A Sideways Glance Richard S. Bogartz: Silence would be a sin

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Thursday, July 23, in Washington. AP

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Rarely does dictatorship happen overnight. You don’t hear, “Today is the last day of democracy. Tomorrow you follow orders.” Increasing pressure depriving people of their rights happens incrementally. It’s been happening here.

Recently, law-abiding citizens in Washington, D.C., exercising their right to peacefully assemble, were teargassed and stampeded so the dictator wannabe could have a photo op in front of a church. Peaceful protesters in Portland, Oregon being indiscriminately shot in the head with impact munitions, grabbed by uninvited federal jackboots, detained in unrecorded arrests.

The White House deviant said, “We’ve done a great job in Portland. Portland was totally out of control, and they went in, and I guess we have many people right now in jail. We very much quelled it, and if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do, if you know what you’re doing.” As if he ever knew what he was doing. The strategy of promulgating fear of subversives to hornswoggle the electorate has been well articulated.

Lately I’ve resisted writing about wannabe or his party of jackboots and enablers. Instead I’ve been working on a three-part column about science and religion and was going to submit the first part this month. But it was too much, reading about heroic Portland, where veterans, mothers, and dads are protecting protestors from jackboot secret police, and how elsewhere during a raging pandemic, some Republican governors prevent Democratic mayors from requiring people to take reasonable preventive measures, as in the case of Georgia’s governor suing Atlanta’s mayor to prevent her imposing a mask requirement in Atlanta. Silence would be sin.

Dennis Dalman reports that On Jan. 28, 1852, an abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, gave a speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, during which he said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” We now face a liberty thief who wants it all, and not for a few, but only for him.

From my childhood to well into adulthood, I was certain it “could not happen here.” I now believe quite the opposite. We are accelerating deeper and deeper into the darkness of dictatorship. The indicators are neither subtle nor nuanced any more than wannabe is, and that is, not at all.

I haven’t been much of a “do your duty” devotee, mostly because duties seem to come so often without rationales. But here duty and its rationale are both clear. I must, must, add my voice to those raising alarm. It isn’t enough that the greatest generation won World War II if we haven’t learned the lesson that the German people paid for so dearly.

We have elected a broken narcissist to the presidency. His strategy for dealing with the pandemic is to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, spouting “It will disappear. Eventually I’ll be right,” as if the pandemic is about him.

If I believed he were capable of planning, I might argue his pandemic failures are cultivated to damage that portion of the electorate that is least likely to vote for him, seeing that this same portion seems to be most vulnerable to COVID-19.

We have witnessed the concealment and then distortion of Centers for Disease Control recommendations for school openings, the blocking of CDC testimony before Congress, the gagging of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the enabling vice president saying, “To be very clear, we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools. We’re going to respect whatever decisions are made,” and the wannabe and his uneducated education secretary seeking to tie reopening schools to potential new coronavirus aid funding for education.

So, what do we do? We must vote. We must plead, scream bloody murder or whatever else works to squelch arguments from our friends, such as “I don’t like Biden; I’m not gonna vote,” or “I don’t like Biden; I’ll vote third party,” or “I wanted Elizabeth; I’m gonna write her name in.”

Surprise! I didn’t want Biden either. But this election is not about Biden. It is not about who you or I prefer. I almost, but not quite, think it is not even about political parties. It is about the desperate urgency of disinfecting the White House, about restoring a semblance of decency, compassion, humanity, thought, logic, reason and principled law-abiding leadership.

Forget Massachusetts is a blue state. Paraphrasing Kant, “Vote only in the way you can desire that everyone should vote.”

Richard S. Bogartz is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.