I was surrounded by political exiles in my youth, many of whom, after having lived either under Stalin or Hitler, or in some cases both, never lost their vigilance. Even after twenty or thirty years in the United States, they gave the impression of keeping a suitcase packed under their beds, ready to flee at a moment’s notice should hippies or some variety of American fascists come [to] power.
Lucky for them, they are all long dead, so they can’t read some opinion piece or hear a congressman or a senator today clamor for the very same police state measures they barely escaped from. Watching the government of the country they grew to love curtailing liberties, spying on its citizens, militarizing its police forces, imprisoning both foreigners and Americans indefinitely without having to prove their guilt, and coming to admire the mindset of authoritarian regimes it used to despise, would have been both terrifying and depressing. They could not help but note that some of their fellow Americans who cheer for the death penalty and for torture, and call the people demonstrating against Wall Street lice-infested misfits and degenerates, are no better than the ones they knew back home and are as eager to persecute, imprison, and even commit murder should they be called upon (I think people who clap for death, love war without end, and adore guns are perfectly capable of it). My mother, who never recalled anything but trouble, and was sure the worst was yet to come, would be saying, I told you so, all day long.
Her generation at least didn’t have the Internet to torment themselves with. This morning, for example, reading around on the web, I discovered that our top political commentators are in complete agreement that the so-called “Grand Bargain” that the two parties failed to agree on last summer and again in November, must be enacted sooner or later. Either geezers like me tighten their belts, stop heating their homes in winter, forget about the cost of living and future social security increases, don’t run to the doctor every time something hurts them and allow their teeth to rot and fall out, or the United States won’t have enough money to fight wars and bail out the big banks. - Charles Simic
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