They are as clueless as the ancien régime.
Everything Is Fine
What are you complaining about?
However things might look to a certain apocalyptic caste of mind, Canada did not recently take major steps toward tyranny. The measures enacted under the rubric of the Emergencies Act of 1988—including censorship, bank freezes, asset seizures, arrests for unspecified crimes, pre-trial detention, denial of bail for peaceful protesters—these things might appear tyrannical to a paranoid. But remember the honking! And the blocked streets. The inconvenience. The lost revenue as businesses weren’t able to operate at peak efficiency. As all good conservatives know, GDP is the one true metric of human flourishing and societal health.
Some Americans may look north and worry, but they should be reassured. That can and will never happen here…and it isn’t even that bad up there. Order must be maintained, after all. No one has a right to block the streets or disrupt traffic. What might have happened had the trucks prevented emergency vehicles from getting to the scene of some crime or accident? Granted, that didn’t happen, but it might have. Pointing out the fact that the protesters would likely have just moved—one Canadian police chief called them the most cooperative and reasonable protesters he’d ever encountered—well, that’s excusing insurrection.
And pointing out the fact that no one raised this concern about BLM is “whataboutism,” which is a rightwing trope. More to the point, BLM and Antifa have every right to block streets (and to stand cheek-by-jowl in the middle of a pandemic when everyone else is in lockdown) because their cause is noble. As Mitt Romney helpfully explained, when Antifa beats people and burns cities, that is good, because they are fighting Nazis. Besides, it’s hypocritical to be against BLM looting and burning cities but in favor of truckers blocking streets. What are you, a hypocrite?
Above all, Trudeau cancelled the emergency! The system worked! The powers were invoked, used to resolve the crisis, and then rescinded—exactly as it’s supposed to happen. That is, except for those powers the government has quietly made permanent. But no one should worry about that. It’s necessary to prevent any future crisis from getting out of control.
Besides, it’s not as if any precedent was set. I mean, supposing some other protest were to break out against some other government policy, Trudeau (or some successor) wouldn’t dare invoke the Act again. It’s an iron law of politics that the successful use of a given measure always discourages its future use. As for the idea that this first use will cause a “chilling effect,” that’s paranoid fantasy. Not a single person inclined to protest in the future, or inclined to support a protest with money or supplies, will be held back for fear of being beaten in the streets, arrested and held without bail, or having their bank account frozen.
It’s very sad that a bunch of Americans who call themselves “conservatives” and believe themselves to be patriotic have spun themselves up to worry that the American government—in conjunction with those whom these paranoids insist are its corporate allies, or even masters—are gearing up to do here what Trudeau just did in Canada. Which, again, was totally justified and not that bad.
It’s also not the least bit out of line with what we conservatives cherish as “Anglo-American” liberties. For what could more express the spirit of the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, the Declaration and Constitution, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms than arrests without charge, pre-trial detention, denial of bail, asset seizures, beating peaceful protestors in the streets, trampling them with horses and laughing about it?
Anyway, as justified or at least non-worrisome as all that is up there, only the tinfoil hat crowd worries about it happening down here. First, no one in America ever goes to jail for participating peacefully in a protest. And before you whine about those grannies hunted down by the FBI for walking into the Capitol through a door held open by Capitol Police officers and then taking selfies from inside the velvet ropes, well, just remember that she was participating in an insurrection intended to overthrow our democracy! What would you have the state do against that kind of threat?
Ditto regarding alleged “pre-trial detention.” Granted, more than 100 people were in jail (i.e., detained), denied bail and awaiting trial, and about 70 still are—some them who never even entered the Capitol. But against a threat like that, again, what is the state to do? Let them out so they can take more selfies? Or worse, sit at the Speaker’s desk and carry around her podium again?
The real threat, as Judge Zia Faruqui said during an April detention hearing, is that one or more of these people “still harbors the belief even after the election results were certified, the Electoral College was processed, that he continued to harbor the belief, the false belief that something untoward was happening with the democratic process.” America of course never has and never will punish thought crimes. But when thought crimes might lead to real crimes, can the state just casually let them slide?
