It Can't Happen Here
December 20, 2004
In 2002 I asked my House colleagues a rhetorical question with regard to the onslaught of government growth in the post-September 11th era: Is America becoming a police state?
The question is no
longer rhetorical. We are not yet
living in a total police state, but it is fast approaching. The seeds of future tyranny have been sown, and many of our
basic protections against government have been undermined. The atmosphere since 2001 has permitted Congress to create
whole new departments and agencies that purport to make us safer- always at the
expense of our liberty. But
security and liberty go hand-in-hand. Members
of Congress, like too many Americans, donít understand that a society with no
constraints on its government cannot be secure. History proves that societies crumble when their governments
become more powerful than the people and private institutions.
Unfortunately, the new
intelligence bill passed by Congress two weeks ago moves us closer to an
encroaching police state by imposing the precursor to a full-fledged national ID
card. Within two years, every
American will need a ďconformingĒ ID to deal with any federal agency--
including TSA at the airport.
Americans and members of Congress donít believe America is becoming a police
state, which is reasonable enough. They
associate the phrase with highly visible symbols of authoritarianism like
military patrols, martial law, and summary executions.
But we ought to be concerned that we have laid the foundation for tyranny
by making the public more docile, more accustomed to government bullying, and
more accepting of arbitrary authority- all in the name of security.
Our love for liberty above all has been so diminished that we tolerate
intrusions into our privacy that would have been abhorred just a few years ago.
We tolerate inconveniences and infringements upon our liberties in a
manner that reflects poorly on our great national character of rugged
individualism. American history, at
least in part, is a history of people who donít like being told what to do.
Yet we are increasingly empowering the federal government and its agents
to run our lives.
Terror, fear, and
crises like 9-11 are used to achieve complacency and obedience, especially when
citizens are deluded into believing they are still a free people.
The loss of liberty, we are assured, will be minimal, short-lived, and
necessary. Many citizens believe
that once the war on terror is over, restrictions on their liberties will be
reversed. But this war is
undeclared and open-ended, with no precise enemy and no expressly stated final
goal. Terrorism will never be
eradicated completely; does this mean future presidents will assert
extraordinary war powers indefinitely?
Washington DC provides
a vivid illustration of what our future might look like. Visitors to Capitol Hill encounter police barricades, metal
detectors, paramilitary officers carrying fully automatic rifles, police dogs,
ID checks, and vehicle stops. The
people are totally disarmed; only the police and criminals have guns.
Surveillance cameras are everywhere, monitoring street activity, subway
travel, parks, and federal buildings. There's
not much evidence of an open society in Washington, DC, yet most folks do not
complain-- anything goes if it's for government-provided safety and security.
After all, proponents
argue, the government is doing all this to catch the bad guys. If you donít have anything to hide, they ask, what are you
so afraid of? The answer is that
Iím afraid of losing the last vestiges of privacy that a free society should
hold dear. Iím afraid of creating
a society where the burden is on citizens to prove their innocence, rather than
on government to prove wrongdoing. Most
of all, Iím afraid of living in a society where a subservient populace
surrenders its liberties to an all-powerful government.
It may be true that average Americans do not feel intimidated by the encroachment of the police state. Americans remain tolerant of what they see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing total government supervision is necessary and helpful, and because they still enjoy a high level of material comfort. That tolerance may wane, however, as our standard of living falls due to spiraling debt, endless deficit spending at home and abroad, a declining fiat dollar, inflation, higher interest rates, and failing entitlement programs. At that point attitudes toward omnipotent government may change, but the trend toward authoritarianism will be difficult to reverse.
Those who believe a police state can't happen here are poor students of history. Every government, democratic or not, is capable of tyranny. We must understand this if we hope to remain a free people.