As an American, who was born and bred in the self-proclaimed greatest country in the world, I grew up buoyantly afloat in the American dream-with all its hallowed values. It took a long time before that dream's boat began to develop leaks and what started out as a noticeable drip here and there has cascaded into a deluge that threatens to sink the entire ship. Those treasured ideals that I was taught to cherish are beginning to drown in that drainage ditch that separates democratic nations from their perceived lesser counterparts.
Ever since its birth, the United States seems to have been beset by fears that are stimulated by public unrest. It's as if their successors believe the founders made a gross error in thinking they could form a new nation on such lofty democratic ideals. And, these fears have resulted on several occasions in a subverting of the very Constitution that we were taught separated us from the rest of the world's lesser-developed nations. Down deep we don't seem to really believe that our form of government can endure criticism and therefore must be protected from ideological dissent.
Although freedom of the press was one of the cornerstones of this new experiment in governance, it was only 22 years after the Declaration of Independence that the Alien and Sedition Laws were passed. Treasonous activities were described as the publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writing." As a result some 25 editors of opposition newspapers were arrested and imprisoned. The Act, said to be the cause of Jefferson winning the White House, was repealed a few years later.
Suspension of civil liberties was also declared in 1862 when President Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus for anyone held by military authorities or who were subject to a Military Commission. This allowed Lincoln to arrest war protesters and take them out of their local jurisdiction so their peers couldn't find them innocent (does this sound familiar?). The president and the military ignored the Supreme Court's declaration that the Writ's suspension was un-constitutional and it wasn't restored until 1866.
From time to time, other manifestations of this innate distrust of democracy, energized by fear, have cropped up in our nation's history. In 1919 after a few anarchist bombings a "Red Scare" took hold of the populace and produced a nationwide fear of communists, socialists, anarchists, and other dissidents. It was a direct result of the super-patriotic feelings that developed during WWI, fed by propaganda from the United States Committee of Public Information. The press chimed in by commenting that the labor strife, which took hold after the war ended, were "crimes against society," conspiracies against the government," and "plots to establish communism." Widespread unemployment, as a result of returning GIs and the dismantling of war production, was not blamed as the cause of labor unrest. Massive violations of civil liberties ensued and thousands of innocent people were jailed or deported. Seventy anti-sedition bills were introduced in Congress although none passed. The mood of the country suddenly changed in mid-1920 and some semblance of normalcy returned as the country rushed into the Roaring Twenties.
Just 30 years later, an obscure demagogic senator from Wisconsin made headlines with unsupported claims of Communist infiltration in the State Department. The fears resulting from the disclosure that the Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb and the Rosenberg trials helped fuel a prolonged witch-hunt that began in 1950. Many, including decorated war veterans, who in the flush of youthful idealism attended meetings that were later deemed subversive, lost their livelihoods and were branded unpatriotic or traitors. The uproar died down after the Army-McCarthy hearings when it became obvious to everyone that "Tail Gunner Joe" was an egomaniacal buffoon and a liar.
Now, some 50 years later, we have a similar situation confronting us. Fear is the by word and patriotism is the antidote for all that ails us. Our elected leaders are so afraid of dissent that they have also stooped to pass laws that deprive us of our civil liberties and suppress opposition. The president is now able to declare marshal law on his whim and any citizens arrested will not have recourse to Writ of Habeas Corpus and will be subject to Military Commissions.
Those who say, "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear," need to study recorded history-something our esteemed non-reading president has admittedly not done. One can readily see that such laws are quite often used to punish political enemies and dissenters, as was done in all those instances mentioned above. To assume that our leaders have the best of intentions is not only na´ve but also dangerously stupid.
A true patriot is one who actively dissents when he believes his country is in the wrong. Only those who believe they are doing something wrong have to silence criticism. They well know that aiming a laser of truth at their deeds will expose their malfeasance and be very damaging to their insatiable greed and lust for power.
Enacting laws that subvert the very principles that we claim make us the greatest country on earth will in the end be suicidal.
Our country is currently very deep in the wrong and I am patriotically proud to say so.