The following essay of mine was inspired by this article by Glenn Greenwald that was posted on Salon.com circa May 13, 2010.
The main point Glenn tackled in that article was the manner in which the Obama administration has shamelessly taken advantage of the fear pervading our society in regards to terrorists by continuously eroding our civil liberties in order to more effectively (according to them) battle and stop terrorism. Should it be surprising to us that Obama has taken the Bush/Cheney erosions of our civil liberties even further than they did? Should we have expected more of him? My once closest friend told me not to expect "miracles" after electing Obama, and that he would be much better than Bush as a president despite his "centrist" aspirations.
Yet Obama is now considering legislation that will strip all American citizens of their citizenship should they be discovered to be supporting the activities of any group that is considered to be connected to anti-U.S. terrorist operations (either real or imagined, no doubt). This simply means that eventually any organization who opposes the policies of the U.S. government can be branded as "terrorist" in nature, and political dissent will now carry the danger of having your American citizenship revoked. This also means that you will no longer have any of the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. And this despite the fact that various rights as described in the Constitution are meant to apply to anyone tried of a crime in the U.S., regardless of whether or not they are citizens.
And the civil rights erosions continue, with some of them formerly reserved for foreigners now being aimed at American citizens. Anyone declared an "enemy combatant" by the government can be detained indefinitely without due process, without being charged with a crime, with no right to talk to a lawyer, in secretive prisons where they may be subject to inhumane conditions and interrogation methods. Scary, isn't it? And now the president wants the power to order assassination attempts on American citizens who he believes are supporting anti-American interests abroad, something that not even Bush and Cheney asked for during their eight disreputable years in the Oval Office. And American citizens are so scared of and angry at terrorists that they will support all of these barbaric measures, all the while confident that such tactics will never be turned on them or their loved ones--until one of them happens to voice a very unpopular opinion in the future, or associate with the "wrong" organization.
Should we be surprised that Obama is doing this? Of course not. We cannot forget that the War On Terror serves the same purpose that the Cold War once did, i.e., a perpetual, never-ending war that justifies great military expenditures, war profiteering, and, just as importantly, less spending on needed social programs at home--such as universal health care, education, and relief for the poor--and the increase of governmental power both at home and abroad. The media continues to cheerlead for this, doing everything in its power to horrify and anger the public with every little terrorist attack that occurs, even if it was botched. As Glenn pointed out in his article, every such attack and every bit of media-influenced fear-mongering plays right into the government's hands. Does Obama not see what he is getting us into? And if so, does he care? Or does he care more about the type of power he is building for the executive branch of government and less for the principles that America is supposed to personify? Does trying those accused of terrorism in military commissions rather than criminal courts really serve the cause of justice? And what costs do we pay whenever we create a new class of citizens who are exempt from civil rights protections as accorded in the Constitution?
Yet the mindless Obama supporters continue to rationalize and justify everything he is doing even after having spent eight years criticizing and attacking the Bush/Cheney administration when they were doing exactly the same thing. Now that we have a Democrat in office, the Bush/Cheney policies that these so-called progressives once decried as being against American principles are now considered to be part and parcel of the Democratic cause. They have exposed themselves as caring less for the principles they are supposed to represent and more for simply having their political party in power. They shamelessly champion blatantly conservative, far right wing policies as long as it's a Democrat initiating them rather than a Republican.
Then there is the controversial matter of Obama's Supreme Court nomination to replace retiring and terrific progressive judge Justice John Paul Stevens--Elena Kagan. Despite the fact that she has carefully avoided expressing any political views about law and jurisprudence during her 20+ year career, including as a dean of Harvard Law School, she has been appointed by Obama to replace an outgoing liberal judge who stood fast behind progressive values, and we have no idea what consequences this will have for the judicial branch of the government for the next few decades. Will the Supreme Court now take a dive towards the Right with a "centrist" judge on the bench? Considering Kagan's stated support for some of Bush's anti-terror policies, the implications for civil liberties at home could be more terrifying than the terrorists themselves.
I have always stressed the importance of civil liberties and what is said in the Constitution. Nobody, not any class of people, should be exempt from constitutional protections and rights. No matter how hated or (arguably) dangerous someone is, if we refuse to act in a democratic, civilized manner in prosecuting them, we run the risk of becoming exactly like them. We become hypocrites in the eyes of the world. We send the message that America actually believes in nothing at all. We suggest that might makes right, and that having a powerful government is more important than having empowered citizens. We make it clear that we never took democracy too seriously in the first place. We make it look as if we have no confidence in the system we claim to espouse and represent to the world when the going gets tough. We show the world that the Emperor never had any pants on to begin with. We imply to the world that the system we want to promote to the world is incapable of serving the common good, and that totalitarianism is a good response to hard times. We show that we are not anymore civilized or devoted to freedom than the terrorists we denounce. We make citizens avoid dissenting with the government when they may feel it's warranted for fear they will be labeled "terrorists" or "enemy combatants" and stripped of their rights and citizenship. We show the world that we like to flex our military might every chance we get, including into areas that should be handled by traditional law enforcement. And perhaps most importantly, we make it all the more clear to the world that there is no big difference whatsoever between a Democrat and a Republican, and we (heaven forbid!) further validate the claims and views of the "crazy" socialists like myself.
Yes, democracy can and does work. If we truly support it, then we must never stray from its principles, no matter how serious a threat ever rears its head in our midst. And we must hold Obama and other Democratic presidents accountable for abuses of these principles and for violating that which we, as Americans, claim to hold more dear than our own lives. Obama is supposed to be above shameless power-mongering, and it's time that his blind supporters take a long and hard look at his conduct and remember what their principles are supposed to be.
And a word to all American citizens who are angry with America (and rightly so): do not, under any conceivable circumstances, resort to genuine terrorism, i.e., the injuring of innocent people or destruction of private property, to express your anger. Do not try to kill or physically harm any politician. Not only is this an uncivilized and barbaric thing to do, but when we do things like this, we simply encourage the government to do the same in response. We give the government more justification to erode civil rights further, and to pursue their destructive foreign agendas all the more fervently. That results in more innocent civilians being killed and more imperialism. And you will also cause so much fear to the general public that they panic and actually support the government becoming worse and worse in its democratic rights violations both here and abroad. Violence should only be used as a last resort in self-defense of oneself or one's nation. If we act against these principles, or cause violence and other mayhem to make a point or send a message, we only instigate the government to further its anti-democratic and imperialistic goals. We then appear to justify the government's harsh countermeasures, and we enable them to more easily get away with further broadening the definitions of "terrorist" and "enemy combatant," and further the number of citizens who are denied due process and tried in military commissions rather than criminal courts. Genuine acts of terrorism, and the use of terrorism as a tactic, never helps promote any cause. If you truly are against U.S. imperialism, then you should stop giving the government further excuses for continuing it and invading yet more foreign nations, and instead combat the government's unprincipled activities in a way that shows that you are a civilized human being. Sometimes violence is necessary, of course, and I am no pacifist by any means (I would take a life in defense of myself or my loved ones), but I do not believe that the taking of innocent lives is ever justified, and all it ever does is hurt whatever cause you espouse.