The world has changed. America has changed.
I’m not talking about a rise in violence or mass killings or terrorism. In fact, that sort of stuff has been going on for centuries. Each decade has its share of stories. The Pottawatomie Massacre, the Haymarket Affair, the Los Angeles Times Bombing, the Bath Massacre, the University of Texas Tower shootings and more. All events that happened in the United States well before I became an adult and all just as bad as events that have happened since then, like the Oklahoma City bombing or the Columbine shootings. But statistically, with the rapidly rising population, the actual percentage of lives lost to these sorts of events is actually going down.
Part of what has changed is our ability to hear about them. Our technology has allowed us to become a part of events happening half way across the country. On September 1st, 2001, my then fiancé (now wife) and I awoke in a Las Vegas hotel room to a ringing phone. On the other end was my best friend, whom we were in Vegas visiting with.
“Turn on the TV,” he said. “The World Trade Centers have been blown up.”
“What?”, I replied, incredulous. And so we turned on the TV and watched the South Tower collapsing.
For the next three days, as we all tried to enjoy ourselves in Las Vegas in the midst of a national tragedy, we were bombarded with images of the events that had and were transpiring in New York. I don’t know how many of you have ever seen a Las Vegas sports book area, but for the duration of our stay, they were a media hub for the story in New York. With dozens of TVs, every channel could be watched at once. At the time, there was probably no better place outside of New York or Washington to learn about the events of 9/11.We felt connected.
Since that fateful day, we have become even more connected. Almost every cel phone has a camera, and with the internet and social media, anyone can become a reporter. Stories are reported on within minutes, and updated continuously. We don’t have to sit in a sports book in Las Vegas to see news coverage from across the world – the internet brings it all to our desk. Social media connects us to each other when we learn of these events, even if we are home alone, or traveling across the country by automobile. And so, when the Batman theater shootings happened, we were all there in Aurora, CO; just as we were in Newton CT when so many little lives were senselessly taken from us.
We are connected now.
This connectedness has a benefit and a price. As a benefit, it makes us more empathetic. A story about a tragedy halfway across the country is more personal when it comes at us through a friend on social media than it is when it’s a dry black and white story in a newspaper. And unlike the newspaper, or the television, there is an instant community of feedback.
The price is one of emotions. That is, that we will react emotionally, without rational thought in order to do anything to prevent feeling that sort of helplessness and sense of loss when senseless tragedy does strike.
Empathy is good. Acting without rational thought under the duress of emotions is not.
And that brings me to the second big way that America has changed. We often let our emotions overrule our good sense, and our politicians have used that against us, though mostly with good intentions. Since 9/11 Presidents Bush and Obama, our Congress and the National Security Agency have proven to be some of the biggest threats to American liberty we’ve had since the internment camps of World War 2.
The Patriot Act, particularly section 505 and 215 which heavily undermine the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments were not only passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, but the provisions of this “temporary measure” were extended by Congress, and approved by President Obama – even after the Supreme Court ruled several sections to be unconstitutional.
The FISA Amendments Act is another affront to our Bill of Rights, heavily undermining the 4th and 5th Amendments.
And most recently, the Senate has passed the 2013 NDAA bill, which has a provision within it that allows the military – not the police – to detain any American on the mere suspicion of supporting a terrorist group. This should chill you because it allows detention without any sort of Due Process guaranteed to us by the Fifth Amendment, and doesn’t require any evidence – just suspicion. And if that wasn't enough, now we have the debates over the constitutionality of the drone strikes.
And now, once again, the subject of gun control comes up, with politicians vowing to “remove them from our streets” and “make us safe”, the provisions of the 2nd Amendment be damned. Biden and Obama are talking about the White House using Executive orders, not only bypassing the Constitution, but Congress as well.
While none of these things actually affect me nor the majority of my friends and family personally, they are of great concern to me. And no matter which side of the gun control debate you come down on, all of these things should concern you. Alone, in isolation, these various laws really aren't a big deal. But they're not being done in isolation. They're being done with “good intentions” that are basically ignoring the eventual cumulative effect they'll have. And that really should concern you because you know what they say about good intentions and the road it leads down.
While all of these things are being passed with the best of intentions – that of the safety of our nation – they are keys to the very tyranny that our founding fathers fought against. I am reminded of the last years of the Weimar Republic – a parliamentary democracy that ended being plagued by hyperinflation, political extremists, political deadlock, increased violence towards the government and economic depression. The leaders of the final years of the Republic became increasingly willing to invoke emergency legislation as a substitute to the principles of democracy in the name of national safety and security.
Sounds familiar to our current situation, doesn’t it?
Then it should really chill you to learn that their legislation led to the rise of a new political party, one that eventually suspended all civil rights, took away it’s citizens ability to defend themselves and subjected the world to some of the worst horrors it has ever seen.
Those of you who know your history probably know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, shame on you. History is important. I invite you to go to Wikipedia or Google or the Library and search for information on the Weimar Republic. Yes, I could simply tell you, but I’m also a big proponent for people learning things on their own, and doing their own critical thinking.
While the United States doesn’t have precisely the same situation the Weimar Republic did, and a much longer history dedicated to the principles of democracy and civil rights, the parallels we do have with it should be enough to concern any intelligent American citizen. As I’ve said before, the words of George Santayana should not be lost to us. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The history of the Weimar Republic can and should be a lesson to us, a warning of the bad that can happen if we let the status quo continue.
These erosions of our liberty are troubling. Yes, they are intended to keep us safe. But at what point do they stop keeping us safe, and become the very tools that a tyrant uses to enslave us? I’m sure the leaders of the Weimar Republic never saw the horrors they enabled coming either. Nor did the people who welcomed those changes. So I ask again – at what point do they stop keeping us safe, and become tools that a tyrant uses against us?
The time to speak up against these erosions and demand that our liberties be restored is now, while we still have some of them, while we can still do so without bloodshed. We cannot afford to wait 10, 15, 25 or 50 years from now to stand up when a tyrant uses these laws to seize control. By then it will be too late, and bloodshed will be unavoidable.
Over 25,000 American Citizens were killed during the American Revolution to obtain our liberties. Another 20,000 were killed during the War of 1812 to maintain that Freedom. The Civil War claimed another 625,000 lives extending those liberties to a population who had been denied them. These deaths are but a part of the price of our freedoms and liberties. To allow the erosion of the liberties is to dishonor those who died fighting for what they believe in.
Remember that the men who founded this country lived under an oppressive king and fought a bitter war to gain those liberties. They wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights knowing full well the horrors of war, and death. They lived under no illusion of safety, but were determined to ensure future generations had the same liberties they fought for and the tools to keep them.
The history of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is an interesting one. Many of the original thirteen state legislatures only ratified the Constitution with the provision that the Bill of Rights be added to it. So even though they are amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights are pretty much an integral part of it. To dismiss any of the first ten amendments lightly, or for “reasons of safety” is to put our very liberties at stake.
Fight for those liberties now, with words. Or fight for those liberties later, with blood.
The choice is yours…but I urge you to stand up and be counted as someone who will not let tyranny prevail, no matter how reasonable it seems.