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Happy Fourth of July. It’s the end of America as we know it. And by the way, it’s the end of baseball, motherhood and apple pie as well. Baseball has morphed from a game of statistics into a reality show with players always in search of a better and less detectable steroid. And don’t get me going on apple pie – which usually isn’t. We are edging closer to Soylent Green every day.
The changes for motherhood and women are a major advance in civilization, but the rest is a mixed bag.
What is becoming of America should give us pause. We are in what I call a “post-constitutional drift,” and it worries me that we are so easily, without debate, moving away from our foundations.
There have been two provocations for this. The first was the attack on 9/11. President George W. Bush seized unprecedented power for the executive branch of government.
The second has been our Great Recession. The Great Depression sparked the rise of Hitler and Stalin and World War II. You cannot have that much wealth taken from that many people without sociopolitical repercussions. But it also gave the world FDR and Churchill. As a student of history I wondered what cataclysmic changes our Great Recession would birth. And lo and behold, the biggest change was us. President Barack Obama seized on economic events to assert government involvement on a breathtaking scale. Even former socialist countries in Europe were aghast. Welfare was increased to the masses while corporate welfare was even more lavish. The result? The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer at an astounding rate.
In Bush we had our moment of nationalism, in Obama, socialism. Unless we can recapture the ideals of our American Constitution quickly, we are destined to experience our own American version of National Socialism.
We wage pre-emptive wars, torture our captives and monitor our own citizens on a massive scale. Our government agencies are accountable to no one and openly defy, even lie to Congress. Consider this: Only a few years ago a president could not get a wire tap without a judge. Now he can kill you.
In 1946 we joined an international tribunal that indicted Nazi war criminals. One of the four counts was defined as “war of aggression.” Our prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, made an eloquent case against what is now American policy, the immorality of a so-called “pre-emptive war.”
Jackson’s opening statement at Nuremberg should be required reading for television pundits. He pointed to the June 30, 1934, Blood Purge as the turning point in German justice. Without formal charges or a trial, Hitler ordered the execution of Nazi Brownshirts (terrorists) who were suspected of planning a counter revolution. “In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people,” Hitler later reported to the Reichstag and the nation. “And thereby I became the Supreme judge.” The decision was applauded in Germany as a move back toward moderation, but Jackson asserts that it was this abandonment of Germany’s own constitution that began its descent into lawlessness.
Barack Obama’s decision to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awaki is instructive. Al-Awaki was a one-man Islamic propaganda machine. His online sermons of hatred inspired terrorism. In Nuremberg, only one top Nazi propagandist was in the docket. He was Hans Fritzsche, a popular Nazi radio voice. But as repugnant as his words had been, the American, Soviet, British and French judges acquitted him. How can you hang a man for free speech no matter how repugnant?
Months after the al-Awaki death, his 16-year-old son, an American citizen born in Denver, Colorado, with no ties to radical Islam, went to Yemen in search of his father’s body. He was likewise killed by an American drone. We call it a mistake.
Throughout our history we have condemned torture. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” Our motion pictures and culture have shown the barbarism of our enemies. The Japanese and the Germans tortured, so did the North Koreans and later the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Who can forget Michael Cimino’s gut wrenching scenes from “Deer Hunter”?
Now, in the new post-constitutional America, we, too, torture. For legal purposes we do “a little sidestep” in the tradition of Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” We torture outside the United States and thus our Justice Department contends we are not violating the Constitution.
It isn’t too late. There are about 50 men and women in this country who run the television industry. They are far more powerful than members of the Federal Reserve or elected officials, such as members of Congress. They and their television companies have the power to open up a debate on all of this. If not, we are in the process of losing the great American experiment without even a chance to say goodbye. It’s the end of America as we know it.