When people say, “There is peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him (1 Thessalonians 5:3-10).As I mentioned the other day, I think the issue facing our country is not primarily left vs. right or GOP vs. Dem. It is, rather, an elite on both sides of the aisle that is increasingly stronger and more tyrannical vs. a populace that is increasingly weaker and more vulnerable to the depredations of the strong. It is an issue rooted, of course, in our culture of death. But it is something that has now begun to metastasize well past the killing and maltreatment of the weak, sick and old and is beginning to target all of us.
The concern about abortion, since the beginning, has been not merely that the killing of unborn children itself is a grave evil (bad as that is), but that the rationale for doing this evil must and will surely become the rationale for oppressing and killing the weak at every level of society. As Mother Teresa said with characteristic simplicity, “If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” Ideas have consequences. Once you declare that a human being’s right to live comes, not from the hand of God, but from the generosity of the state, you make all members of homo sapiens vulnerable to having their rights stripped from them by anybody with sufficient power to do it.
Almost 40 years ago, we chose to do this to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society and have gone on, as a culture, making that choice every day.
But our civilization has not stayed in place. It has built on this fundamental denial of human rights rooted in the fact that we are creatures made in the image and likeness of God. Little by little, but with increasing momentum, we have chosen, always for the sake of “peace and safety” (i.e., convenience) to snip off from the human family more and more of those who are weakest or otherwise beyond the pale of consideration as ineligible for human rights. Next came the elderly and ill, with euthanasia legislation. It’s sold, again, with the lie that it will bring “peace” (for the unwanted dying) and “safety” (from loss of too much money by those responsible for the care of the expensive weak person) but the real goal is convenience for bean counters who can’t be bothered to pay for people who “use up too many resources.” Power, once again, gets concentrated in the hands of the powerful and the undesirable are, on the word of the powerful alone, declared to be unworthy of life and pushed into death.
The culture that has supported this (particularly my own Generation Narcissus) has, with spectacular short-sightedness, never dreamed that somebody more powerful than us might consider us nuisances who might need to be gotten rid of. Which is how, with quiet efficiency and almost no notice from the media, the U.S. Senate last week was able to pass a bill which (if, God forbid, it becomes law) would place all American citizens in pretty much the position that the unborn, ill and elderly currently occupy: persons with basic human rights if the Powerful say we are entitled to them, and non-persons with absolutely no rights if the Powerful decide to imprison and (as we shall see in a moment) perhaps even kill us without charge or right to counsel.
The bill (SB 1867) was, it shall be noted, a bipartisan effort, authored in secret by Republican John McCain and Democrat Carl Levin. It is sold, of course, as “peace and safety” yet again. The idea is that the War on Terror (for reasons that are entirely unclear ten years down the road from 9/11) is suddenly so desperate that the President shall be given unilateral authority to strip any American citizen of his most fundamental civil rights, place him under military arrest on the basis of the royal fiat of the President alone, throw him in prison without charge and, if the Executive so wills, leave him there for the rest of his natural life. In plain English, what this means for every American citizen is that the Senate just passed a bill that would repeal, not just the Bill of Rights, not just the Constitution, but Anglo-American law back to Magna Carta. If the President says so, any or every American citizen can be summarily declared an enemy of the state—without charge, evidence, trial, judge, jury or verdict—and sentenced to life in prison.
Would a victim of such tyranny have the right of appeal? Senator Lindsey Graham explains it all for you:
“If you’re an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re going to be held in military custody and you’re going to be questioned about what you know,” he said, “and you’re not going to be given a lawyer if our national security interests dictate that you not be given a lawyer and go into the criminal justice system, because we’re not fighting a crime, we’re fighting a war.”Well, that sounds reasonable! Who wants to give terrorists human rights, the filthy scum? They should be grateful we don’t summarily kill them. And what difference does citizenship make? An American traitor deserves death.
Such reactions are precisely what Hermann Goering was talking about when he said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
Indeed, Obama already claims the unilateral right to summarily kill American citizens without arrest, evidence, trial, judge, jury or verdict and he also says the Supreme Court has no authority to stop him. If the President informs the press an American citizen is an enemy of the state, the press dutifully informs us and then the President has, according to the President, the authority to have that citizen killed. We then nod and trust the account the White House gives us, since when has an immensely powerful and unaccountable government official ever erred or lied about gross injustice to an innocent man? The state is, as we all know, infallible when it kills. So due process is a pointless obstacle to its swift and unerring workings. The President can be trusted with near infinite unilateral power of life and death over every citizen. Checks and balances just slow things down when we need action now! This is, naturally, also sold as “peace and safety.”
In short, under Obama, citizens accused of terrorism (not “found guilty”, just accused) are the latest category of people who no longer enjoy rights as human beings in the image and likeness of God. If the state wills, the Executive tells us he can kill any person he declares to be a terrorist.
So what has the Senate—the check on an overweening Executive—done to rein in a President who regards himself as empowered to kill you if he feels like it? The Senate wants to give the man claiming this unilateral power of life and death over every American the unilateral power to lock up—forever—any and all Americans on his word alone as well.
What could possibly go wrong?
Simply this: the reason institutions like the state exist and why a thousand years of Anglo-American law are there is to protect the citizens, not just from Bad Guys like terrorists, but just as much from the depredations of those with absolute and unquestioned power. So, while this bill seems to many a neatly efficient way of dealing with the problem of terrorists, it also has the regrettable side effect of giving a small and absolutely unaccountable elite absolute and unaccountable power over every single American citizen while stripping you and me absolutely naked and defenseless before an omipotent Leviathan. Should the Executive decide he wants to say that you and I are terrorists and lock us up forever without hope of appeal, this bill says, “Go for it!” and takes away habeas corpus solely on the basis of his almighty and unquestionable fiat.
“Yeah, so what?” say some supporters of the bill. “Senator Graham tells it like it is. We’re at war and desperate times call for desperate measures. If you don’t want to feel threatened by this tough measure then don’t be a terrorist traitor!” Yes, well, there is that. But there is also the little fact that what this bill does is a) place the matter of defining who is a “terrorist traitor” in the hands of an omnipotent executive who could, if he felt like it, declare you a terrorist traitor even when you aren’t one. Indeed, you don’t even need to be a terrorist traitor. You just need to be somebody the state thinks is suspicious based on its own bizarre criteria. Do you own guns? Do you own weatherproof ammunition? Are you missing any fingers? Do you have more than seven days worth of food stocked up?