July 4, 2010

On this, the 4th of July, I, a Canadian, want to talk to Americans about their values. Perhaps that's presumptuous. Perhaps I should just shut it and say "it's none of my business."

I could argue that it's my business on purely pragmatic grounds: where goes the US, Canada often follows. We are a US subject state in all but name, and your failure to fix your problems makes it much harder and sometimes impossible to fix our problems.

But forget that. I don't primarily care about the US because of Canadian interests, I care about the US because I care about the American dream.

I sometimes think that many of us who aren't Americans believe in American ideals more than American citizens do. We imbibe, in other countries, a particularly pure form of the American civil religion. We hear about doing the right thing, about always giving the accused a day in court, about freedom of speech, about division of power and about rights that are rights not because they are given by government to its subjects, but because they are inalienable human rights.

Oh, as time goes by, you realize that America has always had problems with its virtues. You learn of the red scares, the Japanese internments, the genocide against the Indians, slavery and Jim Crow.

And yet... and yet, both people and countries are defined not just by their failures, but by the ideals they strive towards. America's ideals, and its striving towards them, were what gripped the world and gave others hope. If the American experiment in freedom, in rights, could succeed, then perhaps it could succeed in other places.

But what we see today is the American Dream dying. Not just the dream of every generation being better off than the one before, though that's dying, but the dream of a country where the citizens actually had rights, where they actually were free.

There are a number of reasons, but I think Jefferson's prescient phase sums it up best:

I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

I'm not so sure that banks are more dangerous than standing armies, but certainly the two of them together have brought the US to where it is.

The problem with standing armies is simple enough: if you've got one, politicians are always tempted to use it. When it's a professional standing army, so the majority of the population is not effected by its use, that temptation increases. When the army is the most powerful (though not the most effective) in the world, well, that temptation increases even further.

War is an executive function. A war cannot be run by a legislature. As a result, during war the power of the executive grows. In the US the executive can now hold people without charge indefinitely, meaning President has the ability to lock people up without a trial. If he does bother to grant a trial, the accused does not have the right to face their accusers or to see the evidence against them and evidence obtained through torture can be used.

The President can spy on any American he wants, and you have essentially no recourse, since it is illegal to let you know that you're being spied on. The President can declare American citizens combatants and have them assassinated, which is capital punishment without a trial.

Meanwhile, instead of the whole country being a free speech zone, free speech is only allowed in small areas if anyone important is nearby. Lord save the important people from having to actually see the people whom their policies are impoverishing and whose rights they are destroying.

The right of association has been severely crippled, since the executive can now declare any organization a terrorist organization without any trial and without any appeal. Any American who works with "terrorists" is a criminal. Even if they are, say, like Jimmy Carter, helping Hezbollah participate in fair elections.

To sum up, the President can do all of the following, in most cases without meaningful appeal or a trial: execute Americans, imprison people indefinitely, spy on anyone he wants, forbid people from flying, torture people, kidnap people, forbid people from associating with whoever they want, and deny them the right to speak freely anywhere except in small cordoned off zones.

This is America?

This is what the American dream has come to?

Your founders warned you about this. Warned you that standing armies and unrestrained banks would cost you your freedom.

And the sad thing is that most Americans are ok with it.

Are Americans who don't believe that everyone is endowed with inalienable rights still Americans worth the name?

That is my question to you on July 4th.

Happy Independence Day.

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