New Hope for Defending Democracy
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Edward Snowden's revelations have illuminated the most critical political issue facing America today: how an authoritarian U.S. Executive Branch which has focused on war abroad for the last 50 years now devotes increasing resources to surveillance, information management, and population control at home, posing a far greater threat to Americans' liberties than any conceivable foreign foe.
Snowden's view of the basic issue is that "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship,is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to live under."
Whether millions of other Americans accept the new surveillance status quo will determine the future not only of privacy but democracy in this nation. For even the critical issue of U.S. government of surveillance is only a part of a far larger pattern of undemocratic and unaccountable Executive Branch behavior, at home and abroad. The problem is not only that the Executive Branch operates in antidemocratic secrecy, with an “ Insider Threat Program” that even requires its employees to inform on each other or risk losing their jobs. It has also subverted the Congress, judiciary and mass media, so that they no longer provide constitutionally mandated checks and balances, and are instead largely today extensions of Executive power.
How do you feel about the fact that as you read these words the U.S. Executive Branch is storing information about your phone calls and Internet messages which, even years from now, could be used to embarrass, control and/or harass you, defeat you in an election, cause you to lose a job, break up your marriage, or even threaten you with imprisonment? Many say “I have nothing to worry about, I’m not a Muslim terrorist.” But this displays a naïve complacency about the massive pools of data the Executive is collecting that have nothing to do with protecting us from a relative handful of Muslim terrorists, and could easily be misused by secret and unaccountable government agencies in the future.
Even centrists like Tom Friedman and Bob Woodward have warned that America could turn into a "police-state" should another 9/11 occur. And the Executive Branch has created more of an infrastructure for such a state than ever in our history under a Democratic president who professes a belief in civil liberties. Should a Republican become president in 2016, with a Cheney-like mindset using “unitary Executive theory” to grab even more power, democracy could become little more than a pleasant daydream.
What is most troubling about America's political class today, who have mostly castigated Snowden but not even dared criticize a Dianne Feinstein for keeping U.S. Executive surveillance secret from the American people she theoretically represents, is not only that they are "willing to live under" a Surveillance State. It is that they don't even want to know.
They shoot the messenger rather than dare face his message, displaying precisely the kind of complacency that causes democracy to die.
Even decent pundits who oppose excessive wiretapping have buried their heads in the sand about Executive threats to democracy. N.Y. Magazine's Jonathan Chait has put it in the category of just another "non-scandal" like Benghazi or the IRS, writing "but when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct." This is seconded by Paul Krugman: "as Chait says, NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants."