You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression
Book by Matthew Rothschild
Review by Thom Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on June 26, 2007.
I'm a pretty jaded guy. Back in October of 2001, I wrote -- first anonymously under the pseudonym "Rusticus" and then over my own name -- the first widely-circulated article comparing the Republican response to 9/11 with the Nazi response to the burning of the Reichstag (Parliament) building in Germany in 1933 (it was titled "When Democracy Failed"). It was widely distributed and I was attacked for being an alarmist, although few say so these days.
I thought I'd seen it all. I was part of SDS in the late 1960s, was spied upon, and our group infiltrated by the Michigan State Police and the FBI. I've been followed, photographed, wiretapped, and tear-gassed.
Yet that was nearly forty years ago, and even though today I report on the daily Republican outrages 3 hours a day 5 days a week on the most listened-to progressive talk radio show in America, I have to admit -- this book shocked me.
Walking around the Take Back America Conference last week -- where I was both speaking and doing my show from Radio Row- - Matthew Rothschild walked up to me, introduced himself, and handed me a fresh-off-the-presses copy of his new book, You Have No Rights. We get an average of 6 to 8 books a day in the mail (our mail is about a cubic foot a day, in part because of all the books), and people are always handing me books at public events, but I remembered Matthew from all the great articles he's written and his work as editor of the Progressive, and so was both glad to meet him and curious about what he'd written.
I started reading it on the plane back to Oregon from Washington, DC, and couldn't put it down.
If we don't begin to expose the horrors in this book in a real, meaningful, national, and highly visible way, democracy is in even worse trouble that I thought. And, as I said, I thought I knew how bad it really was.
As the publisher, The New Press, notes in their summary of the book:
"I'm very liberal and sometimes my friends say I'm giving them some kind of paranoid, nutty stuff, and I agree, but then the FBI show up." -- Marc Schultz, reported to the FBI for reading an article called "Weapons of Mass Stupidity: Fox News hits a new lowest common denominator" while he stood in line at a coffee shop.
In West Virginia, Renee Jensen put up a yard sign saying "Mr. Bush: You're Fired." She's questioned by the Secret Service.
In Alabama, Lynne Gobbell put a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker on her car. She's fired from her job.
In Vermont, Tom Treece had his high school students write essays and make posters either defending or criticizing the Iraq War. After midnight, the police entered his classroom and took photos of the student artwork.
Near Albany, New York, Stephen Downs went to a mall with his son Roger, and the two of them bought shirts in a T-shirt shop. Downs put his shirt on, went to eat in the food court -- and was arrested. The T-shirt's message? "Peace on Earth."
Most of these stories don't have the crackling immediacy of the Kent State shootings or the MSU campus shutdown or Watts burning, but in some ways they're even more sinister, because they reflect a fundamental change in the assumptions held by average people of what America is.
We're no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave; we're the land of the fearful and the home of Big Brother. We're no longer the shining beacon of democracy that inspired nascent democracies for over 200 years; we're now the example repressive dictatorships use to justify espionage against and torture of their own citizens. We're no longer a land of laws governed by We, The People, protected from our government by our Constitution; we're now a land of "leaders" who claim they owe "no accountability" to Congress or the people who elect them.
Very quickly, under the radar but in a deep and real way, we're moving from being a liberal democracy to a conservative theocratic corporatist/fascist state.
Because these stories lack the violence of the 1960s, they are all the more shocking. The subtlety of this transformation is so very Orwellian, so very much like that imagined by Huxley, that warned of by William Shirer and Milton Mayer.
In a previous book review, I suggested a Rex Stout novel about the private detective Nero Wolfe, written in the 1950s, in large part because it showed how back then a citizen could say through a locked door to the police, "Go away if you don't have a warrant." Today TV shows glorify militarized police squads kicking in doors, and citizens are arrested for filming police activity.
The America of 2007 is not the America I was born into in 1951, and with startling rapidity it's not even the America it was in the last year of the Clinton/Gore presidency just six short years ago. It highlights the banality of evil.
Which is why it's so important for us all to read Matthew Rothschild's book ... and so vital that we pass it along to those who haven't yet pulled back the curtain and seen what's going on in the shadows not covered by our infotainment industry. Buy a copy of this book to read yourself, by all means, but buy a second to pass along. It's that good.