The American Prospect’sAdam Serwer has a good piece on the recent anti-TSA backlash, noting that the American public’s ire has only been aroused at government infringements on personal liberty now that it seems to be affecting solid middle-class (read: economically privileged, white, non-Muslim) citizens.
The amount of freedom Americans have handed over to their government in the years since the 9/11 attacks is difficult to convey. We’ve simply accepted the idea of the government secretly listening in on our phone calls and demanding private records from companies without warrants. Many shiver at the notion of trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts, and even at the idea of granting the accused legal representation. The last president of the United States brags openly about ordering people to be tortured, and the current one asserts the authority to kill American citizens he believes to be terrorists overseas.
But most of these measures are either invisible enough to put out of mind or occur outside of what most Americans can imagine happening to them. As long as it’s just Muslims being tortured and foreigners being detained indefinitely, the price we pay to feel secure seems all too abstract. The TSA’s new passenger-screening measures just happen to fall on the political and economic elites who can make their complaints heard. It’s not happening to those scary Arabs anymore. It’s happening to “us.”
I’ll add one other data point that goes un-mentioned in Serwer’s article: our comfort with (or indifference to) the fact that we’ve been killing thousands of foreigners abroad in two wars for nearly a decade, all for the promise of “greater security.” This despite the fact that our leaders rarely bother to make the case that those wars have actually made us safer, or that they were worth it in terms of their costs and benefits. (To say nothing of their morality.)