For most of my life, I thought my country was fundamentally sound and moving in the right direction.
I knew there were serious problems and injustices in American life, but I thought that these were aberrations, contrary to our democratic ideals, which under our democratic system would be reformed over time.
I rejected the Communist belief that the crimes of capitalism are systemic, while the failures of Communism are failures to correctly understand or follow Marxist doctrine.
But my own beliefs were the mirror image of this. I believed that the crimes of Communist countries were the inevitable result of a bad system, while the crimes of Western countries were aberrations that could be corrected.
The first step in my radicalization was the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001. I was shocked at how fundamental liberties, such as habeas corpus and trial by jury, could be simply wiped off the blackboard, and the majority of Americans would see nothing wrong with this.
I always thought of torture as the ultimate crime against humanity, because it destroys the mind and soul while leaving the body alive. Torture became institutionalized, and even popular—possibly because of the illusion that it would be limited to people with brown skins and non-European names.
But I still thought of this as an aberration, part of a scheme by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others to restore executive power that had been lost after the Watergate hearings. I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008, not because I believed he would be a strong reformer, but because I thought he would restore the country to normal.
I soon learned that there was a new normal, one that was different from what I thought it was.