“America the Beautiful” touches my heart. I love my country. We have done great thibgs, though imperfectly. We are still capable of doing great things.
But I fear we have lost track of those things.
There are a great many things that we fought for in the 18th century. Independence was a side product of correcting the injustice of no representation. The British believed their Parliament did represent everyone in the empire. Americans ruled by Britain did not believe the Parliament could adequately represent them when it did not have people from America and familiar with American wants and needs.
I believe we have made great strides in political representation of all groups. Suffrage has officially been extended to everyone regardless of skin color or gender. Slavery is outlawed.
Yet we are still imperfect. There are still laws designed to exclude, or make it difficult for others to participate, when laws should be designed to expand representation. And socially we have far to go when dealing with people different than ourselves. Black distrusts white, white persecutes brown. The phrase “social justice warrior” is used with derision, as if fighting for justice in any arena is not a noble goal.
I think, however, that the direction of history is currently toward more equality in that regard. We have work to do, but many are doing that work.
But my understanding is that the War for Independence was supposed to be for greater freedom and liberty. That was why the Articles of Confederation dispersed authority and gave so little power to central government. When it failed, and a solution presented that centralized more power but tried to include balances and safeguards to prevent that power from becoming tyrannical, many were still nervous. They would not move forward without explicit guarantees in that solution that individual liberties were inviolate.
The founders did not create our federal government with security as a primary concerns. Indeed, many of those founders had in mind creating a government that could be overthrown, if necessary. Liberty was the overriding concern, with the minimum sacrifices required for stability and effectiveness.
I love those who sacrificed and worked hard to make this nation what it is. They made some mistakes, some of them grave and tragic. But they built for what they believed.
We cannot afford to think that all is well any longer. We cannot think that we are great because we are the USA. The US is not inherently great. The US can only be as great as it stands for the virtues enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Let me be explicit in what I mean with concrete examples.
It means that very few government secrets are worth prosecuting members of the press. It means that granting press passes should be inclusory — that being a member of the press is not about accreditation — it is about allowing news to flow freely. There is no worthiness standard, and politically based grants of passes is an abomination.
It means even when there is a genuine government secret at stake, a cleared oppositional counsel should be there to represent the reasons why a considered action might be the wrong choice.
It means that getting a job done or achieving a security or enforcement goal has nothing close to the weight that due process and personal privacy hold. Mandatory searches and no fly lists to prohibit air travel are gross violations of the standards we pretend to uphold. These policies give lie to our claims of a free and open society. Especially when we spread those policies to other means of travel and gatherings.
It means that mass tracking and or recording calls, call records, or other communication is not a reasonable practice. It does little to nothing to help criminal or security investigations and certainly violates multiple principles that are supposed to be central to our national ideals.
It means that taking the word of a cop over the word of an accused citizen makes no objective sense and denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. It means that attempts to thwart accountability, oversight, and regulation of law enforcement and other government representatives is resisting liberty and human dignity. The police, the FBI, and the “intelligence” apparatus must be held responsible when they raid the wrong house, or investigate the wrong person, and should make reparations. Recordings of law enforcement activity should be welcomed by cops, the legal apparatus, and all citizens.
It means that free speech zones are a mockery of the first amendment. It means making an assumption about a person based on ethnicity, color, or religious inclination is a frightening practice that rots our nation. Racial profiling is an evil practice.
It means passing legal judgements based on something someone doesn’t say is exactly the sort of thing we should be protected from. “Taking the fifth” should not and must not imply guilt.
It means that it is a far greater tragedy for an innocent to be deprived of freedom, even temporarily, than for a criminal to go free.
It means that prosecutors should be penalized when they do not share evidence, coerce confessions, deny representation, or otherwise violate due process. We should incentivize carriage of justice by prosecution and not “convictions.” We should compensate public defenders like we do prosecutors, so that the best lawyers find it a viable career choice. It means the primary role of judges needs to be defenders of the rights of the accused, not to get through their cases. And when a judge does not follow procedures, the respect due to his office does not warrant compliance with his orders.
It means the failure to convict the perpetrator of even a heinous crime is a lesser tragedy than to punish someone for a crime that person did not commit. It means we need police who want to protect, not who want to make a bust. It means we need police who worry more about justice and other around them then they do their own safety.
It means that all political representatives, government employees, and civil servants should always remember that the 9th and 10th amendments to the Constitution of the United States not only imply, but outright state that the Constitution does not enumerate all rights that people are entitled too. It means that no where is it written that the rights we claim to hold dear do not apply to non-citizens or extra-nationals.
Remember, the Declaration of Independence claims that the purpose of any government is to secure rights and liberties for it’s people, not to permit certain liberties so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the government trying to get things done. The government is exists to serve the people. It should not be its own entity.
The preamble to the Constitution states that it was established for six purposes: make a better union of the states, establish justice,.insure domestic tranquility, common defense, promote general welfare, and secure blessings of liberty. Two of those apply directly to law enforcement, “Justice” and “Tranquility” (the capitalization is in the original). Justice is first. But thinking that “Tranquility” gives more power to law enforcement only shows that the thinker misunderstands what tranquility is.
I think that many who are gung ho for the military believe that two apply to a strong military and intelligence community: common defense and “securing” the blessings of liberty. Again I would point out that “Blessings of Liberty” is capitalized in the text, but “common defense” is not. And I do not believe that an omnipresent intelligence apparatus “secures” any blessings of liberty. It may “secure” the position of a government, and though evidence indicates contrary, it can be argued that securing the government makes the people secure. But it does not secure any liberty.
We have lost our way as a nation. We do not remember the purposes for which we became a nation or the principles that moved us toward greatness. Unless we stand by those principles again, I cannot see ever achieving greatness. The United States is an newly adult nation who still has much work to do to achieve its goals and dreams. Please remember those dreams. Don’t get distracted into other avenues. Pursue those dreams of equality and liberty. Become a model for the world.