Protest was easy during the Vietnam War. The mainstream media had not been muzzled and corporatized; teach-ins exposed a large segment of the population to the history of the conflict; the draft provided an immediate and, for many, a personal reason to resist; the nation had not been successfully immobilized by a steady diet of fear-mongering; and the Internet did not exist.
People who opposed Washington's policies during the Vietnam years communicated with each other the way political protesters have done for centuries: through the written word and in person. The telephone was the only modern addition. Had the Internet existed in the 18th century, the nation's founders might have spent their energies blogging rather than fomenting revolution.
What drove the Colonial and Vietnam eras were ideas and ideals. What distinguishes those years from our own was the willingness of people to take risks to transform those ideals into reality.
Nowadays, too large a percentage of disgruntled citizens are content to sit at a computer keyboard, hit the "forward" or "reply to all" key and, without risk and without leaving the safety of their homes, delude themselves into thinking they've taken some sort of meaningful political action.
Have we allowed ourselves to become so overwhelmed by our fear that we are willing to forfeit the principles upon which this nation was founded for an illusion of security? Have we become so inured to corruption that we just shrug our shoulders and turn back to the remote? Just when did we trade in our willingness to engage in rational thought for the moment's entertaining distraction?
When did Americans buy into the self-defeating proposition, "It's always been this way, and it always will be?" Imagine the historical consequences if men like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison had thought along those lines. Closer to our own time, imagine history unfolding without the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi.
It takes more than outrage or righteous indignation to change the direction of political institutions. And when those institutions are tightly controlled by a cabal of arrogant ideologues whose worldview is informed by a woeful lack of historical understanding, who are attached to maintaining power regardless of the cost, who are willing to thwart even the small strides humans have made in a fumbling journey toward justice, such as the Geneva Conventions, then it is time, past time, that impassioned citizens stop being content to just read, write and commiserate about our nation's dangerous course of events and once more take to the streets in numbers not seen since the Vietnam protests.
Our current apathy is not unprecedented. Secure in the knowledge they lived in the world's most advanced and civilized county, certain Hitler was just a buffoon whose time was limited, seduced by a wealth of distractions, Germany's middle class--even those members who recognized the folly of inaction--essentially colluded in the tragic consequences that unfolded. Meanwhile, its economic well-being threatened and increasingly insecure, the working class was all too happy to find scapegoats, be they Jews or communists or anyone else defined as irredeemable enemies who threatened the nation and whose fate is now well known.
As laws were passed stripping targeted citizens of their rights, most Germans stood by and told themselves the laws were not directed at them. They were safe. They were "good Germans." Blinded by chauvinism they believed was patriotism, they willingly sacrificed the blood of their children.
We surrender to the fascists when, in our own time, we allow a president to abuse signing statements to such a degree that the actions of Congress and the courts are reduced to a mockery of constitutional government. We relinquish the right to call our nation a republic, much less a democracy, when we merely grumble as the administration labels dissent treason.
Thomas Jefferson was wise enough to understand how the very notion of treason could be subverted to serve the state's survival, even when the government no longer served the interest of the people. "Most codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one's country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government and acts against the oppressions of government."
Huey Long, himself no stranger to the seductions of power, acknowledged, "Of course we will have fascism in America, but we will call it democracy." He was also smart enough to realize if fascism ever did come to America, it would "come wrapped in an American flag."
But it is no longer a question of "if." The only question is whether history will call us the "good Americans."