Perspectives: Authoritarianism, the new normal

OPINION –  Years ago, Joseph Sobran lampooned society’s tendency to hyper-focus on matters of  sensitivity at the expense of everything else when he jokingly predicted that in 2020:

A national controversy will erupt when a porn film star, during a live White House performance, utters an ethnic slur.

While our collective attention is being redirected to which special interest group is suffering from the greatest lack of validation, we’re overlooking a number of serious developments that will affect all of us.

In light of many of these current trends, one can’t help but wonder where we’ll be in another 20 years.

The America that most of us grew up in is already almost unrecognizable. “Land of the free” is a nostalgic slogan compared to what we’ve become.

For instance, last week a much-hyped snow storm hit parts of New England. Authorities in New York City ordered a “lockdown” order and threatened to arrest ordinary citizens who attempted to travel. Of course, the sanctified personages who hold public office or work for government were excepted from this ban.

Despite the shrill insistence of modern Tories that official overreaction is motivated strictly out of concern for our “safety”, we should approach all authoritarian edicts with caution. It is our duty as free individuals to question anyone demanding our conformity.

Locking down an entire city and instructing residents to remain inside–or else–calls to mind the ridiculous overkill of the manhunt for a single suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing two years ago. Innocent people, who clearly were not the bombing suspect, were still accosted at gunpoint and frog-marched out of their homes by police.

Or when Aurora, Colorado police stopped dozens of motorists in traffic and then threatened all of them at gunpoint while searching for two alleged bank robbers. Men, women, and even children had no choice but to comply and no legal recourse for what was done to them.

The violation of innocent peoples’ rights was bad enough, but there is an even larger danger that accompanies such actions. When questionable actions like these are tolerated, they will eventually become accepted and normal in American society.

Welcome to the new normal.

Isolated incidents of authoritarianism tend to accrue into standard operating procedures while creeping into other areas of our lives.

Locking down an entire city may be an unusual event for now, but it’s a daily fact of life for millions of American schoolchildren.

There were prolonged howls of outrage last year when I compared a few of the commonalities between prisons and schools. Nonetheless, strict punishment of even minor infractions under “zero tolerance” guidelines, school-wide lockdown drills, surveillance cameras, random searches, active shooter drills, drug-sniffing dogs, and a highly visible police presence remain the norm in American schools.

Children are being placed in handcuffs, in confinement, tasered, and otherwise restrained to bring them “under control” in a school setting.

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute explains how this lays the foundation for future problems:

How do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

We are rapidly approaching the point where the only freedoms we are still allowed to exercise are more or less by default. But with the growing surveillance state’s ability to monitor our every electronic communication, our finances, our travel patterns, and even our healthcare, our remaining freedom is shrinking.

A large number of good Americans have been successfully conditioned not just to be submissive and deferential to government authority but to actively worship it. The deeds of anyone who wears a uniform in official government service cannot be questioned.

To be in the uniformed service of the state is to be a hero. To question what is being done by anyone in uniform is unpatriotic, ungrateful; dare we say–un-American. We’re not the first civilized people to be conned into authoritarianism.

The parallels between us and 1930s Germany are getting harder to deny. Milton Mayer’s book “They Thought They Were Free – The Germans 1933-1945” explains why.

So what are we to do?

The hardest battle to be won at this moment is a mental one. It begins with the recognition that proper government is instituted to protect our rights not to manipulate our lives.

The crisis we face is the same in principle as the one faced by our nation’s founders. We possess the same moral truth that they did.

We just need their uncompromising will to stand for it.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • sagemoon February 2, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Right on, Bryan, right on.

  • anybody home February 2, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Bryan, the problem I have with your writing is that you cherry-pick what you include from other references to bolster your point so what you write is not always as truthful and well-supported as you’d like the rest of us to believe.

