Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bush Administration View of American Principles

The actions of the Bush Administration since 9/11 seem to suggest that the Administration itself thought that the American experiment was a failure, and could not survive this type of attack.

Honestly, look at the reasons that the Administration continues to offer for its decisions to:

• repeal the 4th Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches

• arrest people without charges and to hold them indefinitely while subjecting them to ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment

• repeal habeas corpus

• repeal the rights of a defendant to a fair trial and to hear the evidence offered against him so that he can respond to it and offer evidence to refute it

• eliminate as much as possible the system of checks and balances by (1) cutting off the authority of the legislative branch (through signing statements) and (2) cutting off the judicial branch (through executive orders making the President and the Justice and Defense departments the judge of their own actions)

• hide everything under a cloak of secrecy while shouting ‘traitor’ at all who question their judgments.

This argument has always been, “Because the American system does not work. It is fatally flawed, and it needs to be replaced by a system having the characteristics described above in order to keep us safe. All things considered, these characteristics, that we have until now classified as the mark of tyrannies, are all legitimate government actions.”

In other words, “We were wrong to have condemned these policies in the past. America, and Americans, made a mistake to raise objections to them. We now recognize the error of our ways and adopt these policies as our own.”

I wonder if the Bush Administration plans on offering a formal apology other countries that it once condemned for engaging in these practices? After all, if I tell my neighbor that he is doing something wrong and condemn him for it, only to later discover the error of my ways, I should say something like, “I’m sorry I condemned you for setting fire to your cat. I have come to realize that this is a perfectly legitimate activity, and I plan on doing it myself from now on.”

Yet, there has to be a reason why the Bush Administration has opted for warrantless searches and seizures over warrants, unification of powers under one branch rather than separation of powers, and the effective abolition of the idea of a right to a fair trial. It is clearly not the case that they would have thrown away these practices if they had any faith or reason to believe that these policies would work for the benefit of the country.

There are only two possible explanations for these types of decisions.

(1) They did not believe that these policies would work. That is to say, they considered America to be a failed experiment and that it was time to admit to those mistakes and to adopt the practices we once condemned.

(2) They still believed that these practices would work for America, but they were not interested in America’s future, only their own. Towards that end they replaced institutions that were meant to secure the blessings of liberty for all Americans with a different set of institutions that preserved and promoted the wealth and power of a few.

Or some combination thereof.

There were a group of people involved, and they likely had different motives. Of these, I think that the first option deserves more attention than it has received. The Bush Administration thought that the principles of individual liberty written into the American system of government were a mistake.

This possibility has some interesting implications. For example, as odd as it may sound, the people who share Bush’s assumptions that the American system is fatally flawed are those who tend to wrap themselves most tightly in the American flag. If a poll were taken, I would predict it to show that those who consider themselves the most patriotic are significantly more eager to help Bush dismantle the American system of government.

In other words, those who are most eager to defend the flag are least eager to defend what it stands for, and those who are eager to defend what the flag stands for are least eager to defend the flag.

I want to point out that just because Bush disagrees and does not support the ideals under which this country has operated for over 200 years does not prove that he is wrong. The founding fathers were not divine persons who were merely transcribing the wises of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly beneficent God. It is as much of a fallacy to say that something is unquestionably true and good because it was said by Washington as it is to say that something was unquestionably true and good because it was said by Jesus. After all, the founding fathers defended slavery (most of them) and never thought that women should be given a right to vote.

In fact, the founders substantially admitted their own fallibility when they wrote the Constitution. They wrote procedures into the Constitution for people to follow if future generations should ever believe that the founders had been mistaken.

(If only the authors of scripture had the same humility. Then they, too, would have included provisions for altering the text over time to at least remove the most significant errors. However, they had the arrogance of asserting their own infallibility, which gives is legions of people asserting that their texts cannot be altered as a matter of principle.)

So, as with the issue of slavery and women’s rights, perhaps we need to consider the Bush Administration’s suggestion that the principles of separation of powers, warrantless searches and seizures, and the right to trial by jury were bad ideas that need to be repealed. We can do so using the tools that the founders provided – by entertaining amendments to the Constitution to correct these mistakes.

If only the Bush Administration were honest enough to pursue that option.

I suspect that the reason they do not do so is because they know how the decision would go, if they only decided to present their position honestly and accurately.


anticant said...

Another splendid post, Alonzo. The wholesale scrapping of civil liberties in both the US and the UK is one of the most sinister and alarming aspects of post 9/11 events. The misconceived "war on terror" has been turned by the US and UK governments into war upon the historic freedoms of their own peoples.

As a result, we are nearer to Orwell's nightmare world of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" than I ever thought we would be in my long lifeltime [and I am nearly 80]. If bin Laden is still alive, he must be exultant.

These measures are the outcome either of irrational fear, or of a calculated bid by our governments to snatch more powers for themselves and to stifle dissent. Probably a mixture of both.

Some of Bush's pronouncements are startlingly reminiscent of those of Hitler when he first gained power in Germany and rapidly proceeded to dismantle the democratic Weimar constitution.

John Philpot Curran [1750-1817] said: "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition, if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt."

Keep on stirring up the vigilance, Alonzo!

Anonymous said...

simply awesome.

funny, i read it in an "Agent Smith" voice.

Stephen Darlington said...

Nice post. Thought your comment about "those who are most eager to defend the flag are least eager to defend what it stands for" was insightful.

Kind of related is this article I came across in the Guardian recently: Fascist America, in 10 easy steps