(I wrote most of the following a couple weeks ago, but was feeling too conflicted and stressed about politics to post it.)
I recently finished reading Persepolis 2, the sequel to Marjane Satrapi's graphic-novel memoir Persepolis. (See Debbie Notkin's excellent review of the first volume for more info.) Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969; her parents sent her to Europe a few years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
I've talked, over the past year or so, with a fair number of left-leaning friends and family who've become convinced that the US is headed for totalitarianism. Various people told me before the election—completely sincerely, as far as I can tell—that they believed that if Bush were to lose the 2004 election, he would suspend the Constitution and refuse to leave office. Alternatively, that he would refuse to allow an election to be held in the first place. And according to various versions of this belief system, even if Bush were to legitimately win the election, he would soon turn the US into a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship, in which (presumably) privacy, freedom of speech and the press, abortion, homosexuality, liberalism, and any religion other than fundamentalist Christianity would be outlawed.
The election did take place as scheduled; Bush didn't lose, so we don't know what would've happened if he had lost; so we're left with that last item, that now he'll proceed to institute a theocracy. But I'm afraid I just don't buy it.
I could try to put together a logical argument against this scenario, but that wouldn't be relevant to my main point here. My main point is:
As the Persepolis books make clear, it's hard for the lobster to tell whether the pot of water is gradually reaching a boil until it's too late.
I don't believe we're headed for a coup or a dictatorship. But "it can't happen here" is what a lot of people have said at various times in history shortly before it did happen.
Of course, people have also said "it can't happen here" shortly before nothing much happened. There've always been doomsayers; they just get more retroactive press when they turn out to have been right than when they turn out to have been wrong.
But that doesn't leave me any better equipped to figure out whether they're right or wrong in any particular instance.
Me, I continue to figure we'll muddle through. I doubt the US will endure in its current form of government forever; I don't really believe there's anything magical about our form of government that will make it immune to change in the long run. But still, it does seem to be a fairly flexible governmental system, able to weather some pretty rough times, and I think we'll get through this period too. We should definitely work to improve things; we should do everything we can to, for example, prevent further erosion of civil rights and liberties. But I'm not seeing the US turning into a totalitarian theocracy anytime in the next few years.
But I could be wrong.