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Moral Abandonment in the Face of Power

Defend the Constitution? Who, Me?

by THOMAS S. HARRINGTON

Oh, what fun it is to mock Putin and his attempts to present a civilized and modern face to the world.

In today’s Boston Globe, David Filipov who is manning the paper’s  “life on the street” beat in Sochi, explains with clear scorn and condescension how, in Putin’s Russia, those that want to protest against the government are relegated to doing so in “protest parks” far from the cameras and the crowds.

Funny how in 2004, at the Democratic National Convention in Filipov’s home town of Boston, neither he nor anyone at his famously  ”liberal” paper made much fuss about the “free speech zones”–chain link cages with constant video surveillance—that were set up as the sole place where protestors against the political order could say their piece during that key political event.

Indeed, the “free speech zone”, a patently illegal absurdity in the context of the most elemental reading of the US constitution, has become a ubiquitous   part of our life in the US, justified, of course, in the name of “security”, or as the more suave disdainers of basic constitutional rights like Obama like to put it, in the name of the “necessary balance” between security and freedom in our society.

The fact that such a liberty for security trade-off has absolutely no presence in the founding legal documents of our Republic, and indeed would have been an anathema to the authors of the Constitution, does not stop Obama and the many human parrots in the media from acting as if it were the most natural and unassailable concept of our legal system.

Obama and the parrots figure, it seems correctly, that if you repeat something enough—like say the “existence” of Iraq’s completely non-existent nuclear arms program—it will soon take on a life of it own.

As a veteran of US newsrooms, Mr. Filipov knows what it takes to stay on the payroll. You need to do what the powerful people want:  fixate on the flaws of those the power establishment designates as official enemies and studiously ignore the very same transgressions when they occur in the US or its many zones of influence

Put another way, Filipov and the many others like him in our press have internalized the core presumption of the authoritarian mind: the idea that there is always a force majeure, real or imagined, that can and should trump both their individual rational faculties and our received notions of collective legality.

Where did our press learn to think this way?  The answer lies in our post-Reagan political establishment, you know, the group the mainstream press loves to say it holds to account, but whose perceived power and influence it, in fact, venerates. Lusting after this claque’s parcel of power, and learning to imitate their techniques of career advancement  for thirty years has finally hollowed out their souls.

Need an example of the authoritarian political mind in action?

At a speaking engagement last week in Hawaii, Antonin Scalia was asked about the Korematsu Case which resulted in the internment of thousands of Japanese citizens during World War II. He responded:

“Well of course Korematsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” ….”In times of war, the laws fall silent.”….”That’s what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification, but it is the reality”

Could there be any clearer example of moral abandonment in the face of power?

Here we have the longest serving member of the US Supreme Court breezily talking–as if he were a mere spectator and not one of nine people with a sacred social writ before all of us to uphold the laws of the land–about how in times of war, however that is defined by the executive branch, we cannot expect any constitutional guarantees.

Imagine if I executed my appointed duties as parents, citizens and workers that way?

Sadly, perhaps we no longer need to imagine such a world. It now seems that almost everyone—including most members of the “Fourth Estate” whom the founders regarded as the final and most important bulwark against extreme concentrations of power—has learned to crouch, dissemble, placate and omit before prerogatives “the man”, or perhaps more accurately, dark and inchoate forces we perceive “him” as having unleashed in our lives.

Thomas S. Harrington teaches in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College.