Anti-democratic pageantFor days now, American TV has been wall-to-wall tributes to the old actor who fronted for the great attack on American democratic principles that continues under the reign of the present usurper, GWB. Reagan was the man who, with a smile, vowed openly to take government away from the people and give it to the corporations. He was quite open about that, and he called it "freedom" -- using the word to mean exactly the opposite of what it meant in the Declaration of Independence. To Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries, "freedom" meant enlarging the opportunities for citizens to "pursue happiness," and their government's job was to help them do that. To Reagan and his crowd, "freedom" meant enlarging the opportunities for corporations to pursue dollars, regardless of their effects on citizen's health, living standards or feelings of solidarity. Reagan allowed his minions to arrange financing for terrorists in Nicaragua, and called them "freedom fighters." He also backed that other group of terrorists in Afghanistan who morphed (it was an easy transition) into al-Qaeda and kindred groups.
What worries me is that so many Americans would mistake this man, Reagan, for a friend, when his actions were designed to make ordinary citizens like you and me ever less powerful in the face of the monied interests. This is not a new problem: shortly after World War II, Erich Fromm wrote Escape from Freedom, to understand why Germans, having had a chance at democratic government in the 1920s, supported a charismatic orator who wanted to turn them all into obedient robots. Those human robots were to serve German greatness, which meant wars of conquest and expanding industrial output.
G. W. Bush is a much less convincing actor than Reagan (and possibly even less intelligent -- and Reagan was one of the dumbest presidents on record). And W. is no orator at all. The American escape from freedom won't replicate the German experience of the last century, at least not in its details -- racism is not likely to have mass appeal here, and even where it does, the racists can't agree on whom to hate. But the readiness to have somebody else make our decisions for us, as long as that somebody guarantees us creature comforts, is still a lot like what Fromm described.
It may be time to renew Thomas Jefferson's call:
What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.For a summary of Erich Fromm's argument, see essay by Dr. C. George Boeree. Other things you might want to read: Planet Reagan , by William Rivers Pitt; Frank Rich's column in tomorrow's (Sunday's) New York Times (not yet on the web)
[Here is the complete letter to William Smith, dated Paris, November 13, 1787.