In the days of the former Soviet Union, prominent Soviet journalists, business people, and even bureaucrats would confidentially tell Westerners that they had many acquaintances but very few friends.
When asked what the differences were, the answer was scary.
The main difference was that, in the Soviet Union, there were things you could only tell your closest true friends – like your sister – because they could get you killed.
An acquaintance could be one who may know where you went to school and that your favorite color was purple. But they could not (should not) be trusted to know anything at all about your economic and political life.
An enemy could be just about anyone who could/might use any information about you to gain for themselves even some small advantage.
Therefore, it was critical for everyone to keep their circle small and keep their head down.
When asked by a Westerner how a stranger could know whether any Russian was a Soviet spy, the answer was very simple: one can never be sure, THEREFORE one should simply assume that everyone might be a spy and act accordingly.
They, and we, have all come quite a long way since those days. The numbers of friends and acquaintances has increased a bit. But in societies that have autocratic tendencies, most people should still be careful to keep their affairs close and simple. It does not take many outright street shootings in public in Russia today to remind most people to be very careful to conceal their likes and dislikes.
Our current political climate in the United States has become a bit more like Russia’s than we would like.
Your political opinions are still quite unlikely to get you killed in the United States, but the rate at which Presidential appointees are being fired and forced out, seemingly almost randomly on a whim, is suggestive of how that process starts to get out of control.
Our current President has clear authoritarian tendencies and has gone after more than a few people who have had the audacity to challenge him. In fact, the streets of DC are metaphorically littered with stray bodies of people he has scattered in his of tweets.
Some of the recipients of his displeasure—such as the former Secretary of State—had the lack of caution of saying to someone that Trump was an idiot. Gone!
If that cabinet officer had followed the Soviet rules of caution, he might still be in office—except that he was also promoting publicly a diplomatic opening with North Korea, which it now appears Trump viewed as his exclusive Nobel Peace Prize province?
It appears that we are reaching a point where it may be wise for more politically active citizens to monitor themselves carefully to limit their utterances lest those sounds/words come back to haunt them in unexpected and unpleasant ways.
While that may not be an explicit attack on the 1st Amendment, because we would be voluntarily limiting ourselves, the effect is the same and would bring us to a very dangerous moment in our history.
It is not too soon to become aware of this new insidious assault on our freedom of speech.
I am particularly aware of the problem as I write this blog because despite being 87 years old, who knows? And, believe it or not, I have occasionally found myself reining in some of my thoughts and ideas.
That is not a healthy sign - at least to some of you?