On the black-and-white vacuum-tube TV of my youth, Hee Haw¹ was for lazy Saturday afternoons. In answer to the question “Hey Grandpa, what’s for supper?”, I’d watch Grandpa Jones rattle off menus in horror and sick fascination.
A sample Grandpa Jones Hee Haw menu:
“Here’s what’s on the menu tonight: Turtle stew with onions and crackers, wild greens, stewed auger holes and bread puddin’. “
I enjoy reading science fiction. I don’t make time to read the genre often enough but as I tripped into a Twitter thread by a sci-fi writer, I thought of Grandpa Jones and boiling frogs. According to biology or urban legend or Wikipedia, if frogs are placed in a pan of tepid water and then the heat is turned up, the frogs won’t realize they’re exothermically stranded until the water boils and it’s too late.
We are frogs in water in a pan.
Viva Q. Public finds it nearly impossible to assess the wreckage the Trump
cluster sh*tshow administration delivers continuously to our democracy and its strained institutions. What is the temperature difference between a tepid democracy struggling along and a full-blown boil of a dystopian dictatorship or an authoritarian state or a <insert non-democratic form of government here> government?
Just how hot is that water?
This is the full Twitter thread that itemizes some observable changes in public discourse in the transition from a democracy to a dictatorship. From sci-fi writer G. Willow Wilson, (my bold):
G.(@GWillowWilson) “It’s a mistake to think a dictatorship feels intrinsically different on a day-to-day basis than a democracy does. I’ve lived in one dictatorship and visited several others–there are still movies and work and school and shopping and memes and holidays.
“The difference is the steady disappearance of dissent from the public sphere. Anti-regime bloggers disappear. Dissident political parties are declared “illegal.” Certain books vanish from the libraries.
“The press picks a side. The military picks a side. The judiciary picks a side. This part should already feel familiar.
“The genius of a true, functioning dictatorship is the way it carefully titrates justice. Once in awhile it will allow a sound judicial decision or critical op-ed to bubble up. Rational discourse is never entirely absent. There is plausible deniability.
“People still have rights, in theory. The right to vote, to serve on a jury, etc. The difference is that they begin to fear exercising those rights. Voting in an election will get your name put on “a list.”
“So if you’re waiting for the grand moment when the scales tip and we are no longer a functioning democracy, you needn’t bother. It’ll be much more subtle than that. It’ll be more of the president ignoring laws passed by congress. It’ll be more demonizing of the press.
“Until one day we wake up and discover the regime has decided to postpone the 2020 elections until its lawyers are finished investigating something or other. Or until it can ‘ensure’ that the voting process is ‘fair.’
“A sizable proportion of the citizenry will support the postponement. Yes, absolutely, we must postpone elections. The opposition is corrupt! Our leader is just trying to protect us! A dictator is never without supporters.
“And hey, if we pull ourselves back from the brink and the midterms go ahead and the 2020 election is free and transparent and on time, you are cordially invited to point at me and laugh. Honestly. No one will be happier to be wrong than me. Fave this thread. I will laugh with you
“Since people are panicking prematurely in my mentions: I’m not suggesting that this chain of events WILL happen. I’m saying that if we were to slide into authoritarianism, this is how it would look. Bc many USians seem to think autocracy looks like something off the Syfy channel.
“(I actually think we are done a massive disservice by most western dystopian fiction for this reason. It lies about the way real dystopias actually look and feel.)
30 Jan 2018 12:09 PM. Tweet.
Boom! There it is. “Bc many USians seems to think autocracy looks like something off the Syfy channel.”
Meanwhile, the water comes to a boil.
¹ Hee Haw. Oh, my. Today I cringe at this reference. I can, however, sing the chorus to “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me.” Really.