Posted by: coloradokiwi | November 15, 2007

Bridge to Nowhere (and by “nowhere,” I mean fascism)

In case you haven’t already heard, the latest idiotic “scandal” to rouse the partisans concerns yet another round of Americans abroad expressing the “wrong” opinion and getting in trouble for it back home. Yes, in true Dixie Chick fashion, another bunch of ladies has decided to embarrass us by (the horror!) expressing to their international peers that they did not and do not support Bush.

The latest traitors are the United States women’s bridge team. Yes, bridge. The card game that only old biddies and Bill Gates play. Anyway, it broke down like this: the U.S. women’s team won their international tournament, held in Shanghai. While there, they had been prodded about the policies of the Bush administration. Therefore as an impromptu gesture of “levity,” at the awards dinner they produced a handwritten sign, on the back of a menu, that read “We did not vote for Bush.”

***Aside: I always found it irksome that people would often conflate their disgust of American policies with disgust for Americans, as if any of us have direct influence over what our leaders do. We have a Constitution, fuckwads, we can’t exactly hold snap elections or no confidence votes! To blame individual Americans for anything, without even bothering to check on their politics, is absurd.***

Anyway, apparently the United States Bridge Federation did NOT like the gesture, and wish to impose harsh sanctions against these women, some of whom depend on bridge tournaments for their income:

[The sanction] calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service “that furthers the interests of organized bridge”; and an apology drafted by the federation’s lawyer. It would also require them to write a statement telling “who broached the idea of displaying the sign, when the idea was adopted, etc.”

Clearly this is absurd and outrageous (and wow, the punishment hardly fits the “crime”), but I would like to go on a rant about this sort of thing for a moment:

Let’s just leave aside for a moment that the USBF is claiming that as a private organization they have the right and the means to curtail the free speech of their members. Let’s just leave aside for a moment that not only are the board members clearly imposing their own politics here, but appear to be motivated in part by real or perceived pressure by corporate sponsors. Let us also ignore for the time being that according to other bridge players it is a common sight to see all sorts of political signage at international events covering all range of political persuasions.

What I want to focus on here is the “reasoning” behind the outrage, which boils down to this: it is inappropriate to criticize a sitting president in a public manner in front of people from foreign countries while in a foreign country, because you are a representative of the United States and as such should express “support” for the country through bland solidarity.

You know, last time I checked, all of our state officials swore to uphold the Constitution — not any particular party, person, or viewpoint per se. Not only does the Constitution give people the right to dissent via free speech and assembly, and these rights are intended to extend to all U.S. citizens wherever they might be (as well as non-citizens while they are here), but it is the very basis of our nation and its government, which is intended to guide and curtail the actions of whomever is in office (hey, I know that lately this is really more theoretical than practical, but go with me here). It is not only appropriate to criticize a sitting president while abroad, it is your duty as a citizen to do so if you see fit. While I was abroad I criticized Bush regularly, but not just to fit in or avoid conflict. There were many times where someone would wax romantic about Clinton, and I would launch into several critiques about how he was a mediocre prez, at best — it’s just that by comparison he seems awesome (three words describe three things he failed to follow through on while he had the chance: Rwanda, Kyoto, Healthcare). You’ll often hear right wingers extoll the virtues of free speech, usually inserting some exceptionalism in the mix, by saying, “One of the great things about this country…” Well, you know, so long as that allows them to say anything they like, no matter how asinine. But I guess they’re suggesting that they’d shut up while abroad, although I don’t recall this rule being in place while Clinton was in office.

Now, if one were to publicly advocate the destruction of the country, or to display public contempt for the nation in general, that might be different. This wouldn’t bother me personally, but I can see how someone can make an intellectually honest argument about appropriateness here: if you’re on the national team, it’s a bit rich to slander the nation you represent in toto. However, articulating support for or against any specific policies or causes in which your nation is engaged is perfectly appropriate.

Anyway, there is a rhetorical tack that is far less “Constitution-y” which one can use against this kind of fascist nonsense. It is this: whenever we encounter someone who speaks out against the leadership of their country, and we think it likely that this person will face some kind of personal risk for doing so, we call this person “brave” and we hold their leaders and/or nation in contempt for suppressing free speech and for doing whatever it is they are likely to do to this person. Now, apparently, the good ol’ U.S.A. is one of those countries.

So let’s see if there’s a way to nip this nonsense in the bud. Try to get into arguments with whomever you can over this (hey, no better time than Thanksgiving!), because this is not merely a matter of the “embarrassment” of having our domestic political differences displayed to the world. It’s a matter of principle over what “supporting the nation” means, and it should not mean support of whatever numbskull is steering our national frigate into the shoals, but rather support of the flag on her mast, the lady on her bowspit, the…well, you get the idea. And of course by these I don’t mean the things themselves but what they represent. Because there are consequences to envoking national pride via national symbols and leaders at the expense of quelling that which that same leadership is sworn to uphold.

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