When Hitler was rising to power in 1930s Germany, somebody did him the favor of burning the Reichstag, the German Parliament. It's widely believed the Nazis torched it themselves.
Hitler's cynical minions turned that fire into a horrific wave of terror. They blamed "the communists" and the Jews, the trade unionists and the homosexuals. With the support of a terrified populace, they suspended civil rights and civil liberties, fattened their war machine and rode the fascist tide into a full-blown dictatorship. The rest, as they say, is history.
The neverending White House-sponsored orgy of 9/11 rhetoric, recrimination and retaliation has become a treacherous parallel. Few Americans believe the Bush Administration itself brought down the World Trade Center last year. But the conviction is widespread throughout Europe and the Muslim world, and for good reason.
This unelected regime---Hitler also came to power with a minority of votes---has used the terrible tragedies of September 11 in much the way the Nazis jumped on the Reichstag fire. Bush has failed to capture or try 9/11's alleged perpetrators. But he's used the tragedy to push an extreme rightist agenda aimed at crushing civil liberties, silencing all opposition, fattening a war machine, and arrogating the right to unilaterally attack other countries without tangible provocation.
With this has come an assault on the natural environment, women's rights, gay rights, organized labor, a wide range of international treaties, and the need of the public to know about and prosecute corporate crime and fraudulent stock dealings, which seem to involve at least half the Bush cabinet, including its two ranking members.
Fittingly, just as the nation was mourning those who died in one of the most twisted acts of terrorism imaginable, Bush's brother Jeb made another mockery of the electoral process. In Florida, where the 2000 election was most blatantly stolen, faulty voting machines were again foisted on districts filled with primarily with blacks and Jews. While the nation's eyes were elsewhere, major---perhaps fatal---chaos was injected into the Democratic primary meant to choose Jeb's fall opponent. As the unusable ballots, dysfunctional voting machines and manipulated poll hours again shredded the democratic process, one could hear Republicans smirking from Tallahassee to DC.
Meanwhile John Ashcroft has shredded the American Bill of Rights as Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein could never imagine. Under the cloak of terror, the new Grand Inquisitor has virtually eliminated the first ten amendments to the Constitution---except the second, which guarantees that he and his gun lobby sponsors (and innumerable potential terrorists) can continue to carry guns.
Indeed, while professing staunch hatred of Big Government, so-called Patriotic conservatives have trashed virtually every guarantee of individual freedom on which American greatness has been built. In the name of fighting terror, the right has become the ultimate anti-Constitutional terrorist. Ashcroft has arrogated the power to arrest virtually anyone he deems unfit, "disappear" them without public notice, deny them access to a lawyer, and try them in secret, if at all. Under certain interpretations of military procedure, the Bush Administration clearly believes it has the right to execute people with no Constitutional guarantees.
In other words, this regime is behaving much like so many other third world dictatorships the US has installed throughout the third world. Pinochet. Somoza. The Taliban. Saddam Hussein. The Shah. Noriega. Mobutu. Marcos. Suharto. The Saudis.
Those flocks of US-sponsored thugs and klepto-dictators have finally come home to roost. For most Americans, any such comparison with any US regime seems like hysterical hype. After all, anti-war protestors threw the word "fascist" around in the later 1960s like a common epithet.
But Lyndon Johnson was not a fascist, and Richard Nixon was still forced to function with the Bill of Rights in tact and a Supreme Court that was willing to back it up. Though the US was deep in an actual shooting war, albeit an unjust one, the guarantees of free speech, habeas corpus and a fair and public trial were still in place.
Those guarantees are now gone. Freedoms were also curtailed during the Civil War and World Wars 1 & 2. But the new Bush war has no clear enemy, no clear goal, and most importantly, no clear end. It's a tangible Orwellian reality, a permanent pretext to shred freedom and dissent.
Because these absolute powers are now being used primarily against people of color, most Americans think these new power won't affect them. But as in Germany, it's only a matter of time before everyone and anyone is intimidated, and everyone and anyone is subject to official attack.
This Administration has been happy to fling the "terrorist" label against those environmentalists and other activists who might question its penchant for secrecy or oppose its corporate-dictated policies. History teaches us that it would be an illusion not to expect the worst.
For this Administration is not only unelected, it has a lot to hide. Witness the current media gang rape of Martha Stewart. While she endures public ridicule and official prosecution, the crimes of George Bush at Harken Energy and Dick Cheney at Halliburton were far worse. Stewart was not a director of the company whose stock she might have sold with insider knowledge. Bush and Cheney were at or near the helms of the companies from which they reaped millions while common stockholders were pillaged. As we know from so many third world dictatorships, where there is an addiction to secrecy there is always much to hide.
Meanwhile, Ashcroft has found time to escalate the attack on medicinal marijuana and other substances individual Americans may choose to use other than tobacco and alcohol. Not surprisingly, while reams of new research confirm marijuana's much-needed healing powers, particularly in chemotherapy and AIDS treatments, pot smokers are now being equated with terrorists. While state after state confirms marijuana's 5,000-year history as a medicinal herb, the Administration insists on enforcing penalties for its use that often exceed those for rape and murder. The drug war remains a blanket warrant to put tens of millions of Americans at risk of random, gratuitous arrest.
As a kicker, the right has further shed its historic rhetoric about states rights to override Nevada's 80% opposition to being turned into a radioactive waste dump. One must ultimately ask: is there any power this administration is not willing to take for itself?
The answer seems to be no. This may well be the most dangerous time in all of US history. While the war regimes of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt had their excesses, there still remained an integral commitment to the historic guarantees of freedom and liberty that had made America great.
Permeated with economic failure, personal scandal and an obsession with secrecy, this has become the most oppressive of all US administrations. With a bought media, a compliant Congress and a spineless Democratic Party, it has turned the horror of September 11 into a tawdry excuse to bury the core freedoms that have made America great.
Resurrecting those freedoms will not be easy. But we have no choice.