It will not be with guns.
If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away precious American freedoms.
It will involve a trade of sorts, an inducement to give up the reality of freedom for the illusion of security. Indeed, the bargain has already been struck.
That is the takeaway from the latest controversy to embroil the Obama administration. Yes, it is troubling to learn the National Security Agency has been running a secret program that reputedly gives it access to Americans’ web activity — emails, chats, pictures, video uploads — on such Internet behemoths as Google, Facebook and Apple. Yes, it is troubling to hear that Obama has routinely renewed a Bush-era program allowing the feds to more easily graze the “metadata” of phone activity (time and date, numbers dialed, etc.) of millions of Verizon customers.
But what is most troubling is that Americans are not particularly troubled by any of it. According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post, most of us — 56 percent — are OK with the monitoring of metadata, a process then-Sen. Joe Biden called “very, very intrusive” back in 2006.
According to the same poll, nearly half — 45 percent — also approve of allowing the government to track email content and other online activity. And 62 percent feel it is more important to investigate terrorist threats than to safeguard the right to privacy. That approval is consistent across party lines.
We are at war against terror, the thinking goes, so certain liberties must be sacrificed. It’s the same thing people said when similar issues arose under the Bush regime. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the “war” is open-ended and mostly metaphorical, meaning that we can anticipate no formal surrender point at which our rights will be restored.
For what it’s worth, we’ve seen similar ambivalence toward the excess of another open-ended metaphorical conflict, the War on Drugs. It has also played havoc with basic civil rights, the courts essentially giving police free rein to stop whomever whenever without needing a warrant or a reason.