    You do what so many inflammatory speakers and writers do – you present half-truths and leave out the rest of the story and then build your shaky case on those half-truths. I don’t have time to rebut this whole piece, but I did check out the matter of the Boston lockdown after the Marathon bombing. I checked it out using the very reference you included in this article. And I found that you did NOT include the rest of the story (no surprise). You make it sound as if Bostonians were trembling inside with armed police terrorizing their neighborhoods.

    Here are some quotes directly from that story, information you chose not to include:

    “Now, technically the lockdown was not “martial law” as some people are calling it. The governor issued what’s called a “shelter-in-place” directive.”

    “From Time: ‘The lockdown is really voluntary, to be honest with you,’ says Scott Silliman, emeritus director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke Law School.”

    “This is a request that the public stay inside and they are adhering to it. There has been no law mentioned or any idea that if you went outside you’d be arrested.”

    “The perception that Bostonians are inside trembling in fear is all wrong. Many of us are inside because there is nowhere to go. This is Boston. Not in a million years would one suspect on the loose keep this entire city inside.”

    “So far I count the S&S in Inman Square as open, another coffee shop, and of course the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square, whose manager told me was doing a brisk, ordinary business all day. People are out with their kids and enjoying the day off. Of course the talk is all of the crime and the latest updates. But it is a lie to say we are all holed up inside.”

    And that’s the problem, Bryan. It is a lie.

    Yes, the videos included in the article do show citizens being asked to leave their homes as part of the search. The officers are in no way threatening them, although they do have their weapons ready should they be needed. When looking for a murderer, officers usually do have their weapons ready. They’re not in the “happy Mr. Policeman walking the beat” mode with a murderer on the loose.

    As for the article you referenced about cars stopped in Colorado when a search was on for suspects, I’ve experienced that personally. My husband and I were just outside Aspen, Colorado, the day the serial killer, Ted Bundy, escaped from the Aspen jail. We, along with everybody else on the highway, were stopped at the roadblock that had been set up. The officers had guns pointed at us. Our car was searched and we were questioned. Unlike those who think their rights have been violated in such cases, we did not feel threatened and we were happy to participate if it meant Bundy might be captured.

    I defend your right to your opinions, Bryan, but I decry your willingness to inflame the public with half-truths.

    • BIG GUY February 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      ANYBODY HOME and I have our differences but she’s right on in her comments above.

      In another example of overstatement, Bryan says, “The deeds of anyone who wears a uniform in official government service cannot be questioned.” He apparently missed the massive nationwide protests last fall when police officers killed young men in Ferguson, MO, and New York City who were resisting arrest.

      • anybody home February 2, 2015 at 2:39 pm

        Big Guy, agreeing to disagree on some matters elevates our conversation, in my view. Nice talking with you…!

    • Free Parkimg February 2, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Shut up up already blah blah blah yada yada yada this and that and blah blah blah blah blah

    • ibbarkingmad February 2, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      @ANYBODY HOME, I feel like you and BIG GUY missed the point of the article. Rather than nit picking over how a thing is written, the question should be asked of whether the theme of authoritarianism is being followed or not. Please feel free to write an opinion piece and have it published. I am sure many will resort to personal attacks on one’s ability to write. This is not news. This is opinion.
      With regards to that data you cite, there are people who were not happy with the lockdown. In fact, I am friends with several residents of Boston who witneassed the abuses Bryan mentioned.
      Finally, you may be okay with a gun being pointed at you for no reason, but that doesn’t mean anyone else it. “The greater good” is the same way Adolf Hitler came to power legally. It is documented human psychology that people go along and get along when someone in authority says something. The very reason this nation was founded was because certain people “inflamed the public” by speaking inconvenient truths. Those people are who we refer to as our Founding Fathers. Like Bryan, they were men, therefore prone to error. Also like Bryan, they were willing to point out hard truths that many would struggle to understand.

      • anybody home February 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

        Barking? Really? You’re barking? Would love to see that.

