I’ve fallen behind on my newsreading. Probably because I’ve had my nose buried in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, which so eerily parallels the present (except for a few minor details, like Bush not having his own personal Army) that I slip into thinking that I am reading the news.
And when I close the book, I attempt to comfort myself with the very words in the title. But I come home to news that it may be already happening here, quietly, as it is in Ohio where it will soon be illegal to challenge federal elections.
House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic party. The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic revival. Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.
HB3’s most publicized provision will require positive identification before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over.
The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures around the U.S., starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in particular have provoked widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New York Times. The Times, among others, argues that the ID requirements and the costs associated with them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll tax.
They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water,
it will leap out right away to escape the danger.
But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant,
and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling,
the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.
The frog’s survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes.
On the train this evening I read a passage in Sinclair’s prescient novel that probably has more bearing on the present than anyone — myself included — is comfortable acknowledging, given the inherent complicity involved. The protagonist, a newspaper editor jailed for writing/printing an editorial critical of the popular president and his new regime, reflects on his part — and that of others like him — in bringing or letting the country slide along its course to that particular pass.
“The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work. It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup! Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jessups who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.
“A few months ago I thought the slaughter of the Civil War, and the agitation of the violent Abolitionists who helped bring it on, were evil. But possibly they had to be violent, because easy-going citizens like me couldn’t be stirred up otherwise. If our grandfathers had had the alertness and courage to see the evils of slavery and of a government conducted by gentlemen for gentlemen only, there wouldn’t have been any need of agitators and war and blood.
“It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt ourselves superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’ who brought on the Civil War, the French Revolution, and now the Fascist Dictatorship. It’s I who murdered Rabbi de Verez. It’s I who persecuted the Jews and the Negroes. I can blame no Aras Dilley, no Shad Ledue, no Buzz Windrip, but only my own timid soul and drowsy mind. Forgive, O Lord!
“Is it too late?”
Sure, we’re not at the point where a newspaper editor is dragged off to jail by the president’s private troops for daring to criticise the “chief,” and sees a member of his family executed in the bargain. But we are at the point where a newspaper columnist like Dan Froomkin find himself in a bit of trouble after continuously criticizing the White House, and we will soon reach the point in some states where one does risk being dragged off to jail for challenging the results of a presidential election.
And the Patriot Act nears permanence.
Meanwhile, intelligent educated bloggers are shocked, shocked to learn of the possibility of secret laws and secret courts in America or that the Petagon may be monitoring Americans who oppose the Bush administration’s policies re: Iraq.
So, how many Doremus Jessup’s are watching all this happen? Plenty, myself included. So, how hot is the water now? Is it too late to jump out?