And the Calls for the Silencing of Dissent Begin

As two clueless, authoritarian leaders rattle their sabers on the world stage, we are already seeing the beginning of the inevitable in this country: Calls for the silencing of dissent and resistance to Trump. It is the tired old refrain we’ve heard in this country for at least the past century, and perhaps before.


Let’s start with Sebastian Gorka, who went on his boss’ favorite show, Fox and Friends, and did the “we all must now unite behind our leader” thing.

“These are the moments when we have to come together as the nation and support the executive,” he said. “Whether you voted for him or not, whether they’re a Democrat, whether they’re a Republican, these are the trying times. During the Cuban missile crisis, we stood behind JFK. This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.”

Gorka added: “Anybody, whether they’re a member of a Congress, whether they’re a journalist: If you think your party politics, your ideology trumps the national security of America, that is an indictment of you.”

And then there’s Lindsay Graham, who has long been in favor of invading or bombing pretty much any country full of dark-skinned people we can find. He says Trump doesn’t need congressional authorization to bomb North Korea, but they should immediately vote to endorse such a bombing anyway.

“It would be very smart if the Congress could come together and tell the president ‘you have our authorization to use military force … as a last resort.’ That would sent a signal to North Korea and China, that would probably do more good to avoid war than anything I could think of,” Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

He added that passing a military authorization for North Korea would require Democrats to “take their hatred of Donald Trump and park it.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, this notion that in times of war you have to shut up and stop criticizing the president (and we aren’t even at war yet). It goes back at least to World War I in this country and it used to mean throwing people in jail just for speaking out against the war. 100 years ago this year, Congress passed the Espionage Act, which targeted, among other things, “whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag” and also anyone who would urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production in this country of any thing or things necessary or essential to the conduct of the war.”

This was predictably interpreted to mean that anyone who spoke out against American participation in the war was engaged in “espionage” and the government began throwing people in prison for what was clearly protected by the First Amendment. Nearly 2000 people went to jail, even for advocating higher taxes to pay for the war rather than funding it through war bonds, or for arguing that the draft was unconstitutional. And the Supreme Court upheld this repression of free speech in Schenk v United States, one of the most appalling decisions in the history of the court.

Schenk was a member of the Socialist Party and was arrested for passing out a leaflet opposing American participation in the war and the military draft. This was the case in which the massively overrated Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the now-infamous “shouting fire in a crowded theater” argument, which was not even remotely analogous to the speech at issue. That terrible metaphor continues to muddy the waters in discussions of free speech to this day.

It wasn’t until the Vietnam War era that the Supreme Court finally began protecting free speech during wartime, but then the tactics switched. Not able to actually throw anti-war protesters in jail anymore, the authoritarians turned to social pressure instead. Anyone who dares to question a war is unpatriotic, and of course that means anyone who dares to question those who take us to war are unpatriotic as well. Shut up, America, and “united behind our president,” no matter how loathsome they may be or how unjust the war they launch.

I’ll make a prediction right now: If there are any actual military hostilities between us and North Korea — and quite possibly even if there aren’t — we will immediately be told by the right that all investigations into Trump must stop because it shows national division and disunity and thus “weakens” the country “during a time of war.” War has always been a useful tool for crushing civil liberties and an equally useful one for distracting our attention from scandal. This is hardly a risky prediction.

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