    • Bryan Hyde February 2, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      Sorry, Molly. Just because you’ve inferred something does not equate with your claim that I’ve lied. Innocent people were pulled from their homes against their will in Boston.

      I previously wrote about that incident in more detail here as to why this was wrong:

      Are you sure you’re still seeing the bigger picture? Or are you picking and choosing your own details to strain at?

      As for the Aurora Colorado incident, unless you were taken from your car at gunpoint and handcuffed, you did not have the same experience. The photo of the young boy staring down the barrel of a policeman’s shotgun was very disturbing.

      I appreciate that you follow and comment on each column I post. I’m grateful that you care enough to respond.

      • anybody home February 2, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        As I said, Bryan, I’ll defend your right to your opinion. I also defend my right to disagree. And I do believe that a half-truth is a lie. If your opinions and beliefs are strong enough, just state them without resorting to all the other “experts” for support. I’ll bet you have plenty of your own ideas and they’re weakened when others like Big Guy and myself are close readers who see the fallacies of the arguments. You’re smart and you can do better.

        • mmmbacon February 2, 2015 at 7:45 pm

          Some people in this world, that I have encountered, live to argue. That’s what they thrive on. In general, they are not very happy, always find the bad in things, etc. In my experience, it’s better to avoid them when found. That’s all. Just my little opinion.

          • anybody home February 3, 2015 at 9:25 am

            Some people just have well-tuned crap detectors that are able to tell BS from Shinola and speak up when they do.

        • Bryan Hyde February 3, 2015 at 4:25 pm

          Just so we’re clear that it is purely your opinion that my claim of innocent people being wrongly forced from their homes in Boston is a “half-truth”. When you say “it appears that you’re saying” you are inferring something that is not actually written there. As for my giving attribution, it is the proper way to share ideas that I’m not trying to falsely pass off as my own. As a writer you should know this. I’m more than happy to learn from constructive criticism. Show me the fallacies you claim are present and I’ll consider your input. Fair enough?

  • Free Parkimg February 2, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    anybody home LOL half way through your whining I was snoring from boredom from your comment. Yawwwwwnnnnn

    • anybody home February 2, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Yeah, Freep, we get your point. Read any good books lately?

      • Free Parkimg February 2, 2015 at 11:32 pm

        Yeah the one about people like you it was about brain dead Zombies

  • LunchboxHero February 3, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Ugh, here we go again. Perspectives Guy starts to make a point that I could actually get behind, like “The America that most of us grew up in is already almost unrecognizable…” (which in some respects, it is!) and then goes on to support said point by using this ridiculous example of a city’s storm preparedness. Perspectives Guy, do you not even remember Hurricane Katrina? And do you not realize how many lives could have been saved if Mayor Nagin would have taken a more forceful stance in evacuating the city’s residents? Instead, he just left all to fend for themselves instead of preemptively executing a plan that he KNEW was for the betterment of the citizens. And well, we all know what happened next. I have many, many friends and colleagues in these winter storm affected areas this year, and they are unanimously grateful that their cities are proactive in taking a “safety first” stance. Of course, these are rational, level headed citizens with common sense that we’re talking about, so of course they’d feel that way.

    (“Anybody Home”, you made some really, really good points. Thank you.)

    • sagemoon February 3, 2015 at 8:52 am

      Are people not accountable for taking responsibility of themselves? Do we really want the government to “take care” of us? I don’t need a politician or law enforcement officer to tell me to leave my home if a storm is coming or barricade myself if a dangerous person is on the loose. Give me the information and let me make my own decision, please.

      • LunchboxHero February 3, 2015 at 11:23 am

        I am of the mindset that people should absolutely be accountable, but the mayor refrained from making decisions that could have saved lives. He had buses and other transport methods at his disposal to get the elderly, disabled, and people with no other transportation means to a safer area, but he just let everybody wing it. Sometimes it IS up to your government to stress the danger of a situation and set some strict guidelines, b/c they sometimes have access to information that the public does not. As a result, we were left with a multi-million dollar reactionary rescue effort, which put the lives of even MORE people in danger in the days that followed. Nagin’s lack of action (and this “Perspectives” article – as usual) defies common sense. Kudos to NYC for having the presence of mind and common sense to order the lockdown.

