February 8, 2017
As “1984” pegs the top of the best seller list, and pronouncements from the top of the government sound more and more like dystopian fiction, I’m reminded of a story my father, a veteran, and an attorney, used to tell about the Nuremberg Trials.
When people like Adolph Eichmann were brought to the courtroom, the most disconcerting, indeed, terrifying common reaction, over and over – was that these people were not the snarling, drooling, monstrous lunatics that a propagandist might wish for, but rather, small, quiet, unassuming men.
Rather like the rest of us.
You might want to put the movies above, and below, on your watch list, after you’re done reviewing Orwell, Huxley, and Atwood.
Chris Edelson in the Baltimore Sun:
When we worry and wonder about authoritarian regimes that inflict cruelty on civilians, we often imagine tyrannical despots unilaterally advancing their sinister agendas. But no would-be autocrat can act alone. As a practical matter, he needs subordinates willing to carry out orders. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend pursuant to the administration’s executive order on immigration, visitation and travel to the United States. They relied on assistance.
The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.
This should not be a surprise. The famous Milgram experiment and subsequent studies suggest that many people will obey instructions from an authority figure, even if it means harming another person. It is also perfectly understandable (which does not mean it is justifiable). How many of us would refuse to follow an instruction from a superior at work? It is natural to want to keep one’s job, even if at the price of inflicting cruelty on another human being, even perhaps a child.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question.
It is far easier to do nothing, to trust that, somehow, America’s dangerous course will be set right. But this is a dangerous gamble, and in fact an abdication of our responsibility as Americans and indeed as human beings. If we do nothing, that is a choice. It means we accept a government that has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting cruelty on the innocent and defenseless.
What will we do?
Is what we’re witnessing in the US a slow-motion downhill slide into a coup? writes Sydney academic Charles Firth.
A fascinating and scary article has been doing the rounds in recent days, which suggests that Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries was an attempt to see how far he can push his power, as the first step to mounting an all-out coup.
A Google engineer named Yonatan Zunger has suggested that the way the White House has repeatedly gone around long standing conventions shows it is testing to see whether a coup is possible.
One man’s coup is another man’s “strong leadership”. But what Zunger is talking about is Mr Trump’s inner circle grabbing power in a similar way that Vladimir Putin has done in Russia, where he exercises power unchallenged by any other body.
Mr Trump’s tweets about his conversation with Prime Minister ‘Trumbull’ stomped on centuries of diplomatic protocol. And he uses Twitter every day to get his message out unchallenged by the questioning (and fact-checking) of the press. Don’t get me wrong – it’s spectacular to watch – but it shows in Mr Trump a desire to be unchallenged and unmediated by the normal processes of government – whether they’re diplomatic protocols or scrutiny by the media.
If it were just his tweets, that would be one thing, but he’s taking the same approach across the board.
Normally, when a President gets into power, he rushes to appoint the roughly 660 senior officials that need approval from Congress. That’s because he’s hoping to get the departments (which employ millions of people) working according to his agenda.
Indeed, for centuries, that’s been the main prize of winning the presidency. You get to set the agenda for how millions of Americans administer the government.
Instead, Mr Trump only named 29 appointees by the time he was inaugurated. Twenty nine out of 660.
In one light, you could argue that this shows that Mr Trump and his inner circle are just deeply incompetent. But you could also consider another possibility – that on the whole, Mr Trump doesn’t care that much about who runs the bureaucracy, because that’s not how he’s planning on projecting his power.
It’s now becoming clear that the supposed “mass resignations” of nearly all of the senior staff at the State Department was a purge ordered by the White House. Look at the chart that Emily Gorcenski tweeted around. That’s not an orderly transition. That’s a wipe-out.