Rachel Lu suggests that Americans need to check our privilege, when it comes to fearing the end of our freedoms. She has a point, to an extent; we’re still doing better than most of the world by this measure. But she’s missing a major consideration. Consider:
Perhaps the most under-discussed source of disillusionment is the loss of the marriage fight. To many, this most recent chapter in our culture wars stands as a stunning lesson in the absolute futility of fighting fair. Neither millennia of human tradition, nor overwhelming popular numbers, nor reams of sociological evidence seemed to count for anything once the progressive elite had spoken. It was scarring and embittering. It’s unsurprising that a populist backlash would follow in its wake.
Despite all that, it’s still disconcerting to see conservatism bobbing crazily on such emotional seas. Liberals are more used to this, since they’re routinely dashing around like headless chickens, rallying to the flag of whatever interest group seems neediest at the moment. Conservatives are normally more grounded, preferring principle-based causes that conduce to fairness, order, and tradition.
Yes, we’re devotes of principle, fairness, order, and tradition, but that’s not just a matter of temperament. We value such things because we know that when they are breached, it’s only a matter of time until we sink.
I’ve found myself thinking periodically of Andrew Morse’s summaries of Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship on the now-defunct TechCentralStation. This is from an essay he published there in April 2004:
The record is clear. Since his election in 1998, Hugo Chavez has engaged in a methodical campaign to eliminate dissenting voices from Venezuelan politics. He has provided the world with a clinic on how to set up totalitarian rule. First, get control of one branch of government. Then, eliminate all opposition within the government by making all other branches subordinate to the one branch you control. Next, use the power of government to prevent any other segment of society from organizing. He has attacked the labor unions, the independent media, the church — any source of people organizing that is an alternative to the state.
One lesson of history is that such processes aren’t formulas, but guides. Where it is necessary to attack labor unions in Venezuela, it may be possible simply to co-opt them in the United States. The relevant point, here, is the time frame. Andrew was writing in 2004 about events starting in 1998. That’s an historical blink of an eye. Flash forward to the latest headlines in an online news search, and you see that the country has since descended into darkness and is maybe (maybe) beginning the painful process of emerging:
Neither Maduro nor his predecessor, the late President Hugo Chavez, had ever contended with a hostile audience for a speech to Congress, but foes of the administration took control of the institution last week for the first time in 17 years, carried to victory on a wave of economic turmoil.
I think we’re at a point in history at which the rule of law is off the rails, and it’s going to take a lot of shouting to get it on before most people have recognized the incident. (One oddity of Lu’s essay is that she seems to be telling conservatives to take the temperature down while using a body’s temperature as evidence that it’s fighting off the disease.)
The trends are in place to drag our country through the darkness of non-freedom. Even if we can hope that that period will be followed by an inevitable (if painful) renewal, our window is small to avoid the entire ordeal.
The reality is that one doesn’t scream and shout warnings when the train is lying along the hillside a smoking wreckage, but when there’s still a chance for some daring maneuver to set it back down on the tracks.