The situation in Wisconsin has provided a unique opportunity for the public to witness unbridled right-wing authoritarianism when it's not being shrouded in token nods to the constitution (we have to surrender freedom to be safe), empty excuses (the terrorists will kill us all) and the invocation of democracy as a dogmatic political weapon.
The conservative media is routinely misrepresenting large peaceful worker protests as "riots" lead by "thugs" that are "spreading evil" around the globe, despite strongly defending non-peaceful Tea Party protests that saw Congresspeople spat on, insulted with racist and bigoted epithets, who saw their district offices vandalized with Nazi imagery and their windows broken with bricks.
Nowhere has this selective anti-protest behavior been more prevalent than on Fox News.
Glenn Beck accused teachers of using students as "kiddie human shields" and referred to the peaceful protests as"riots in the streets", despite all reports showing that no property has been damaged, no people harmed, and protestors being largely respectful to state Republican legislators.
Yet in July of 2009, Fox News hosts attended Tea Party protests, gave keynote speeches, reported live from events and urged their viewers to attend:
For at least the second time in three days, Fox News aired on-screen text describing "tea party" protests that Fox News hosts will be attending as "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." Fox News has often described the protests as a response to President Obama's fiscal policies.
It's common for Fox News to act in perfect sync with the Republican Party agenda, so much so that it's hardly worth mentioning in normal cases. But the gulf between these two reactions couldn't possibly be wider even in countries with a bona fide state-run media.
When Tea Party conservatives protest (spitting on Congressmen, throwing bricks through windows and spraying Nazi symbols on offices with paint), it's just average non-ideological Americans standing up to a government that doesn't listen to them anymore (while defending policies that benefit extremely powerful and wealthy corporations like the health insurance industry, but don't tread on me!).
When state union employees protest hard-fought rights being taken away from them (and nobody else), it's just a bunch of "thugs" who are spreading evil around the world, that are "about to get violent".
In America, unions are demonized as thugs, liberals as un-American hipped who hate the troops and want us to lose wars, while conservative causes are championed as Of The People which are pure and honest and unchallengeable.
What sets the incident in Wisconsin apart from that decades-long double standard is the extreme reactions on the right to this populist movement in the wake of similar (but not identical) popular uprisings against repressive government across the globe in recent weeks.
Freshmen GOP Governor Scott Walker has threatened to use the state national guard to quell the thus-far peaceful protests, essentially turning a heavily armed and well trained auxiliary military organization that answers only to the Governor against the people of Wisconsin – unarmed teachers, students, and fire fighters.
These protests are legal and non-violent, and inarguably protected by the first amendment.
Can anyone think of the last time a Governor in the United States – or any politician that directly commanded a military force – threatened to use force to quell a peaceful and legal protest in the past two decades?
Can anyone imagine the capitol police threatening to break up Tea Party protests in D.C. during the health reform debate?
More than that, Walker has reportedly sent the Wisconsin state police out to hunt down Democratic legislators – essentially kidnap them – and force them back to the capitol and to keep them there against their will until a vote on union-busting legislation takes place (apparently while Democrats stand on the chamber floor in handcuffs while state police stand there with their hands on their guns.)
Although I think direct comparisons between what's happening here at home, and what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and what is still happening in Bahrain, Libya, Iran, Yemen, and even Iraq, should be made carefully and with concessions – our protests have been far smaller and peaceful – one can't help but see familiar tactics being employed by Walker, and authoritarian dictators overseas.
In Egypt, the state police were sent in to break up protests, detain political dissidents, and end the uprising. When that didn't work, the military was used and innocent people were killed.
Governor Walker has skipped the middle man and moved on directly to threats of military force against the legal protests in Wisconsin, and is trying to use the state police to arrest opposition lawmakers. Even though Wisconsin law may allow this, the constitution certainly does not.
One truly deranged conservative said this afternoon that the protests "need to be put down quick, even if the national guard has to open fire".
It's doubtful that Americans have become so resentful of their government that they'd stage nationwide protests intent on overthrowing the current elected leadership (to the contrary, over half the country approves of the job the President is doing). But it's not a stretch to draw limited parallels between the reactions to such protests by brutal foreign dictators, and right-wing authoritarians who are essentially calling for the same violent use of force to "put down quick" the legal and non-violent protests by teachers and fire fighters here in America.
Even some in the Wisconsin state police have reportedly told the missing Democratic legislators that they support the cause in private, apparently fearing reprisal from the Republican governor.
Who could have imagined even just a couple of weeks ago that police in America would be afraid to speak out in support of a certain political belief because of what might happen to them and their families at the hands of a Republican state government? Who would have conceived that after the hundreds of Tea Party protests over the past two years that were overwhelmingly supported by the conservative establishment, that a single non-violent protest of any kind would trigger the threat of military force from a Republican?
Conservatives have good reason to fear a real populist uprising. Not the phoney Tea Party protests orchestrated by corporate lobbying firms like FreedomWorks in service of the healthy care industry agenda. But a real populist uprising, like the one taking place in Wisconsin.
That is what true authoritarians fear above all else. Authoritarians exist – thrive – only in suffocating, repressive atmospheres where the government and military have all the power, and people have none, and there is no better way to trigger an uprising like this than to take away power from the powerless.
That is why Republicans largely sided with Mubarak in Egypt. In Iran, legislators have been chanting for the execution of Mir-Hossein Mousavi in recent days. In America, Republicans are calling for the national guard to fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors if necessary to 'put it down quickly'. In Egypt, political dissidents and opposition leaders were imprisoned. In Wisconsin, opposition lawmakers are being hunted by state police. Their offices and homes have been searched – without warrants and without even the mere accusation of having committed a crime of any kind – and if any of them are found, they'll be arrested and forced to the capitol in handcuffs for a "democratic" vote.
None of this behavior is new. Conservatives overwhelmingly supported the Bush administration's illegal domestic warrantless wiretapping program that routinely spied on Americans who have done nothing wrong. Many foreign countries used the Bush program as a pretext to create lawless surveillance regimes of their own, including many of America's enemies.
They still strongly support indefinite detention of "war on terror" detainees who have never been accused of a crime, and will be caged for the rest of their lives without ever having a trial or even being charged with a crime.
It was the Bush administration that argued the government had the legal right to detain American citizen Jose Padilla in a Navy brig indefinitely, without trial or charges. And Republicans support President Obama's program that has targeted American citizens abroad for due process-free assassination by the CIA or military, even when that citizen is far away from any justifiable battle field.
While conservative lawmakers in Congress complain about how the Obama administration doesn't care about the constitution, none of them had launched a Congressional investigation or held a single hearing on any of these repressive, illegal programs while they were in power.
Republicans consistently denounce the philosophy of Miranda rights and work hard to deny convicted criminals the ability to appeal their convictions when new evidence arises that may prove their innocence.
The modern Republican Party fears the peaceful protests in Wisconsin because the modern Republican Party has come to embody many of the signature, distasteful and downright ugly character traits of the world's oppressive dictatorships: imprisonment without trials, nearly unlimited domestic surveillance powers, torture, citizen assassination programs, using the police to arrest dissident political leaders and the military to break up perfectly legal and non-violent protests – even if it means killing people.
Losing all of that means losing ultimate power, and that's what authoritarians fear the most.
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