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I read the columns of my Doppelgänger, Glenn Greenwald, over at Salon compulsively and often find myself wondering why he’s scribbling the thoughts that went through my mind earlier in the day. His piece this morning is perfect, and it’s just the note for the important commemoration on the threshold of which we now stand: Independence Day.
This is the time for all of us to pause and think – Where is our country headed? How did it come loose from the moorings of its Founders? What can we, as engaged citizens, do to resurrect their cause and concept? I have pulled out for today and the coming week some thoughts of the Founders that seem to me to be close to our problems and that merit being thought over with some care.
Benjamin Franklin’s great speech from near the close of the Constitutional Convention is up for today. He shows the wisdom of his age in a commitment to skepticism, knowing that no one, no matter how sage (and in this there was no competitor for Franklin) can know everything – that modesty is a becoming virtue. He tells us that a government of limited powers is an important thing, but that we must all approach the new nation with a spirit of compromise and good will towards our fellow citizens, a commitment to the core values of a democracy, and a recognition of our own limitations. If we cannot do this, the slide towards a despotic government will be inevitable and unstoppable. Franklin’s vision was defining for the country that emerged from that convention, and his warning was also well taken – he saw the challenge and how it had to be confronted. And the slide he foresaw is now well advanced.
The political press — the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful — now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable. Hence, in official Washington, the Real Villains are Patrick Fitzgerald, Ken Silverstein, Russ Feingold and his Censure resolution, Pat Leahy and his disruptive subpoenas — our Beltway elite reserves their venom for those who want to turn the lights on what our most powerful political officials are doing.
What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.
In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton described the defining power of the King which made the British monarchy intolerably corrupt: “In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred.” Thomas Paine proclaimed in Common Sense “that so far as we approve of monarch, that in America THE LAW IS KING.” But little effort is required to see how far removed we now are from those basic principles.
Yesterday, Bush commuted the sentence of his felonious national security advisor, Scooter Libby. Today, he has Tony Snow announce that he may yet extend this to a full pardon. Bush justifies this by Libby’s long career of public service. On the other hand, on Friday in Montgomery, Alabama, a judge appointed by Bush sentenced a former Governor, Democrat Don Siegelman, to over seven years in prison, noting that he had lengthened the sentence because of Siegelman’s long career of public service. These two deeds, and indeed the juxtaposition of them, demonstrates the farce that has been made of justice in the Bush Administration. No longer can we say with Paine that “The law is King” in America. Rather it is the old motto of Charles I, the Stuart tyrant who provoked the Civil War: “Rex est lex,” namely “The King is law.” No patriot should be silent in the face of his contempt shown to our institutions.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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