There’s been a lot of careless talk, on both sides of the political aisle, warning that the other political party will transform the United States into a totalitarian state. Most of such talk can be safely ignored; nothing Bush did could have turned America into Mussolini’s Italy, and Barack Obama’s economic policies, while excessively overreaching and aggressive, aren’t out of the Lenin playbook.
Congress’ decision to tax the now infamous AIG bonuses at (or near) 100% is not totalitarianism—it is an understandable, if wholly irrational, response to something that seems (but isn’t) unjust, and something that provides ample ammunition for populists. But it is a fascistic thing to do, and is worrying.
It takes more than one isolated incident to provide proof, or even evidence, that the nation is on its way to fascism. But then, it is equally true that in any totalitarian government, there is one act that is the first step along the road to tyranny.
Congress’ response to the bailouts is undeniably unjust, and hypocritical, and wrong. Levying a tax only on those who received bonus money from AIG is probably an example of an ex post facto law, and represents of the actions of a government who is willing to forcibly take any money it feels is undeserved.
Even if we assume that those AIG employees shouldn’t have received those bonuses, Congress’ actions are no more justified, given that AIG was authorized to hand out those bonuses in the stimulus bill. It is one thing to pass an ex post facto law, but to pass an ex post facto law that reverses a law that you yourself made only a few weeks earlier is the height of chutzpah.
Congress is trying to do what is right here, but they are going about it in very much the wrong way. The end doesn’t justify the means, and creating an unjust law in order to right a perceived wrong is unacceptable. That sort of thing doesn’t belong in a democracy—it works better in totalitarianism.
Congress’ actions here are high-handed, and unjust. Do they mean that the nation is headed for totalitarianism? No. Just like one swallow does not make a spring, one unjust action is not ample evidence for accusations of fascism. But even if Congress’ proposal here isn’t a sign of impending fascism, it’s still worrying.
First, because it sets a dangerous pattern. No one in our government wants to set up a authoritarian regime now. But if some one ever does want to, it’s laws like this one that provide such people with a precedent, and which undercuts justice and the rule of law. Bad laws have consequences.
Second, the popularity of this proposed law (and really, any amount of popularity is too much in this case) says something about our nation. If this law is really unjust, what does it say about our country that nearly everyone is willing to accept it at the very least, and that many people actively support it? When totalitarianism comes, it is seldom the result of a one man power grab. It usually comes because the population prefers security over freedom.
Will that happen here? Eventually, maybe, but probably not now. (And it is possible that it will all be a moot point—most of the AIG employees involved have bowed under the pressure and returned their bonuses, which would make any law unnecessary) But as Jefferson said, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Anyone, left or right, who loves liberty should oppose this punitive, ex post facto law. It is wrong and dangerous.