I’ve had no desire to write about politics in recent months, but the National Defense Authorization Act that passed both houses of congress last week with overwhelming bipartisan support is something so egregious and abominable that I feel obligated to express my outrage over it.
This is quite possibly the most despicable and inexcusable act of congress in American history. It spits in the face of the founding fathers and destroys the core principles this country was founded on. The ghost of King George is laughing at how two hundred and fifty years after freeing themselves from his monarchy, the colonies voted to restore the same despotic powers they had rebelled against.
The Americans of the 18th century fought bravely and spilled their blood to win certain rights they believed to be inalienable. One of the most important among these was the right to defend oneself in a court of law. For thousands of years, in civilizations across the planet, enemies of the Emperor or the King could simply be taken away and thrown into a dungeon without ever being told what they were charged with let alone given a trial, but what happened two and a half centuries ago was revolutionary—the colonies won their independence and for the first time in human history a government was founded on the principle that no individual person should have such Absolute Power.
That is what The United States of America is all about. That’s why for hundreds of years no matter what sins our government may have committed—the extermination of Native Americans, slavery, wars of imperial aggression, the oppression of the lower classes for the benefit of the wealthy—Americans still had reason to be proud of our country. We were the first nation founded on an ideal: that human liberty is sacrosanct.
Now that founding principle is a mere pen-stroke away from annihilation. The president need only sign the document in front of him, accept the powers his office was deliberately designed to lack, and The United States of America as we know it will be officially dead.
You might say that I’m over-stating the case. The new legislation does not grant the executive branch the power to do anything it hasn’t already been doing for at least a decade. We’ve already been using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to spy on our citizens, detain people indefinitely, and assassinate terrorism-suspects without a trial. Why make such a fuss over a bill that only legitimizes the powers that the president has already been using?
I’m saying that it’s precisely the legitimization of the powers that makes this so terrible. It’s one thing if the president exercises extraordinary powers in violation of the law. It’s another thing completely if those extraordinary powers are the law. When Obama took office he could have put a stop to these abuses and restored the executive branch to the same level of power it was originally intended to have, but instead he not only continued the blatantly unconstitutional and anti-American practices of the Bush administration but codified them. Once this is signed into law, we will officially live a country where the chief executive can throw any citizen in prison for life without a trial and the citizen will have no recourse whatsoever because this will be perfectly legal.
Welcome back to the British Empire.
The fact that there was no fight whatsoever over this—that the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses—is the most infuriating thing of all. Every single one of those lawmakers took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and every single one of them violated that oath as completely and thoroughly as it could be violated. It may sound like hyperbole but it’s true: they are all guilty of treason.
They have destroyed the very thing that made America America, and because they did so quietly and without a fight, while everyone’s attention was on the dismal economy and their own personal financial struggles, they managed to do it without being noticed. There was no conflict, so the media barely covered it. The vast majority of citizens are unaware that their country has suddenly undergone a fundamental alteration of its very nature.
Perhaps you can say that practically speaking, this is not so devastating. Sure, in the abstract world of ideals and principles it is an outrage, but what difference does it make in the real world?
President Obama will probably not use the new powers any more than he did when they were unofficial. He will probably only target citizens for whom there is strong evidence are working with terrorists. Perhaps the next president will also use the powers responsibly, and the president after that. But can we really trust that every administration from now until the end of time is not going to abuse this power?
If we are realists, is it not realistic to assume that a future president will eventually succumb to the temptation to target a citizen and throw him in prison for life without legal recourse not because he is working with terrorists but merely because he’s a nuisance? Perhaps that journalist is too close to exposing a secret the president wants hidden—if it’s perfectly legal and risk-free to simply remove her, why not do it? Just say we have evidence to suggest that she’s working with terrorists. Perhaps that independent politician is becoming too popular and could threaten the president’s chances for re-election—why not accuse him of having ties to terrorists? No one will ever have a chance to prove it one way or another.
Perhaps that grassroots political movement which aims to restore the middle-class to prosperity in spite of the inevitable harm to corporate profits is becoming too powerful—why not accuse them of terrorism and get them off the streets? It may be an egregious abuse of power, but they will never have a chance to plead their case.
By our own hands, we’ve handed the real terrorists a victory as great as any they could have hoped for. In essence, we’ve said to them: “Your tactics have worked. We are so terrified of you that we are sacrificing the rights our country was founded on to keep us a little safer.”
Farewell, America. It was a great country while it lasted.