THOLOS OF ATHENA

Monday, October 09, 2006

A RECKONING WITH DISGRACE

The humiliation of the American system is a new phenomenon. The Congress itself now consorts in the decay of democracy. It lurches from one deconstruction of rights to the next, the latest of which is the Military Commissions Act. The Senate in late September captured the cowardice of a social order that seems to shamble, in fits and starts, toward fascism.

The point to be taken is that the lawmakers play down the President's renewed requests for more power. And each time people's rights are abused, or any constitutional protection is weakened, the signal comes down from the President in praise of the enabling law. He takes care to remind everyone that after all, it is he who protects them.

The Act can easily separate people we may know from the protections of due process, and leave them helpless, disappeared, and even subject to torture. Jack M. Balkin, a constitutional law professor, warns us that innocent friends and neighbors, who happen to be non-citizens, can be swept up in such a dragnet.
"The Military Commissions Act allows the government to seize these people off the streets and detain them because they are non-citizens, and, by accusing them of being unlawful enemy combatants, throw them into a parallel system where neither habeas corpus nor the Bill of Rights apply. It takes even resident aliens who have lived in the country for years out of the criminal justice system and into the world of military prisons and CIA interrogations"...

"The MCA allows the government to make mistakes-- very grievous mistakes-- in detention and interrogation that will severely harm these people [whom] it may never have to account for. A system of laws that can do this-- even if its primary victims are not citizens-- is inconsistent with the principles of a democratic republic."

Garrison Keillor's
article in The Salt Lake Tribune reminded me of a book review I had found in October's issue of Harper's Magazine. Nicholas Fraser's Toujours Vichy...a reckoning with disgrace, which analyzed the recently recovered work, Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky. The Vichy government of France, set up under Marshal Petain on the grave of the Third Republic, was a model of collaboration when part of France was under the Nazi Occupation.

The home truth that Keillor conveys is the decay of American democracy into something base and corrupt.
"It's good that Barry Goldwater is dead because this would have killed him. Go back to the Senate of 1964 - Goldwater, Dirksen, Russell, [Eugene] McCarthy, Javits, Morse, Fulbright - and you won't find more than 10 votes for it"...

"None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Idea"...

"Three Republican senators made a show of opposing the bill and, after they'd collected all the praise they could get, they quickly folded"...

"I got some insight week before last into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for Homegrown Democrat, but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics - I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares?"
Fear itself is the breeding ground of fear, and is a required condition for the authoritarian will to succeed. Such a condition exists in certain cruel marriages, where husbands dominate their wives with severe physical abuse. This kind of submission can be milked on demand in an occupied country, by its oppressor, where the "husband" has convinced his victim that there are terrors outside their arrangement which are far worse than the next beating.

In the eyes of both French and German authorities, Irene Nemirovsky remained Jewish, even though she and her husband had tried to anticipate danger and avoid it, by converting to Catholicism in 1939. Nemirovsky attained some small celebrity as the author of two early novels; and after the fall of France she lived in a small town in central France with her daughters, where she was befriended by a publisher, who helped her to earn a living as a writer, in spite of the fascist restrictions against Jews publishing anything.
"A Jew and an alien of Russian descent, Nemirovsky knew she would not survive the war, yet she continued to fill her notebooks. On July 13, 1942, she was sent by gendarmes to a camp at Pithiviers, after which she was deported to Auschwitz. She died there a month after having arrived. [Her] notebooks were taken into hiding with the author's daughters and kept unexamined for many years. Finally, they were transcribed and published three years ago, and Suite Francaise became a bestseller in France, winning a posthumous, much deserved literary prize."
(Fraser)
I've been made aware lately that there is a criminal mindset in the high offices of our government that is drawing Washington's civilian and military institutions ever deeper into criminality. Each increment of this moral descent draws attention to the Vichy kind of fear. The courage it would take to step outside the sinister consensus is practically impossible for republicans; and there are too many democrats who rally around the President's corrupt, unchecked authority. If Americans can debate the expediency of torture, who knows where the bottom of this depravity lies.
"Many of [Nemirovsky's] jottings, included at the end of Suite Francaise, consist of plot summaries of the books yet to be written, books that she knew she would likely never complete. She also writes in a brutally candid vein about fallen France. "My God! what is this country doing to me?" she cries. "Since it is rejecting me, let us consider it coldly, let us watch as it loses its honor and its life."

"The French were tired of the Republic as if she were an old wife. For them, the dictatorship was a brief affair, adultery. But they intended to cheat on their wife, not kill her. Now they realize she's dead, their Republic, their freedom. They're mourning her.

For years, everything done in France within a certain social class has had one motive: fear. This social class caused the war, the defeat and the current peace. The Frenchmen of this caste hate no one; they feel neither jealousy nor disappointed ambition, nor any real desire for revenge. They're scared.

Who will harm them the least (not in the future, not in the abstract, but right now and in the form of kicks in the arse or slaps in the face)? The Germans? The English? The Russians? The Germans won but the beating has been forgotten and the Germans can protect them."

(ibid) (my emphasis)

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