No Comment — November 16, 2007, 9:39 am

Bridge to Nowhere

Friends regularly ask me: is our nation on the road to becoming an authoritarian state? In a vibrant democracy that wants to keep its bearings, that’s a useful question to keep asking. And here’s a new leaf for the album of the question-askers.

Our papers occasionally feature little nuggets that offer a real insight into the times. One such piece appeared yesterday in The New York Times in the most unlikely setting: it focused on a kerfuffle that emerged from the recent international bridge tournament in Shanghai at which a group of Americans emerged triumphant. A photograph taken at the award ceremony shows one of the women, Debbie Rosenberg, holding up a hastily scribbled sign that read “We did not vote for Bush.” It was a spur of the moment act, they say.

I take it as a given that it is a breach of decorum to interject a note of politics into an event of this sort. Nevertheless, to all appearances, this was a spontaneous gesture done with an air of levity. But the bridge champions say they were motivated by an intense anti-Administration hostility that pervaded the event.

“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”

At the moment, polls show that George W. Bush has broken through the floor established by Richard Nixon to become the most unpopular Republican president in modern times. So unpopular, in fact, that a current poll by American Research Group shows a solid majority of Americans believe he has committed impeachable offenses. Bush’s support base hovers somewhere under 25% of the population. And for all of that, America is Bush’s bastion. In the balance of the world (excepting, apparently, Albania), his popularity runs consistently within the margin of error (in other words, it could actually be zero). In other words, it’s not really correct to say that Bush is a controversial figure on the world stage. In a sense controversy requires a divided assessment of Bush. But that’s not the case. The assessment is pretty much uniform. He’s reviled.

But for the exception of that 25% per cent pocket of Bushie deadenders lurking in the recesses of Red State America. And lest you wonder where that 25% are, we’ve discovered one of their hideouts: the United States Bridge Federation. They want to punish the winning team severely, including suspension of participation for a year. Some of the players get their livelihood from bridge, so this would have catastrophic consequences. And there are ever more malicious wrinkles in the Federation’s approach. It is insisting that the team members denounce the participant who came up with the idea, and give an exact account of how it happened. Neither the KGB, nor China’s Public Security Bureau, couldn’t top this. . . unless, of course, they were to reach next to detention and torture–tools which are, thankfully, so far not within the Federation’s reach. The Federation and its apologists claim they’re just concerned with keeping politics out of the process. Loyal Bushies saw red over the fact that American players at an international tournament would demonstrate their disloyalty to Bush by advertising their vote in the presidential elections. The Times reports that the accusations included “treason” and “sedition.” This frames things perfectly: stating that you did not vote for Bush is now an act of treason. This is a novel concept of democracy.

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Martel seems curiously unacquainted with the Bill of Rights–not just the First Amendment, but also norms of procedural fairness. There is no doubt of course that Martel’s proposition would be true with respect to totalitarian societies which field teams in the world of international bridge. But it’s surprising to see the Federation embrace the notion that its members forfeit their free speech rights by joining. That would associate a high cost in civil liberties with membership.

Maybe it’s time for the Federation’s members to take a close look at their rogue leadership. The Shanghai incident was an insignificant nothing… until the Federation’s witch hunt catapulted it on to the international stage and got the Federation its most adverse press in a decade. This doesn’t look like sound management practice to me. It looks like some Loyal Bushies badly in need of treatment for an unwarranted case of political road rage.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today