A Dangerous Future

26 05 2007

What many people fail to realize, I think, is that the true danger of the Bush Administration is not necessarily the impact of his policies on the present, but on the future. That is why I find myself so frightened. What are the potential hazards?

They are legion. Before addressing them, however, let’s backtrack a moment. From 1949 until 1989, the United States fought a “Cold War” with our great ideological enemy the Soviet Union. This battle was not solely about ideology, of course — it was about influence over an increasingly shrinking world. Both nations existed in a permanent state of war, with the threat of nuclear holocaust ever present. This war, however, did not play out within either of the two nations who waged it. Instead, the battlefields of this war were Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Both nations used the rest of the world as a giant chess-board, funding insurgents, destabilizing governments, fueling civil wars and invasions, all in the name of spreading, or containing, a particular economic and social model and capturing the other’s pawns.

In the United States, this war of ideas spawned only one real wave of repression, the so-called “McCarthy Era.” However tragic, it proved relatively short-lived and did not become the pattern for subsequent decades. Politicians continued to play the “red card,” and were often rewarded for it, but that short burst of repression did not last. Thus Americans were content to let the battles of the Cold War play out overseas while we continued to consume the products of the good life on an unprecedented scale. As long as secretive policies resulted in tumult for dark-skinned foreigners, most citizens didn’t mind all that much.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, and after September 11th, however, the battlefield has changed. Destruction happened in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, not in Guatemala, or Chile, or Vietnam. Americans reeled from the atrocities of that day with a mixture of anger, fear, and confusion. Years of neglecting the realities of the world beyond our shores suddenly caught up with us. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court had only the year before installed exactly the wrong person for this new environment.

This man, a political light-weight and corporate failure, a child of privilege with no real convictions other than his sense of self-importance, used the attacks as an excuse to inflate his own power in an effort to redefine American politics and expand what he saw as his legacy.

Either President Bush does not realize, or he does not care, that his actions will make it far easier for future presidents to violate the constitution and ignore the law, all with the help of a party whose basic beliefs make Louis XIV look like a Libertarian. How much easier will it be for a future president, one more unscrupulous, more devious, or more clever than President Bush to justify actions which ten years ago would have been unthinkable, even in our flawed democracy? If security becomes the paramount drive behind the American government, then future administrations will be able to implement any and all measures deemed “necessary,” no matter how repressive and odious.

The framers of the 1787 Constitution made no provision for “emergency powers” available to the chief executive. They knew that such powers, once taken, could never be removed. It is as if they foresaw the downfall of the Weimar Republic in Germany, when President Hindenburg, and later Hitler, took advantage of those powers to sweep the nascent German democracy into the ashbin. President Bush has side-stepped the lack of former emergency powers in the American system by simply ignoring the constitution and the law when it suits him. This dangerous precedent has the potential of bringing down the curtain once and for all on American democracy as we know — five years from now, or fifty. Odds are that your grandchildren will not live in a society like ours.

We are literally one national disaster away from a complete loss of what freedoms we have left, all in the name of so-called security. One needs only look to history to understand that societies will virtually always give up civil liberties for security, even if that security is illusory. Total security, however, is illusory. It is simply not possible to prevent every single individual committed to a tyrannical ideology from committing suicide in pursuit of that ideology, no matter how big and how repressive the government may become. A good example that many people didn’t quite understand is the London Bombings. The citizens of London are the most surveilled people in the entire world. And yet, several bombers were able to carry out their attacks under the nose of an intrusive bureaucracy. The lesson of the London Bombings is not that terrorists will attack us at home, it is rather that encroaching on the civil liberties of citizens is simply no defense.

Many commentators judge the Bush Administration on the fact that no terrorist attack on American soil has happened since 9/11, and thus conclude that the President must be doing something right, and that makes everything else okay.

It is important to remember, however, that eight years lapsed between the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the attacks of 2001. Does this mean that President Clinton “did something right” without attacking the very foundations of American society? We are less than six years away from 9/11. If Al Qaeda is planning another domestic attack, they are within their earlier time-frame. Thus, if we use history as a guide, the absence of any domestic attacks since 9/11 is indicative of nothing.

This brings us to Osama bin Laden. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush declared him public enemy number one, and vowed to capture or kill him. And then proceeded to abandon that effort. Why? Is it because the administration needs bin Laden and Al Qaeda to justify its policies? Before you scoff, think of all of the political careers ruined by the absence of the Soviet Union. Politicians who built their careers on “combatting Communism” suddenly seemed irrelevent in 1991. As long as bin Laden is alive, he can be used as a foil in the same way that Khruschev and Breshnev did to the older generation. It seems impossible to me that he greatest nation on earth cannot track down the likes of bin Laden.

Sadly, the loyal opposition is — as usual — too weak, too divided, and too committed to the status quo to stand up to the President and demand accountability.

In this case, accountability demands impeachment of both the President and the Vice President. Let’s hear the charges, and let’s let the Senate judge them guilty or not guilty. Any reasonable person will admit that there are plenty of charges to go around.

There is plenty of blame to go around as well, and a hefty chunk of that blames lies squarely at the feet of the American electorate. We gave into fear-mongering; we turned a blind eye while the President violated the law and the Constitution; we believed that actions at home and abroad meant to make us “safe” justified all of this.

Telling a pollster that one dislikes Bush, or Cheney, or that one believes the country is going in the wrong direction is not a substitute for action. We should be out on the streets every day demanding a trial, even if that means the government is temporarily paralyzed. The needs of the present are no longer important; only those of the future matter. And our future is in real danger from my perspective as a historian and as a citizen. I, for one, will gladly sacrifice my “security” to ensure that my niece and nephew and their children live in an American that preserves our tradition of civil liberty.

We seem to have forgotten that the legacy of our founders is not the ability to buy anything we want — it is that we have the freedom to express ourselves in the marketplace of ideas, and that dissent is healthy and not disloyal.




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