” It is not northern Ireland. It is the middle east. It is on fire and it is going to explode and there is nothing that can be done to stop it”
Those were the words of one of my favorite presidents, Bill Clinton. We were at the Plaza Hotel in New York on May 17, 2001. I spoke to him when he was awarding my sister the award of Irish American of the year.
So much about our nation has changed since then.
Who we were:
The United States of America is and was special. Before 2000 we were the beacon of freedom, a representative republic that showed the world that mankind could govern himself with honor and dignity. We had our faults and they were manifested in the great Civil War, the civil rights effort, and many other events “…testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” (words of another of my favorite presidents)
Along with the freedom that the United States possessed, there was a cost. It was paid in the blood of soldiers on battlefields around the globe, but there was, too, a cost in honor and bravery. The assumption of personal freedom requires the recipient to assume, for himself, personal responsibility. In the early days, this was assigned based on heft and gender. A man would defend a lady, always. A strong man would defend a weak man. Ultimately, a strong nation would defend a weak nation. The great experiment was working.
Along the way, we became complacent. We began exchanging our freedom, piece by precious piece, for safety, and the promise of “protection.” Police forces became militarized and government assured us to sit and wait, they would come and save us.
They would save us from military attack, then from criminal attack, then from verbal attack, then from worry, then from embarrassment. The national government come into our states. It came into our cities, it came into our schools, it came into our bedrooms. We locked our doors and memorized the number 9-1-1 and cowered. We had sold our freedom.
Freedom is risky. It is not the natural state of man. The natural state of man is to follow under the strongest dictator, to march in step and to bow to the ruler on his stage. Ours was a difficult and unique undertaking. Our freedom requires bravery. Weakness is fodder for those who would take our liberty.
What changed us:
Much of what we gave away was given to stop terrorism. No administration in the history of this nation ever so blatantly ignored the checks and balances or constitutional law and precedence as did the George W. Bush white house.
On occasion after occasion Bush and Cheney addressed the public and openly and specifically lied about the actions that were being taken by the N.S.A. and the F.B.I. For the first time, the “ears” of our intelligence gathering empire were turned on the people of this great country. Our telephone calls, our emails, and our every communication was catalogued and saved. They still are.
This writing will be processed by a super computer at the N.S.A. headquarters and, there, they will look for chains of words that may tag me a terrorist, a threat to our country, perhaps even as a threat to the status quo. All communication is scrutinized thusly from shortwave transmissions to email. The gathering has not changed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) has been effectively circumvented and the executive branch has assumed powers that are specifically denied it by the act and constitutional law.
This was documented in papers that were exposed by Edward Snowden in the classified documents that he leaked. These documents exposed an absolute intentional effort by the executive branch to circumvent the controls that existed under constitutional law.
Who we are:
The men who did their jobs in the Justice Dept. were harassed and, in some cases destroyed by an executive branch gone amuck. Cheney was probably the architect, but that is unimportant. What matters is that we are no longer a free country.
It means that all of your communications are monitored and that our government can, potentially, alter your communications, find legal fault with them, then prosecute you based on this information that was unjustly acquired.
This is a great political advantage to those in power. It, effectively, gives them unlimited power to go after political rivals, adversaries, even their wives boyfriends. They will say that they would never do such a thing. They will. the information, available without warrant assures corrupt actions by its misuse.
Mr. Obama promised to assure FISA warrants and to disassemble the unjust overbearing position that the executive branch has taken. He did not.
Can it be fixed?:
It only can be made right by a universal acceptance of our own responsibility. If we turn our safety over to others, our freedom goes with it. As a people, we must learn, again, bravery and the control of fear, or we must abandon liberty. For, liberty was never meant to be held by the weak.