As goes the United States, so goes the rest of the world. For most of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, this has been a maxim we all have tended to regard as more or less permanent. As Ronald Reagan liked to call America “the shining city on the hill” the rest of the planet looked to us for guidance (and, in some instances looked to us to see what not to do).
In the early part of this century, after the sympathy and goodwill generated tragically by 9-11, it appeared as though the United States was well on its way to becoming a dinosaur – a country everybody had an opinion on, but like an elderly grandfather, they listened to, nodded appreciatively and did whatever the heck they wanted to do in the first place.
Now, the United States has once again regained its throne as the leader of the free (and not so free) world. Was it through some sort of invention? A new type of economic theory? Perhaps it was through a restructuring of society that enabled people to move across different classes with ease? None of the above.
It was through spying.
On its own citizens.
Where once we were that shining beacon on a hill, and the gold standard for the world in how to treat its own population, the rest of the world saw, and is seeing, how the US government is intruding on the minutest detail of everyone’s’ lives. Cell phones, e-mail, texts, tweets, Facebook posts – all those communications and more are reviewed and, if the right shadowy government agency seems to think there’s a threat lurking in them thar words, investigating it for all its worth.
Much like people used to yell “fire” in the movie theater, I remember as a teenager and also as a young adult with my very own phone, engaging in all sorts of wordplay over the line and sometimes purposefully making cryptic or inflammatory comments just to see what would happen. Thankfully, texts, e-mail, twitter and Facebook all came along after I have run that particular strain of immaturity out of my system.
But we see and hear the news every day about young adults and teenagers arrested for posting something an immature kid would post. Or saying something that, if taken seriously and in context, could cause some real damage. Or government agencies can take the information you so proudly surrendered to the general public and use that as the basis to instigate an audit. Or deny your organization charitable status.
It would appear, as alluded to earlier in this column that the rest of the world is following our lead. At last report, a number of countries in Asia are all following suit, and beginning to announce initiatives, agencies, investigations and protocols in ensuring that no one should ever say anything negative, dangerous, derogatory or thought-provoking within their borders.
How has it come to this? People have always come to the United States when other governments came cracking down on their ethnicity, their race, their faction, their artistry and religious beliefs. This country was FOUNDED on people that wanted more freedom in their lives, not less. It appeared as though we created something special – something the rest of the world thirsted and hungered for.
What worries me is that the people of this great nation have, for the most part, given all of this a pass. We need these controls or the terrorists have won! I’ll sacrifice some of my freedoms because Obama told me to. Or, the worst of the lot, is that these sacrifices are for the “greater good.”
What greater good is there than to be free to say and to do what you want to say and do? Sure, with that RIGHT, with that freedom, come responsibilities. But to allow the government, without much protest, to curtail the rights we have come to expect from living here is a tremendous insult not only to us, but also to those who have fought and died for our freedom to say it.
I guess the bright side to all of this is that, once again, America, through its innovative acts is not only bringing disparate countries together, but also be in the vanguard!
Christopher Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.