The wicked irony of our insulation as Americans, living as we do galaxies away from the agonies that daily afflict the global billions affected by our domination, is that we entirely lose our minds at the first sight of our own blood.
One-hundred-thirty, the number of people who died horrible deaths two Fridays ago in Paris, is less than half the number of Iraqi civilians killed weekly by bombs, gunfire and other political murder, and an even smaller fraction of those steadily murdered in the Syrian civil war: 220,000 in the past four years or one every 10 minutes. The chaos that set this colossal carnage in motion was the destruction of the Iraqi state by an American war of choice.
And yet, cushioned here in the plush headquarters of global capital and war -- with oceans and empire shielding we Americans from anything like the cascading catastrophe of parts of Africa and the Middle East and even Europe -- our politics now teeter, at even the threat of one or more attacks, into panicked flirtation with fascism. Go ahead, say the word out loud. It is, horribly, the accurate term for a national conversation in which journalists have begun soberly quoting politicians' calls for forced internment of selected immigrants, religious tests for immigration, banning certain nationalities, treating people from some countries like "mad dogs," and suspending checks on state power. The ease with which many of our news media accept this new lexicon is chilling.
It is as if this American readiness to panic and lunge toward authoritarianism is in direct proportion to the outsized privilege the nation has for so long taken for granted: North American conquest and genocide, white supremacy, global riches with little cost, foreign invasion with impunity, a guaranteed satisfactory consumer experience.
Sasha Abramsky, in The Nation, puts it this way:
Over the past several days, one Republican governor after another has closed his state to refugees from Syria—or, since they technically do not have the legal power to prevent the federal government from admitting refugees, has pledged to refuse all state resources to aid in this process. A Republican mayor in Virginia has called for using the World War II internment system that was used against Japanese Americans—itself one of the most widely discredited and shameful episodes in recent American history—as a model for how to approach the Syrians.
Jeb Bush has said we ought to prioritize refugee status for Christians. John Kasich has called for a government agency that would beam “Judeo-Christian values” over Middle Eastern airwaves. In Congress, the GOP-led House, with a shockingly large number of Democrats in support, just voted on a bill that would make it virtually impossible, in practice, to admit Syrian refugees into the country. And Donald Trump has used the crime against humanity that occurred last week in Paris as a prop in his vicious campaign of demagoguery: Because of Paris, he has said, we must get serious about building a wall to close off Mexico. Because of Paris, we must put security first above all civil liberties. Because of Paris, we must start up again the few post-9/11 surveillance programs that were curtailed by courts and politicians because of their abusive properties, and must maintain and expand a raft of others. A surveillance state briefly put in the dock by Edward Snowden will, in this vision, be fully unleashed and unchecked. And because of Paris, we ought to consider registering American Muslims in a special database.
There is an odor of early fascism, or rather of the hysteria that precedes the march away from democracy, to much of this Trumpian rhetoric. An odor of the street fight. An odor of the iron fist.