I’ve heard some grumbling about kids taping their parents’ conversations and turning the tapes over to the FBI—and even being encouraged to do so by the feds. It’s frankly astonishing that conservatives, who are supposed to stand for law and order and for raising the next generation with sound morals, gripe when children act as upstanding citizens. It’s not as if tyrants have ever weaponized this tactic before. Conservatives are supposed to know history. So why don’t they know that this has never happened and isn’t a threat?
Plus, as all religious conservatives know, confession cleanses the soul. Standing up in front of a hard-left Obama- or Clinton-appointed federal judge and weeping that your actions were the worst thing since the murder of George Floyd, because you know that if you don’t, your four-year sentence in federal lockup will suddenly become ten, well, that makes you a better person.
Second, there is no desire on the part of American tech or media companies to censor or de-platform Americans. Just as there is no desire on the part of American banks to punish or de-bank Americans for unpopular opinions. In fact, none of that has even happened here at all. And when it has, those to whom it did deserved it.
Our intelligence community is all the community we need.
There is certainly no desire or intent on the part of the American government’s security or intelligence agencies to spy on Americans or entrap them into committing alleged acts of terrorism and “insurrection.” There’s no reason whatsoever to be concerned about those units recently created within the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and the FBI, to do exactly that.
Weren’t you listening when I said that order must be maintained? How do you expect it to be maintained without surveillance and undercover agents? Was it possible to beat the mob without wiretaps and moles? Sure, those things required court orders, but so does national security eavesdropping. That what we have FISA for. The reason that FISA judges never turn down warrants is because everything—absolutely everything—the NatSec state asks them for is warranted. Doubt that? What are you, unpatriotic? A conspiracy theorist? A traitor?
And, of course, the safeguards built into these processes guarantee that they will never be used against American citizens. Except when they are, which, again, is always warranted because those people are traitors up to no good. And it’s not as if the intel agencies ever use their powers without court approval—except when they do.
As for “entrapment,” only real kooks worry about that. There’s absolutely no evidence that the FBI entrapped anyone into kidnapping the governor of Michigan. They’ve denied it and also been extremely forthcoming about all the details. Then there are all those nuts who believe something funny was going on with Ray Epps (and others) on January 6. But Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have debunked that.
You just watch. That trucker convoy on its way to DC? The state will do nothing to them. Unless, of course, they increase Beltway commute times, in which case any and all measures will be warranted.
But arrests and pre-trial detention? Nah, no way. Unless, again, such measures are warranted. And we must be vigilant. If little old ladies taking selfies can threaten our democracy, imagine what an armada of big-rigs can do!
Asset freezes and de-banking? Never happen here. But even if it did, the banks are private companies who can do business with whoever they want. What are you, a statist? Or worse: a socialist? And we can’t allow people to use systems designed to further economic activity—remember, the highest human good—in order to disrupt such activity. So taking away insurrectionists’ assets and ability to buy and sell would be totally justified.
It’s not as though a corporate-government ruling class, long desirous of increasing its control over the country and crushing what’s left of the middle class, is waiting for a green light to impose measures it has up to now feared to implement. Surely this class—which doesn’t even exist—is not looking north and saying to itself “Look what they pretty boy just got away with! We have way more power, personnel, weapons, equipment, money and tech than he does. We can make him look like an amateur.”
No, no one in America is thinking that Canada’s lurch toward non-tyranny offers a proof-of-concept for a much more comprehensive roll-out down here. What kind of person even suspects his virtuous, altruistic, truthful, deserving, competent rulers to think such wicked thoughts?
Similarly, only a cop-hater would worry that the remolding of the Capitol Police since January 6 into Nancy Pelosi’s pretorian guard foretells much harsher crackdowns on protesters. But only on the dangerous kind. BLM could set the Capitol ablaze tomorrow and not even be arrested—for the same reason that they could fill downtowns in 2020 without possibly catching COVID, while you couldn’t even go to the grocery store. A truck blocking D Street, on the other hand, threatens to overturn the entire Constitutional order.
