Is Our Constitution Doomed?
This isn't idle speculation, or an off-the-wall opinion.
Franks is surely privy to the highest contingency planning. Additionally, his scenario is the logical extension of the authoritarianism already explicit in the USA Patriot Act and its even more stringent, Ashcroft- promoted successor.
Preparations for a Draconian abandonment of U.S. democracy are probably in high gear, likely to be sprung upon us as quickly and devastatingly as wholesale concentration camp internment befell Japanese Americans in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
But it's not anything new. Permit me to relate a very troubling story.
A HARROWING SATURDAY NIGHT REVELATION
In the early '70s, at a time we later came to know was the grim heyday of COINTELPRO plotting against domestic antiwar and civil rights movements, a friend of mine and I happened to attend a typical weekend party in our small college town.
Both of us were progressive activists, but that fact wasn't known to a trio of Air Force ROTC students we got to talking with over a few beers.
Correctly assuming they had rightwing political leanings, we feigned a concern over all the radical street demonstrations sweeping the country during that period. We enquired what they thought of it all. The young men volunteered some hair-raising information.
In the event of a "national emergency" precipitated by what they regarded as "revolutionaries", they said that their role as ROTC members would be to help round up and incarcerate troublemakers in their area.
Much to our astonishment, they added that even the Civil Air Patrol would be involved in this dragnet.
Laughingly pretending to be supportive of what was being described, my buddy and I exchanged incredulous glances when the collegians finally moved on to try their luck with some of the ladies present.
I distinctly recall that the only words we uttered to each other in the immediate aftermath were two four-letter expletives.
We'd just accidentally met the people who would put us behind barbed wire if America went from Richard Nixon's weakened bourgeois democracy to a full-blown dictatorship!
A few years later, I was told by someone in a position to know that local firefighters -- yes, firefighters -- possessed names of leftists they were entrusted to nab if word came down from on high that such a Gestapo action was required.
REPRESSION IS AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE
Being a child of leftwing parents who were hounded by the FBI during the McCarthy era, and a '60s activist well acquainted with repression Yankee style, I shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Furthermore, I know about both the cyclical instances of orchestrated government crackdowns in the United States, such as post-WWI Palmer Raids, and the unofficial vigilantism that's been carried out by groups like the KKK.
And yet I guess a part of me has always somewhat naively felt that the dark process by which increasingly depraved monopoly capitalism has morphed into fascism in other countries wouldn't be repeated in the "home of the brave and the land of the free."
At this very moment, however, the Bush administration has despotic authorization to hold citizens arbitrarily defined as terrorists who could be kept incommunicado, indefinitely, without any due process or appropriate legal access. They wouldn't even have to be formally charged. Their families would not know where they were, or anything pertaining to their condition. They'd be U.S. equivalents of Latin America's "disappeared".
Circumstances at Guantanamo, roundly condemned by human rights groups worldwide, are a foretaste of the future Gen. Franks envisions here at home.
This is a quantum leap into abject authoritarianism, much more ominous for us all than the widespread frame-ups of activists in the '60s and '70s, or even the routine beatings of labor organizers in the '30s. Back then, at least, put upon victims of rampant heavy-handedness had a realistic expectation of being cleared or absolved via a democratic process that continued to function despite grievous tendencies to the contrary.
Now, every last vestige of liberty and justice is under attack.
"National security" could be manipulated into a national nightmare at a moment's notice, as Franks suggests.
Look at all the devastating excesses excused by 9/11. Another terrorist incident, particularly one even more lethal, could trigger swift passage of a U.S. variation of Hitler's infamous Enabling Act, which rubberstamped unfettered Nazi tyranny in Germany. Next year's presidential election could actually be "postponed" following such a dire development.
WE'RE MUCH LESS FREE THAN WE IMAGINE
Most Americans wrongly think we're a uniquely and irrevocably free nation.
That misapprehension stems mainly from propaganda mythology saturating our populace during the anti-communist Cold War decades. It's also enforced by the fact that a majority of us are decidedly apolitical souls who associate liberty not with challenging the powers that be, but with engaging in often quite hedonistic self-indulgence far removed from politics.
So long as we're fully free to play video games or watch football on TV, for mild example, far too many of us could care less about the poorly presented, manipulated hints of incipient dictatorship to be found in the mainstream media.
America is a place where a delusional drunk could howl at the moon on any given street corner and probably not get busted.
But if a radical activist spoke on a soapbox at the same corner, drawing a large crowd of agreeing neighborhood residents, interests inimical to the Bill of Rights would immediately take steps to thwart the "spread of dangerous ideas."
In fact, it doesn't have to go that far. Shortly after I'd become known as an organizer of peace rallies opposing the Vietnam war, I was accosted by my town's cops while carrying dirty clothes to a laundromat. They drove me to police headquarters, where a couple of intense guys in bad suits tried to grill me about contacts and affiliations. My girlfriend was with me when I was taken, and she immediately alerted like-minded friends about what had happened. They promptly contacted our sympathetic mayor. Their swift action, plus my defiant display of a Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union membership card with the First Amendment printed on its face, secured my release.
The first Republican campaign ad of the current election cycle contains a blatant effort to equate opponents of Bush's Iraq policy with "support" for terrorism -- demagogically blurring the distinction between protesters and terrorists. It's not hard to see where this malicious sophistry would go if a second 9/11-scale attack were to occur.
Police state tactics employed recently in Miami to quash anti FTAA demonstrations show a clear intent to criminalize dissent.
DOES DEMOCRACY STAND A CHANCE?
So what can we do to preserve American democracy?
Some feel it's already too late. Enough poisonous seeds have taken root in a public environment characterized by apathy, they say, that the noxious, prickly plants of fascism are destined to choke our freedom.
But that disregards the latent power of existing movements comprised of highly aware and committed folks. It overlooks spreading resistance that's already brought scores of municipalities into formal opposition to the Patriot Act.
It minimizes the effects of a Democratic primary race which -- if the entire election process isn't scrubbed under martial law imposed after a Reichstag Fire-style provocation -- will bring victories to those candidates most outspokenly defensive of our endangered liberty, and most aggressively critical of Bush in general.
All this, combined with anti-war activism that's certain to mushroom as the Iraq debacle inevitably worsens, stands to make 2004 an auspicious repeat of pivotally important 1968.
Also, it isn't only progressives who are outraged. Many conservatives and libertarians join us in condemning neocon assaults on the Constitution.
They're just as fed up with what's happening as we are. (It was a conservative website that broke the Tommy Franks story -- www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/11/20/185048.shtml)
Foreign opinion will impact the equation as well, despite the Bush administration's shameful record of disregarding international sentiment.
Such dismissive behavior can be carried only to a certain level, and will have to be scaled back as the world takes countermeasures, particularly in key areas like trade.
There is a definite tipping point at which the overall population swings in one direction or another in times of social peril.
The outcome of Constitutional viability will be determined by which side can exert the greatest and most persuasive pressure at the crucial moment.
It's us against the Wolfowitzes and Perles in a decisive contest to see if our Jeffersonian legacy survives.
We're at the most important juncture in America's existence.
Everyone with a sense of what's truly at stake must now rise to the urgent task of saving the Constitution and our hallowed, democratic tradition.
We simply can't afford to lose.
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing progressive commentary and verse for various outlets since the '60s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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