“Imagining the United States”

I just watched the most disquieting movie called “Imagining Argentina.”

It is, well, an “imaginative” screenplay based on the disappearance of some 30,000 citizens by the Argentinian government between 1976 and 1983.

Starring a younger Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson, he is the director of a children’s theater, while she is a journalist who writes a story about the disappearance of a group of school children following a public protest they put on over busing issues.  Unidentified men pull up in green sedans and spirit Thompson away from her husband and daughter following publication of her story calling on the government to account for the disappearances.  Banderas begins to have strange flashes of vision about the tortures his wife is going through that ends up with his meeting regularly with the mothers of the vanished students to hold their hands and share with them visions of their own children’s individual fates.  Some live.  Some die.  His own wife’s fate he cannot clearly ascertain, despite repeated attempts to track her down based on what his mind sees.

Before the movie ends, Banderas also loses his young daughter and his best friend to further disappearances and death by the government. The movie ends with his wife escaping her captors and their being reunited in the midst of a street carnival that is meant to symbolize a new era in Argentina,  one that is full of music, dancing and laughter.  It is a dawning of a time where the past is forgotten, as if it were all an imagined dream.

Except the credits roll, and there is a list of statistics from Amnesty International detailing many countries around the world and the tens upon tens of thousands of their citizens that have been “disappeared” as well.

And I began to wonder, could it happen here? Could we become a country where our leaders have us “disappear” because they do not like our political speech?  It seems preposterous given the liberties and freedoms granted to us in the Constitution.  Yet – we have a President who is, indeed, trying to make disappear from our television screens and Twitter feeds well-known persons who have spoken in protest against him or other fraught political issues that litter our societal landscape.

I am speaking, of course, of President Trump’s calls for the firing of ESPN’s Jemele Hill, and his call to NFL owners to sack any player who dares to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneel while the national anthem is played as a sign of social protest.

People are entitled to their opinions about whether or not these well-paid celebrities should just “shut up and stand up” in gratitude for their fame and fortune. It is their right.  Just as it was the free speech rights of Ms. Hill and Mr. Kaepernick to lend voice and bend knee in protest.  It is all called First Amendment protection.

But when the President of the United States chooses to castigate these individuals and call for the loss of their jobs, we are entering the territory of the “disappearance” zone – a head of government abusing the power of his office to make Ms. Hill, Mr. Kaepernick and others who would follow their lead disappear from the public forum because their opinions and actions violate his own limited understanding and he finds them dangerous to his authority.

He has even called for the obliteration of an entire nation of peoples because their leader has chosen to develop military technologies that the United States doesn’t believe it should have. We see it as threatening our security and that of our allies.  The other leader sees it as a move to preserve his own rule and as a “protection” against us.  When we talk about annihilating 25 million human beings, does Kim Jong Un have a point?

After all, we’ve been told he is the “mad man” who plans to do all of us in. We naturally find horror and a desire for self-preservation in that, but –perversely – don’t seem to think he should see it in a similar light when we threaten the same of his country.  Are we not blinded to our own failings of assuring peace only through military might?  The failing that – someday – we will use that might for ignoble ends instead of what we believe is our grand desire to protect democratic ideals, norms, society and governments?

If I should disappear for daring to ask these questions, it will have been in a green sedan, surrounded by men carrying guns. Try not to forget me when its carnival time.

 

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