8. Restore civil liberties
Erich Fromm says there are two basic freedoms, from which we get the Bill of Rights. The first is freedom from dictatorial authority. The second is a freedom to shape our community’s and country’s present and future. This second one is spelled out in freedom to speak and to petition government. Democracy depends on both.
A big threat to these two core freedoms: the politics of fear. Trump wielded fear effectively in this election as did Bush II 15 years ago, but Nader says Obama also effectively used this fear. Associated with fear is panic which, after the 9/11 attacks, we had plenty of. Wrote Nader:
This kind of atmosphere is poisonous to healthy social discourse, it can destroy any democratic society’s capacity to respond wisely and resourcefully.A president promoting fear can usually drown out dissenting voices.
But there is no cost-benefit analysis. Is the amount of money spent combating terror appropriate to the size of the threat? Usually not. Part of that is there is no analysis of how much of a threat there actually is. But a president can shout “Terrorism!” and the money flows, as does the power.
All that money spent against a comparatively small threat means money not spent on things that are desperately needed, such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. In addition, that money usually gets spent to enrich cronies (see: Halliburton). And all that power flowing to a president means the loss of civil rights.
Throughout our national history wars and threats of wars usually mean the rule of law is weakened as the president claims more powers. The powerful president usually can find reasons why it is necessary to curtail civil liberties.
The big recent example is the Patriot Act, which needlessly authorized snooping on citizens. Nader lists other similar acts and what both Bush II and Obama have done with them.
Nader’s solution in this chapter leaves me dissatisfied. Congress, says Nader, should assert its control over the president and threaten impeachment if the president uses war or terrorism to grab more power. Nader describes an incident in which he believes Obama should have been impeached.
My complaint of Nader’s solution has a couple parts. First, Congress has, in many cases, specifically given up its check on the president because Congress doesn’t want to take the political heat (or wants to put that heat on the president). They’re unlikely to demand the return of that power.
Second, my calculations change with the recent election. It now looks like Congress and the president will work together to curtail civil liberties. They won’t be a check on each other. And they’ll soon reinforce the courts to approve those lost liberties.
Restoring civil rights is necessary. But this isn’t the solution.