If you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to hide.
One conclusion you’d have to be really perverse to draw is that, after going on two years while cities burn and being forbidden to enforce ordinary laws—and even being punished for attempting to do so—some cops are filled with pent-up rage to crack heads on someone. Nor is there any reason to fear that, when they’re told that street protesters are a direct threat to “our democracy,” suddenly their rage finds an outlet. It’s not as if, cops know they won’t be suspended, charged or tried for kicking some trucker ass (provided it’s not the wrong color). The glee and zeal with which the RCMP and Ottawa Police “dispersed” the truckers and their supporters certainly portends nothing for those of us in the Lower 48, whose cops had to stand by and watch a great deal more mayhem in 2020 (and ongoing) than the Canucks ever did.
By the same token, there’s no reason at all to worry that the Defense Department’s purging the ranks of “white nationalists” and other “insurrectionists” leaves the remaining troops overrepresented by those who enthusiastically support the (non-existent) ruling class’s agenda. Those still wearing the uniform certainly won’t harbor grievances against corn-fed Middle-American types who, after all, have not been consistently demonized as Nazis and racists by the media, academia and government for decades—intensifying exponentially since May 2020. Since none of that has happened, none of it is anything to worry about.
In fact, to repeat for clarity, none of the things mentioned here that the kooks are fretting about is happening. Which means there’s nothing to worry about. Oh, sure, America has problems. When hasn’t it? And what country doesn’t? But because America is exceptional, we’ve always been able to overcome ours. We abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, ended segregation, made MLK Day a national holiday, imposed gay marriage by judicial fiat, and now are about to see a trans woman smoke a bunch of girls and maybe even set world records at next month’s NCAA swimming championships. There’s nothing this country can’t do when it puts its mind to it.
So there’s no reason—whatsoever—to fear that, once the state starts (justifiably) seizing assets, restricting travel, curtailing employment, and otherwise (necessarily) making life harder on those who threaten our democracy, those people will rationally conclude that the system is rigged against them. And then rationally work less, save lest, invest less, spend more, eat more, drink more, zone out on drugs and die earlier.
But even if they do, who needs them? America is a country of rugged individualists. If you can’t make it here, you don’t deserve to be here. Besides, it’s not as though farmers, truckers, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, and others of their ilk are all that important to a cutting-edge “knowledge economy.”
And even if they are, we can always import more. America is fundamentally a nation of immigrants. And there’s nothing more American than killing off a generation with opioids and meth and replacing them with foreigners. Plus, if there’s one thing both the American experience and the experience of other countries has shown, it’s that when you demonize and demoralize a large, productive, and integral part of your population, there are no downsides. Life expectancies don’t fall, crime doesn’t rise, living standards don’t drop, streets don’t get dirty, and shelves don’t go bare.
So cheer up, conservatives. Everything is fine.
Except in Ukraine. That’s a mess that must be sorted out with American power. Or American resolve. Or maybe more tough talk. It’s hard to know what to do, exactly. What’s perfectly clear, though, is that Trump’s Russophilia and bromance with Putin got us into this mess no less than Biden’s fecklessness, bravado and empty threats. Our values are on the line in Ukraine and we need to be tough. Munich, etc.
But everything else is fine. America’s best days are yet to come. Those of you well-versed in conservative lore may recognize that little pearl as one of Ronald Reagan’s finest. Here’s another one, even more profound. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” That speech was given in 1964, one generation away from 1994, the year Newt won back Congress with the Contract with America, one of the great conservative triumphs in human history. And one generation from 1994 is—today.
Freedom will always be one generation away from extinction—which means it will never go extinct. To understand that, to be optimistic in the face of all the doomsayers, not to let mere events get you down or overly excited—that’s the essence of true conservatism.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.