Friday, September 29, 2006

It's not quite too late
I have always hoped that America would outlive me, but I have always carried a nagging dread that it would not. Over the last five years we have taken a number of steps away from being America. Yesterday was the worst of all.

The United States of America is neither a true territorial state nor a nation-state. It is not a state primarily defined by a unique territory nor is it defined by a unique ethnic group of Americans. America is a set of institutions and values and Americans are those people holding citizenship under those institutions and believing in those values. When we abandon those institutions and values we cease to be America. A certain body of territory might still exist on the map with the name "United States of America" and the same group of people might still inhabit it, but it will no longer be America and they will no longer be Americans.

Nothing lasts forever. That's a simple law of nature. Sooner or later everything ends. Some things die; the end is neat and clean. Others whither away and the end is harder to pin down. Sometimes it's a bang, sometimes it's a whimper, but the end always comes. Someday everyone we know will die. Someday everything we have built will be broken and cast aside. Someday America will be gone.

Most people have a hard time believing that. They prefer to believe that every swing one direction will be followed by a swing the other direction. They prefer to believe that everyone will get their turn and that the mistakes of one group will always be fixed by the next group. They prefer to believe that there will always be a tomorrow. Those are pleasant, reassuring beliefs, but none of those things are guaranteed. Some changes are irreversible.

One by one the Bush administration has crossed lines that America never would have crossed: unprovoked war, state authorized torture, unlimited detention without charge or trial, wholesale wiretapping, secret judicial proceedings, unrestrained executive power, repudiating the Geneva Conventions, and, now, selectively withholding the writ of habeas corpus. It's not that we haven't blurred these lines before, but in the past we have always recoiled in horror when it became clear what we were doing. For the last five years the administration has systematically repudiated one American value after another. Congress, through cowardice or approval, has enabled the administration in every one of those steps.

These retreats from our Americanness will not be repaired by a simple change of administration in two years. A new administration might officially reverse every one of these repudiations, but the precedent has been set that American values are no more permanent than the next election. What country will trust us knowing that the Republicans might return? It took sixty years to build the international order that the Bush administration irreparably damaged in a few months from 2001-2003. It took over two hundred years to build the structure of rights that the Bush administration has irreparably damaged over the last five years.

Though we can't reverse the damage, we can stop further damage. It is vitally important that we take away at least one house of his rubberstamp congress (preferably the Senate). The new congress might be gutless, but even that is an improvement over being completely in his pocket. We cannot turn back the clock and regain the structures that he has so grievously harmed, but, given enough time and good will, we might build new structures almost as good. America is not dead yet, but it cannot survive many more of this kind of blow.

Now is not the time to give up the fight.

PS - As someone who has lived through the collapse of a peaceful and prosperous country, Coturnix's views on this should be read by everyone.

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