How long must we bleed internally, sacrificing American idealism for the sake of American exceptionalism all while chanting our excuse as “9/11?” Have we actually forgotten that it is our idealism and not our power or our wealth that truly makes us exceptional?
Not once has “The Declaration of Independence” borne any weight in law, and yet its idealism once permeated our understanding of law, order, and governance:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” penned Jefferson, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
While a case can be made that even Jefferson, a slave owner, fell short of his own standard, the heart of Jefferson's idealism served as the jumper cables for a nation that was, for a time, exceptional. But post 9/11 U.S. policy has served to all but kill that idealism, and rendered us ineffectual while stripping away what once made us great. Jefferson's ideal was not specific to Americans nor plots of land. Rather, it spoke of inalienable rights – gifted by a Creator; not government. It was meant to apply to all people – human rights – not American rights.
When the casual observer looks at a post 9/11 America it's hard not to conjure images of people living out of control in a post apocalyptic America. Take, for example, the following:
Offshore prisons in Europe and Guantanamo Cuba- Using the letter of law to subvert the heart of idealism is among the worst atrocities of our government. According the Global Research, in 2010, the United States hosted more than 27,000 prisoners, mostly Muslims suspected of terrorism in more than 100 secret and offshore prisons around the world, and on ships at sea.
None of these prisoners were given due process. Indeed, United States Senators such as John McCain (R- AZ) have railed against the rights of non-citizens to due process, claiming protection of our citizens as a higher order than our supposed belief that all people should be afforded due process. There is nothing exceptional about granting due process to people who are easy to deal with. Exceptionalism is born from choosing ideal over desire when choosing how to treat people who have made themselves our enemies. Either we, as a nation, believe in due process for all people, or we are no better than the angry mob that burned a 20-year-old woman to death on Papau New Guinea under suspicion of witchcraft. Suspicion is not a justification for denying due process. We cannot maintain one set of ideals for citizens and another for non citizens, and consider ourselves in any way exceptional.
Drone bases in Afghanistan/ drones within U.S. borders-
Drones are decidedly weapons designed for assassination. They are designed to kill rather than neutralize. Whatever happened to the notion that life is precious and that while there is occasion to use deadly force, it must be a last resort rather than a tool of opportunity or convenience? In most cases, if we can send a drone, we can send a force with handcuffs. Subverting due process with assassination, doesn't make us exceptional, it makes us weak. It's time to close the drone base in Saudi Arabia, and time to dispel the absurd notion of drones policing within our own borders.
The authorized killings of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism-
The authorization to kill suspected enemy combatants from other nations without first trying to capture them is bad enough. But we cross another line when we deny the rights of due process to our own citizenry, such as when a U.S. Drone targeted Anwar Al-Alakwi, a New Mexico born U.S citizen suspected of ties to Al Qaeda. While something can be said for consistency, the Obama administration traveled the wrong direction. Under no circumstance can exceptional nations target their own citizens as enemies to the point that the authorization of deadly force trumps any attempt to capture and move forward with due process.
TSA screenings at airports and Rapiscans at Federal Buildings-
There is absurdity to the notion that post 9/11 it is acceptable for agents of the government to subvert privacy and common sense for the sake of saving our citizens from possible further attacks in airplanes. Free societies come with endemic risks that must be recognized, but then also allowed to exist for the sake of maintaining a free state rather than a police state. While it can be argued that airplanes make for bigger fireballs, the truth is; our trains, passenger ships, schools, sports stadiums, and even our busses are prime targets for any person who chooses to harm our citizens. That's how it works in a free society.
If we wish to be exceptional, we must stop strip searching senior citizens in the guise of protecting Americans. Lest you think it absurd that we would go so far to police places such as movie theaters, it must be noted that since the manufacturer of the Rapiscan systems (which fairly well electronically strip searches people) couldn't change their machines to meet Congressional regulations regarding their use in airports, the machines are now being sold to Federal buildings. The government's right hand should pay more attention to what its left hand is doing. When they do, start looking for movie theater security! It's not beyond the pale.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)-
If Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the rise of the military industrial complex was a prophecy, then the NDAA is the embodiment of its fulfillment. According to PolicyMic, the NDAA allows for indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens – again without due process, in cases where citizens are merely suspected of plotting against the government. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in every election, about half of the current electorate plots against the incumbent government. While that may be overstating the case, one must look only again at the disparity between our idealism and our actions to conclude that even that which today may seem absurd, should be taken more seriously in a post 9/11 world where policy is the apocalypse of our idealism.
America is a nation in decline; not a nation of exceptionalism. If we truly wish to reclaim that which made us exceptional, then even at the cost of our security, we must fight and demand both life and liberty for all – not just the people whom we like.