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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.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:
A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”