From Racism to Political Suppression

A critical new but entirely predictable stage in the evolution of the U.S. political system is now occurring: having gotten away with blatantly hostile political moves toward Muslims and Mexicans, authoritarians are now trying to pass new laws in several states designed to suppress political protests. The naive belief that we can have a government that represses groups who differ from “us” but treats “us” with respect must be abandoned by mainstream, moderate Americans, or our way of life will end.

Either politicians work for the people, or people work for the politicians.

Nothing is new in this process: authoritarian politicians get control, then legislate outrageous penalties for nonviolent but embarrassing expressions of dissent in order to keep politics in the backroom. They get away with it by blaming everything on a minority (“the Jews,” for Hitler; “the Kurds,” for Erdogan; or “the Mexicans” or “the Muslims” or “commie-pinko Harvard professors” or “college kids”) and suddenly you get jailed for vague charges of “insulting the glorious leader” or “causing a commotion, and free speech is but a distant memory.

In Indiana, a bill would allow state officials to clear a road blocked by protesters using “any means necessary”. In Washington, a bill called the Preventing Economic Terrorism Act creates a new crime for protesters who “cause an economic disruption”, with a mandatory 60-day sentence. In North Dakota, the site of protests over the Dakota Access pipeline, a new bill would protect drivers who inadvertently hit protesters blocking the road. And in Iowa, a proposed bill would create five-year prison sentences for protesters who block highways. [The Guardian.]

Concerning the harsh Iowa bill,

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowa already has strong laws in place to address people blocking the state and interstate highway system. He suggested the enhanced punishment is a reaction to anti-Trump protesters. [Des Moine Register.]

A bill in North Dakota–where the governor, sheriff, and pipeline corporation officials who mistreated Sioux protesters last fall remain free–goes far beyond “just” attacking the First Amendment rights and effectively (by the vagueness of its writing) legalizes murder:

02.2. Liability exemption for motor vehicle driver.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages.

If it is OK for me “negligently” to drive through a crowd of protesters, then how long will it be before I have the legal right “negligently” to allow my firearm to go off in the face of a speaker with whom I disagree? These bills are not written vaguely because the authoritarian politicians who write them are incompetent; they are written vaguely to enable hostile officials to repress dissent.

It has over the last six months, become increasingly clear that a movement in this country desiring to fight the Civil War all over is gaining political prominence; these bills do not specifically address racial issues, however, but issues of free speech and thus target all Americans. They thus call into question, after more than two centuries, fundamental issues of political philosophy thought settled by the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.


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