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Democracy on Holiday

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Message Ken Sanders
It’s the holiday season. A time for faith and fairy tales. A time to believe in magic and to indulge in childish fantasies. A time to set aside reason and critical thinking and simply believe.

Americans have been simply believing for some time now. We’ve been believing the fairy tale of America as a shining star of salvation for the rest of the world. We’ve been indulging in the childish fantasy that we, the chosen few, live in a democratic society governed by and dedicated to the rule of law. We’ve long since surrendered our reason, embracing instead a blind faith in the myth of our inalienable liberties and freedoms, as well as our government’s protection thereof.

Like children who, desperately wanting to believe in magical benevolence, deliberately overlook the telltale signs that Santa does not exist – boxes in the garage that disappear as mysteriously as they appear, unsatisfactory explanations for the multitude of Santa’s camping out in shopping malls, the striking similarity between the handwriting of Santa and mom – Americans avert their eyes from the innumerable indications that “America” is merely a comforting yarn, told out of habit. Preferring fantasy to reality, Americans place their faith in the “America” described by politicians, on television, and in their civics classes. So unquestioning are they in the fairytale of “America” that they ignore the uncomfortable facts staring them in the face.

Just one of the many myth-exploding facts delicately ignored by Americans who prefer to wave flags and parrot simplistic slogans of national loyalty, is the fact that their government, their democratic representatives, spy on them unfettered by such niceties as a warrant or probable cause. Our dear President, apparently confusing his limited Constitutional powers with the divine right of kings, once again exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to eliminate those damnable obstructions to power democracies pose. Not content with the government’s virtually unfettered ability to tap the phone, search the home, or read the email of any suspected terrorist – with the rubber-stamped approval of the secret and unappealable Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – President Bush vested himself with the power to monitor the phone calls of anyone sufficiently threatening to be classified as a terrorist or activist, civil libertarian or public librarian.

A listing of some of the domestic terror groups which so threaten national security that they were subjected to secret warrants may explain the President’s concerns. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Greenpeace. American-Arab Anti-Defamation League. Quakers. Vegans and tree-huggers. Egalitarians and pacifists. Scary stuff. If these groups were terrifying enough to deserve secret warrants, one can only imagine the heinous organizations that have infiltrated our blessed communities – hellbent on the destruction of all that is good and pure – which compelled Mr. Bush to take a red pen to the Constitution. The Boy Scouts of America. The American Association for the Deaf-Blind. The Washington Post. Democrats.

Americans, of course, will ignore the news of their vanishing liberties. Too engrossed by the latest reality show or shouting pundit, they’ll overlook the growing similarities between their society and those envisioned by Orwell and Zamyatin. To them, America – much like Santa Claus, Jesus, or the Tooth Fairy – is a simple matter of faith. Impervious to reason, true faith survives all assaults of fact and truth.

How else to explain the utter silence which followed our government’s admission earlier this month that it does in fact torture prisoners around the world? Speaking in Ukraine, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed that U.S. personnel would no longer be permitted to torture individuals detained in foreign prisons. While it may be reassuring – if one is inclined to believe Ms. Rice – that the U.S. promises to stop practicing torture outside of its borders, the tacit admission within that promise is most distressing. When Ms. Rice pledged that the U.S. would stop torturing prisoners the world over, she conceded what many long suspected: that the Bush administration has authorized torture for years and has lied about it for just as long.

Such petty revelations cannot shake the faith of Americans in “America.” That Americans are not nearly as free as we self-righteously declare ourselves to be, does not diminish our belief in the “America” dramatized and romanticized for prime-time viewing. (“We’re not a democracy, but we play one on television.”) That America admittedly spies upon and tortures those it arbitrarily and secretly deems dangerous or unsavory does not shake our faith in the “America” marketed by FOX News and pimped in our churches.

We Americans are children after all, and children need fantasies and fairy tales. So, who cares if Santa’s breath smells of cheap bourbon? As long as we keep getting things we want but don’t need or deserve, nothing else matters.


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Ken Sanders is a lawyer and writer in Tucson, Arizona. His publishing credits include Op Ed News, Z Magazine, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Common Dreams. More of his writing can be found on his weblog at (more...)
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