poetry and crammed for exams and got hired and fired. Many people in Nazi Germany, though, they did not.
I receive communications every so often from individuals in Saudi Arabia who are in favor of their government and their government’s insistence that it can and will rule over which form of a specific faith one is allowed to personally believe. These individuals are in favor of their government’s decrees of flogging other individuals, usually writers and thinkers, who have been convicted of blasphemy (insulting the official state religion) or apostasy (not believing in the proper faith). I have not yet received communications from individuals in Saudi Arabia who are supporters of Raif Badawi and Ashraf Fayadh, two writers in that country who face flogging (Raif has actually been flogged once) for writing and publishing their thoughts. (I mention these two writers because I have written and published approximately fifty articles about the two and their supporters.)
If one’s speech is limited to the language the government allows one to use, one’s speech will always feel free for the speaker. It feels just like freedom, but it isn’t at all.
The incoming U.S. administration, which will open for business tomorrow at 12:01 p.m. EST, is proud that it is not conducting business as usual. The incoming administration won on a campaign of rhetorical violence against many groups, among them three that I am proud to be a member of: I am disabled, I am Jewish, and I am a journalist. (Some days during the campaign, I idly wondered which of those three categories would earn me the greatest difficulty if I had I attended a Trump rally. Reporter, probably.) Being a member of those three groups heightened my sensitivity to the rhetoric deployed against others, like: people of color; Muslim people, both by specific name and as a group; LGBTQ individuals; anyone who did not agree 100% with Mr. Trump (I think of Mr. Romney groveling for favor and not receiving it after the election); and poor people for not being among life’s “winners.”
If one is one of life’s winners by the incoming administration’s standards, the rhetoric did not sound ominous or threatening. It was “just words.” I have been told by supporters of the incoming administration that I personally have nothing to worry about. The person did not pat me on top of the head, but a pat on the head would have made the point: I’m being silly. Mr. Trump did not make fun of disabled people, I have been told, he made fun of a reporter who happens to be disabled. The finer points of Mr. Trump’s impression have remained a secret to me, as I became too distracted by the chants at his rallies, conducted while he was on stage, against reporters and also against Jews.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is that of a person who believes in eugenics. He is surrounding himself with those who share this belief. Mr. Pence may be more polite than Mr. Trump, but that is all that he is: politely against freedom. There are “genetic winners” and genetic losers in the world, according to the practical philosophy of life that Mr. Trump has shared with the world whenever he has been asked, and he believes himself to be one of life’s winners. This pseudoscience, when applied as policy in the hands of a neo-fascist government, will lead to untold horror. It always has in the past. Why would it not now?
In December, Tina Dupuy wrote, “Whoever says they know what Trump will do, is wishful. Whoever tells you it’s going to be fine, is wrong. Whoever tells you it’s going to be bad, doesn’t know how bad. […] Remember: History tells us a peaceful transfer of power does NOT start with a promise of rounding undesirables up. Ever.”
His followers are those who can as of yet be counted among life’s winners, or who simply believe themselves to be among life’s winners. They can embrace the freedom that protects them from embracing life’s losers.
Bills are being considered and passed into laws right now around the country to protect life’s winners from any offenses committed by any of life’s losers, as if the laws we live under simply are not enough to protect life’s winners. (And if they are life’s winners already, why do they need protection?)
Here is a good one: In North Dakota, Republicans introduced a bill last week that “would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally.” “Stand your ground” morphs into “drive your ground.”
In the third chapter of the book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, “Whence Comes the Power?,” the scholar of civil resistance Gene Sharp writes that rulers depend on the ruled:
[Rulers] require the assistance of the people they rule, without which they cannot secure and maintain the sources of political power. These sources of political power include:
• Authority, the belief among the people that the regime is legitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
• Human resources, the number and importance of the persons and groups which are obeying, cooperating, or providing assistance to the rulers;
• Skills and knowledge, needed by the regime to perform specific actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and groups;
• Intangible factors, psychological and ideological factors that may induce people to obey and assist the rulers;
• Material resources, the degree to which the rulers control or have access to property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, and means of communication and transportation; and
• Sanctions, punishments, threatened or applied, against the disobedient and noncooperative to ensure the submission and cooperation that are needed for the regime to exist and carry out its policies.
All of these sources, however, depend on acceptance of the regime, on the submission and obedience of the population, and on the cooperation of innumerable people and the many institutions of the society.
Are we there yet? When will we know?
Mr. Sharp, whose books are available for free download from his organization, the Albert Einstein Institution, also shares in that chapter a parable, the “Monkey Master Fable.”
In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).
Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.
One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”
Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.
On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the
stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.
Yu-li-zi [who is credited with writing the tale] says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”
We need all the “small monkeys” we can muster. The supporters of the incoming administration are revving their engines, after all.
* * * *
Less than two weeks in, and it seems we have an answer.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for February 1, 2017, asks us to reflect on the word, “Resist.”
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