On the slippery slope to despotism

barbed-wire flag with Cheney and Bush superimposed

Dark Ages return

George Bush and Dick Cheney have started the US down a very slippery slope to despotism. Born in the Age of Enlightenment, the US is regressing to the Dark Ages when irrationality, superstitition, and tyranny carried the day.

The founding documents of the United States set a course of hope and betterment.

• The Declaration of Independence was made in the spirit of internationalism: "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they [people severing political bonds] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." It laid out the basic tenets of democracy founded on self-evident truths: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Equality, unalienable rights, government power from the consent of the governed — these became the foundation of the Republic.

• The Constitution formalized how the government would work "in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

We fought a Civil War and struggled through an often violent and bloody Civil Rights movement a hundred years later to bring these ideals closer to reality, and the struggle still goes on.

Where are we now? The programs created during the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and later administrations are everywhere under attack by the ruling party, systematically stripping the social and financial safety net from under those who need it most. Instead of a generous and egalitarian transfer of wealth to trim the tails of the normal distribution of assets and resources, those in power are hell-bent on one large tax cut after another to the benefit of the very best-off in our society. Instead of getting smaller, the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is growing. So much for the "general Welfare."

Jeff Danziger cartoon
Jeff Danziger (Click image to enlarge)

We have prided ourselves on the "rule of law" and held this principle out as an unquestioned and unquestionable standard for other countries to follow. But we now have a network of secret prisons, some of them in former Soviet block countries, into which people disappear and are held for unspecified reasons, indefinitely, and are subject to "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." We know they are, or Vice President Cheney wouldn't be working tirelessly to strip language banning it from the defense appropriations bill and President George W Bush wouldn't be threatening his first-ever veto if the final bill includes the amendment, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Stuart Carlson cartoon
Stuart Carlson (Click image to enlarge)

Who could have imagined that a country born from the concept that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "inalienable rights" including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" would end up torturing people and relying on legalisms, loopholes, and definitions to justify it?

The Senate has just passed a bill denying "enemy combatants" the right of habeas corpus — everyone's right to know the charges against them and to dispute them in a court (see sidebar). The Bush administration ginned up this concept of enemy combatant to apply to people captured in the war on terror. Under the administration's theory, an enemy combatant is whomever the President declares to be one, and they can be locked away indefinitely without due process. It is simply a linguistic sleight of hand to avoid the constraints that would come from international treaties if they were called what they are, "prisoners of war."

The ability of the state to lock people away without recourse and treat them how it wants is a hallmark of despotism and tyranny. What the Bush administration is doing is exactly what Saddam Hussein used to do to his own people: lock them away, torture them, even kill them. Some will say that I exaggerate, that even if the Bushies have on occasion done these things, it isn't nearly as bad as what Hussein did. That confuses the kind of actions with the scale of actions. I am unaware of anyone who contends that the Administration has acted on the scale of Hussein, or Idi Amin, or Adolph Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or any other of history's tyrants and despots. But they have broken the rule of law that has heretofore been a shining beacon held out to the rest of the world. They have abandoned the enlightened and humanistic principles on which our country was founded.

We have sunk to the level of our enemies, and in doing so we are making even more enemies.

I don't consider myself naive about wars: they sometimes happen, and in the heat of battle and struggle to survive otherwise good people can do very bad things. Wars are by definition a breakdown of social and political structures. Shit happens. But there is a vast difference between shit happening and shit being government policy.

Pat Robertson
Pat Robinson (Video available from People for the American Way website)

And now a few final words about irrationality and superstition. School boards around the country are being asked to include "Intelligent Design" in the science curriculum, supposedly as an alternative to evolution. Creationism by any other name is still creationism, and has no place in the science classroom. When the good citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, had had enough of this nonsense and voted out all eight members of the school board who were advocating intelligent design, Pat Robertson, poster child for irrationality if ever there was one, took to the airwaves to claim that the people of Dover had "voted God out of their city" and to warn them that they would receive no mercy should disaster befall their town.

And shame on the broadcast and cable media for giving airtime to that nutcase!