I was knocking around the web last week, hitting the usual variety of sites that I read to keep up on what is going on in the world and came across a link to a WSJ essay by Peggy Noonan. It was a good essay, about how America’s political leaders are out of touch with the common people and the indignities that are regularly heaped on them. The actual content doesn’t matter much, though, particularly as it has since rotated off the WSJ’s site. What really struck me was the picture accompanying the article. This picture.
I know it’s probably a staged picture. That doesn’t matter. It was the thought of my little boy being in that position that got to me.
We haven’t had to travel by plane since he was born. We haven’t traveled much by plane since 9/11, for that matter. Everyone in America knows what it’s like, though. Even if you haven’t flown you’ve heard the stories. The long lines, the pointless indignities and silly rules, supposedly in the name of security but we all know better. Is there anyone who doesn’t realize that taking off your shoes and only carrying very small bottles of liquid doesn’t do anything at all to make air travel safer? At best, it’s a big humiliating dog and pony show all so the government can say they’re Doing Something. We all know how silly it is. We all know one other thing, too.
We know that you’d better not say anything about it. Keep your eyes down, don’t do anything to be noticed, don’t talk back to the security people. Be quiet and obedient or things will go very very badly for you.
Much of what passes for public policy in the United States these days is based on fear. Fear that the terrorists will get us. Fear of losing our jobs, and our home. Fear of not being able to keep up a middle class lifestyle in the worsening economy, and slipping down into the terrifying abyss of the poor.
Fear of what will happen if you tell that cop or TSA guard what you really think.
When did we Americans become so afraid? Is this really what we have been reduced to? Shuffling along in our stockinged feet, obeying the silliest rules, not out of fear of what some terrorists might do but out of fear of what the people who are nominally there to protect us will do.
When did our own government become more frightening than the people they are supposed to be protecting us from?
And, more to the point, how do you, as a parent, pass that fear along to your children? How do you explain to that small child, who looks up to you as a superhero, that daddy (or mommy) has to do whatever these people tell him to do, no matter how demeaning, or they will take him away?
How do you tell your child that he or she must do whatever the people in uniform say, or something bad will happen? Stay in your place, obey orders, or the men in uniform with the clubs and guns will take you away.
Is that what we want to teach our children?
People around the world are afraid of America. Not just our enemies — it is good for our enemies to fear us — but our friends too. Fewer tourists still visit us from overseas than seven years ago, before 9/11 and the subsequent hysteria, despite the fact that our currency is now practically worthless and we’re a bargain for rich foreigners. It’s not terrorists they are afraid of. It’s our government. It’s us.
The United States is not, for all of our problems, a terrible place. There are many worse countries in the world. But neither are we the place we once were. Once America was a place where nearly everyone wanted to go, a place where you could be free and your children could have a better life.
There was a time when we said to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Now we say, “Papers, please.”
Look around you the next time you are in an airport, or standing in line at some government office, or waiting to go through some security checkpoint. Look in a mirror. Look within yourself. Ask yourself, “How did we get here? Is this the kind of country I want to live in, my children to grow up in?”
Is this the best we can do?