You don't have to spell it out
by Tom Sullivan
Camp X-ray, Guantanamo Bay base, now abandoned. David Welna/NPR.
Chris Edelson wonders aloud in the Baltimore Sun what kind of people might carry out President Trump's detentions and deportations. What kind of people would detain elderly travelers in wheelchairs, handcuff a 5-year old child, and detain others for nearly 20 hours without food? Ordinary ones:
The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.He doesn't have to spell out what he's driving at.
The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly "ordinary" people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.The Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment, and others show many quite ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations will follow instructions from an authority figure even if it means harming another, even cruelly. Ask Pfc. Lynndie England. Her experience was no experiment. She went to prison for what Rush Limbaugh brushed off as no worse than fraternity hazing. Others who were as guilty and higher up the chain of command went free. Federal employees as well as state and local ones should take a lesson.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question. Most of us will not face the stark choice employees at airports faced over the weekend. But we are all democratic citizens. Ultimately, our government can only act if we allow it to act. Under our Constitution, the people rule. Our elected officials, including the president, are accountable to us. We possess the power to reject actions we see as out of bounds. We are used to doing this in elections, but democratic tools go further. Even once an election is over, we can exercise our First Amendment rights to contact elected officials, speak, write and protest.Silence is complicity. You don't have to spell that out either.