      • anybody home February 3, 2015 at 11:57 am

        I’m curious and this is a serious question – can you give a specific example here of a time when you personally felt the government was infringing on your freedom? Not generalities, a specific example that we can try to understand. Time, place, circumstances. It would be helpful to have this information as we try to sort out the questions of “nanny state” and the government’s role in our lives.

        • LunchboxHero February 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm

          Hmmm, good question. I cannot. I’ve been pulled over 3 times in the last 20 years for minor speed limit violations, but was always treated well. (And yes, was ticketed one time! 🙂 Shame on me.) I’m pretty law abiding and employ common sense (there’s that pesky term again) in my daily life, so I myself haven’t experienced this supposed infringement, and everyone in my life has been the same way. We just contribute to society/community, don’t go looking for trouble, and waste no time coming up with imaginary conspiracy theories. How about you?

        • anybody home February 3, 2015 at 1:25 pm

          My question was intended for Sage Moon…

          • LunchboxHero February 3, 2015 at 2:27 pm

            I know, but it was an interesting question, and I’m nosy and wanted to butt in anyway. Haha!

          • anybody home February 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm

            Laughing…My experience is about the same as yours, LBH. I do hear about people who break the law and then get mad when the law catches up with them… Yes, common sense is such a pesky term!

        • sagemoon February 4, 2015 at 10:17 am

          I’ve been thinking about your question for the past day. I can not think of a personal example to share with you. I am a pro-social, law abiding person and have never had issues with the law or government as an authority figure. I do, however, resent how the government makes requirements of its citizens that are not always in a person’s best interest. Examples include selective service, education, insurance, drug laws, taxes, and property rights. Not all of these examples apply to me so why am I worried? I worry about ANYONE making decisions for me. I don’t want to be a slave to the government, my spouse, my employer, or anyone else. I am proud to use my own intelligence to solve problems. Taxes are one thing that really irritates me. In my perfect, fantasy world, I would decide where my tax money was put. I don’t have kids so I would rather see my money go to higher education than public schools. I want to determine if the road in question really needs the work. I want to be able to choose who I give charity to. I donate to animal programs because they are not tax supported unlike food stamps. I would be happy to donate to feeding my fellow man but my tax dollars already do it for me. If I had a choice, I would choose to keep that money in my community and not spread it out across the state or nation. If a nuclear warhead is headed my way, I would rather decide my own fate than allow the mayor/governor/president to do so for me. What satisfaction do we get from life if we are unable to make our own choices? I won’t get any.

    • anybody home February 3, 2015 at 9:14 am

      LBH, you’re very welcome…thanks…

  • Roy J February 4, 2015 at 10:52 am

    After reading the Rutherford Institute article, I am inclined to agree with ANYBODY HOME on this one. John Whitehead’s conclusion as stated does not follow from the examples that he gives in his article: they are nearly all cases involving children with mental disorders or special needs. The school incident statistics that he gives are not linked to the reports he draws them from and are therefore suspect. it is as if I were to go around to every “troubled” youth home in the St George area that calls itself a school to collect my reports, but then published them in an article as public school practices in Saint George, Utah. Anybody who has worked in such a place, or worked with special needs or mental disorders will readily admit the difference, though they may very loudly and rightly also denounce the practices.

    • Roy J February 4, 2015 at 11:55 am

      And yes, I did read the Propublica report, and also the link to the actual amendments proposed and/or implemented by the Massachusetts Board of Education and Secondary Education, December 2014, that was linked to it. These rules spell out in no uncertain terms when restraint may be used and what programs may use it.

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