by Michael Ryerson
Had an epiphany last night. Not a very profound one. It arrived as many epiphanies do, late at night when the house was quiet and the TV was in the locked and upright position. It was, for want of a better term, Rumsfeldian. It has to do with suddenly knowing something you’ve known all along, knowing the known. Earlier in the day I had seen a short news item concerning a ‘bounty hunter’ and it started me thinking about a long standing discomfort I’ve had with ‘bounty hunters’ i.e. they operate outside the constraints associated with law enforcement relative to search and seizure, miranda rights, forced entry, etc. I’m sure this has to do with their being part of the private sector and not operating under color of authority and yet I’m deeply uneasy with a system which puts these guys in motion with all the same capacity for misreading an address, or misidentifying an individual or, frankly, just being sent on a fool’s errand, as our official arbiters of the law, but without any recourse to the subsequently injured individual. But my epiphany really didn’t have anything to do with the bounty hunter. It had to do with the idea of the extrajudicial use of power. Our Republic is lost. I’m sorry. I don’t know any other way to put it. We’ll never be able to restore the fabric of this particular democracy after what has happened in the last six plus years. The ability of the state to engage in extrajudicial force is now beyond recall. We’ll never get it back. When I say ‘we’ I mean us, the People. We’ll never be able to get it back because the tools with which we might have addressed the problem simply no longer exist. The government (in the person of George W. Bush) has decided (and codified) the idea that the People are the enemy and any attempt to gain access to information is itself an act against the state. Any effort to bring information to the People is an act against the state. Our safeguards against the mistreatment of prisoners are rendered inoperable by the government’s willingness to simply render the prisoner to a country where torture and murder are possible and probable. The People’s ability to know the names and circumstances of such extrajudicial kidnappings is denied. The rules under which our military operates, the safeguards that our armed forces will not do something without our approval are made obsolete by the fact of standing armies of mercenaries, subcontractors, willing and able to operate without constraint or oversight. There are presently more American mercenaries in Iraq than American military personnel (which, by the way, is at an all-time high). No one tells these armed men what they can and can’t do and since it happens outside the U.S. we apparently have little official interest in how they do their jobs anyway. Our system of laws cannot protect the people any further. This president regularly signs legislation into law and then quietly issues a signing statement which exempts the executive branch from the very law he just signed. We’ll never get to the bottom of this, Executive Privilege, you know, and the sealing of president’s papers and the secreting of their location insures that we’ll never get to look through the official history. The office of the Vice-President no longer even keeps logs of classified material they’ve handled, they don’t want a paper trail and so there isn’t one. We’re no longer among the healthiest people in the industrialized world, we rank no. 43 in infant mortality, behind Cuba, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Our ‘health care system’ delivers the poorest actual care at the highest cost of any industrialized country in the world. But our ‘health care system’ is a great money maker and so any attempt to change it, to make health care more universally available and more affordable is defeated. We are no longer a country of the People, by the People and for the People (if we ever were, albeit moving inexorably in that idealized direction). We are now permanently a country for the rich and for the largest corporations, everyone else, devil take the hindmost. I always harbored the secret belief that once these guys are out of office we can get down to the job of rebuilding, of reclaiming our democracy but, and this is my epiphany, it ain’t gonna happen. The terrible changes wrought by these men will stand. Power will find a way to sustain itself. Not wanting to diminish the powers he conveniently finds at his disposal, the next chief executive won’t do anything to restore the Republic. Nor will the one after that. And the tools once available to the people simply no longer exist.