So apparently some rodeo clown managed to make himself the object of this week’s Two Minutes Hate – complete with the normal punishment of having one’s livelihood destroyed and facing financial ruin that comes with it – for making fun of the President.
I’m old enough to remember the days when television stations went off the air for the night, and a lot of other things that used to be, but aren’t anymore. I remember when one learned in the Fifth Grade that we were a Constitutional Republic, not a feudalist monarchy – that the President was not a King or a god, but just another citizen. This meant that, as long as you didn’t physically threaten him (which you couldn’t do to anyone else, either), you could say anything you liked about him. Nobody talked about “disrespecting” the President as if it were a crime, and in fact people did so all the time. For example, I remember tuning in to Saturday Night Live one evening in the 1980s (it seems not to be posted on YouTube, sorry) and seeing Howard Hesseman publicly “moon” a portrait of Ronald Reagan on national network television. It was stupid and juvenile (liberals haven’t changed much in the past thirty years), and people who supported Reagan didn’t much like it, but everyone accepted it as what we sometimes had to put up with as a result of our freedom to criticize people in power however we liked. You know, the First Amendment, and the spirit of 1776, and “I might not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” and all that.
Because yes, we did understand more, and expect more, of what it meant to be free citizens of a Constitutional Republic. We did not live in some dismal medieval kingdom where the smallfolk had best be careful what they said about their Lords and Ladies if they knew what was good for them. We had our rights under the Constitution, yes – but we also lived in a nation imbued with the principle of respect for free speech.
But now things have changed.
Are people being dragged off to gulags for saying the wrong things about our leaders, as recently happened to some poor comedian in North Korea? No. And maybe it never will get that bad here. But things that were impossible to imagine happening in this country back when Hesseman mooned Reagan have come to pass, and the trendline is distinctly unencouraging. If nothing else, America has lost the spirit of respect for free speech – you can already be ruined for saying the wrong thing, if not yet imprisoned for it; and few anymore see why this is either a bad thing in and of itself or, more alarmingly, an omen of even worse things yet to come.
So welcome to Westeros, Information Age-style style; where cameras are everywhere, where your Lords and Ladies know everything that you say about them, and where we the smallfolk increasingly do have to be careful what that is if we know what’s good for us.
Everyone practice your bows and curtseys.
P.S. I’m very happy to know that the economy is roaring along so well, the Middle East is calmed down enough, crime is sufficiently under control, and our foreign and monetary policies are sorted out to the point that the people who wield power in this country can all stop to care about what a rodeo clown at an obscure Midwestern state fair is up to.