A hallmark of a totalitarian (or at least, authoritarian) country is the legal impossibility of anonymous, unhassled travel.
"Your papers, please" was synonymous—once upon a time—with countries like Nazi Germany and, of course, the old Soviet Union.
As recently as the late 1980s, one could walk right up to a ticket counter at any major airport and buy a ticket, in cash, without presenting any ID whatsoever. You could arrive at the airport minutes before your flight—and so long as you made it to the gate before they shut the door, you could make your flight.
No TSA. No "enhanced body imaging". No feel-ups of nubile young women—or for that matter, fragile old people forced to get up out of their wheelchairs.
Yes, I know. Then came 9/11—our new Sacred Word—and the "new realities".
But the birth of police state treatment of travelers predates 9/11 by more than a decade, at least. Arguably, the camel's nose under the tent that led to everything we're up against today—including virtual strip searches so sensitive they can tell whether a man is circumcised (either that, or a rough "pat down" by a TSA goon)—was set in motion by a group of…Moms.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, that is.
It was MADD, back in the '80s, that was the motive force behind the imposition of America's first totalitarian travel laws—in the form of so-called "sobriety checkpoints"—i.e., random, warrantless and probable cause-less "screening" of all the drivers who just happened to be on that stretch of road.
The Supreme Court affirmed it—in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz—and much worse, the public has come to accept it, too.
So it's really no surprise that, with a few noble exceptions, most people also accept the disgusting, demeaning "screening" now imposed by the TSA on air travelers. Rather than decline to fly—using their economic power to force a change for the better—or even taking the lesser step of sending in a letter of complaint—they submit.
It makes the flesh creep, not just for what this tells us about the passivity of Americans, about their willingness to bow their heads and obey whenever the state barks at them—but more so for the future it portends.
What happens when the backscatter X-ray machines and routine, random pat downs are paired with the legal principle already established by random roadblocks and "sobriety checkpoints"?
Surely "terrorists" travel by car, too.
And it would be a risk to "national security", would it not, to permit these lurking evildoers to travel undetected?
If you haven't yet made the mental connection, be assured that there are people who have. Mobile backscatter X-ray machines already exist and have already been deployed on our streets to "randomly screen" passing vehicles—and probably people, too. (See here).
There is just too much power—and profit—on the table to leave things lie.
This will happen. You will find yourself stopped by the side of the road—for absolutely no reason at all—forced to obey not just a buzz-cut cop's Fallujah-esque interrogation and rummaging of your "papers"—but in addition to that, a more thorough "screening" of your vehicle and person, either by mechanical means or the old-fashioned frisk.
All the building blocks are not merely in place—they have been cemented together firmly.
In the past year alone, the courts have affirmed the "right" (in reality, the arbitrary power) of cops to forcibly extract your bodily fluids from you if they "suspect" you may be under the influence of either the licit drug alcohol or illicit drugs, such as marijuana.
And "suspect" means very little in the way of tangible, objective reason for such suspicion. Really, it boils down to whether the cop wants to throw you over the hood of his cruiser and hypodermic you—just like it's pretty much up to the TSA goon at the airport whether he merely feels you up publicly—or forces you into a quiet room for further "screening".
Oh yes. It's true you don't have to fly, so you can avoid the TSA porno scanners as well as the TSA's feel-ups.... for the moment.
But what happens when these features of the New American Way are deployed on highways and roads throughout the country, as they surely will be?
What then, friend?
Very few of us can elect not to leave our homes, to park our cars and hunker down in the basement.
We have to drive. Or at least, we have to travel. Whether by foot, car, bus or train.
And the Supreme Court has already decreed that we should accept that we have (according to them) no "" the moment we cross our property line into the "public" sphere—and "public" areas, such as roads. We have given our "implied consent") to be randomly stopped and "screened"—for no specific reason whatsoever.
The general threat—whether it be "drunk drivers" or "terrorists"—justifies it.
That is what the courts have said and it is what the Moms at Mothers Against Drunk Driving set in motion back during the Reagan Years, when everyone thought it was morning in America again.
Sorry for the rude awakening.
Eric Peters (email him is a refugee from The Washington Times, where he worked as an editorial writer and columnist during the 1990s. He is currently a freelance car journalist and runs ericpetersautos.com. He is the author of Automotive Atrocities and his next book, Road Hogs, will be published this fall.