‘A Core Tyrannical Power’


Allowing the President unilaterally to declare individuals to be “enemy combatants” with no meaningful review process means, by definition, that the President’s power to imprison people for life is unchallengeable and unreviewable. No hyperbole is needed to describe that as a core tyrannical power, one of the defining attributes of dictatorial rule. How does that, by itself, not end the debate over whether this is something that ought to be done?

It is just self-evident that vesting the President with this power will result in inevitable and widespread abuse of that power. That is why our system of government does not recognize such a thing as unchecked power generally or executive imprisonment specifically. Those who advocate unilateral presidential imprisonment power willfully ignore that issue and simply pretend (or blindly trust) that the power will only be used against The Terrorists — exactly the assumption our entire system of government was constructed to reject.


That law is crystal clear. But yet again, the claim to power of the Bush administration and its followers is reduced to one simple proposition — namely, that the President is greater than the law, that his powers exist outside of the laws enacted by the American people through their Congress, and that the need to fight The Terrorists means that nothing can limit the Commander-in-Chief’s authority.

I don’t necessarily agree that all of the willingness of the president’s supporters to grant him limitless power can be attributed to fear of terrorists. A lot of hardcore conservatives, who would by all logic have been against this from the start because of its overarching governmental power-grab nature, are hardcore conservatives not out of ideology but out of a sense of belonging, and to attribute their willingness to subscribe to an authoritarian cult mentality just out of fear is to ignore the appeal of cults, gangs, high school cliques and sports team fan clubs throughout the decades.

Which is how this administraiton has operated, in every aspect of its actions from fighting its wars to waging its election campaigns, not so much a ruthless and wicked machine as a dumb, ordinary, mean, you’re-in-or-you’re-out gang of jocks about to go TP the neighbor’s house and letting you know if you rat them out they’ll pants you in the bathroom at school the next day. It doesn’t really get you anywhere, laughing at the weaker kid or taking his lunch money, but it gives you something to be against, it gives you somebody to be better than, and in a world in which way too many people lack meaning and direction, it gives you identity. You’re with those guys, and the other guys suck.

Which is why when things like this happen there’s a kind of crazy cognitive dissonance going on, because not only is your sense of your own greatness helped by not caring who the weaker kid is or why you’re picking on him, it’s dependent on that. A sense of belonging isn’t a logical thing. It’s a gut-level, bone-deep, paint-your-face-red-on-game-day emotional experience and that’s what being a Bush Republican is for a lot of the people you’d ordinarily think would jump ship over this.

It’s why the lawlessness didn’t get to the Freepers, but the immigration reform debate does. The president’s lawlessness doesn’t bother them because the only people affected by that are terrorists, and gays and Quakers, and peace activists, and everybody who they were perfectly comfortable beating up on anyway. Those people weren’t on their team anyway, so who cares if they get hurt. Immigration reform, now that’s a break with conservative ideology that ends up in the hardcore conservatives’ minds somehow benefitting people they were used to using as punching bags. It’s like you told me during hockey season I had to go up to St. Paul and pet a Golden Gopher: Na Ga Ha Pen. They’ll bolt the party rather than consider the effect of their actions on somebody who’s not on their team.

None of what Greenwald’s talking about up there is anything those fully subscribing to the mentality that the president is above the law just haven’t considered. It’s not that they don’t think about these things. It’s that they can’t. When there’s no logical basis for your viewpoint, when there’s no possible way you can justify it to anyone with an iota of sense, when it is quite simply and honestly ILLEGAL and your only defense is the legal equivalent of “your mother, man:”

As due-process-hating former prosecutor Andy McCarthy warns, allowing trials would mean that suspects “receive lavish discovery that could be extremely helpful to the people trying to kill us.” The anti-due-process National Review identically editorializes that a terrorist suspect would “be entitled to — and able to share with his confederates — the fruits of discovery from U.S. intelligence files detailing the enemy’s capabilities and plans.”

When has that ever happened? We have tried scores of terrorist suspects now in civilian courts. Other countries, including England, have done the same. Is there a single instance where our doing so was “extremely helpful to the people trying to kill us”?

then what you’re basically left with is that you go along with this stuff because you’re on the team, and that’s that.


5 thoughts on “‘A Core Tyrannical Power’

  1. This ties in neatly with scout’s hurricane satellite below. In the frat-boy preznitcy, if you’re not part of the right crowd, you’re supposed to keep your mouth shut or be replaced with someone who will. If you do speak, it must be to parrot the party line (a la the blindingly stupid NASA head saying global warming might be a GOOD thing).
    And above all, anything that makes the preznit and his buddies happy, particularly by making them more powerful, is by definition the best thing that could happen. Hence the firing of USAs, the Lurita Doan “What can we do?” comment, and the NSA wiretapping.
    It all fits together in neat, tidy little nightmare.

  2. A. you are scaring me now. I can comprehend Americans being so terrorized by the Bush administration, who fit all definitions of terrorists, that they willingly give up their constitution, but I can’t comprehend that our citizens are so abysmally stupid that your theory is correct. Is it really possible that TV has rotted our brains so much that we really can’t tell the difference between real life and sports fandom? Or that we can’t outgrow our teenage idiocy?
    I’m scared because I think you are right. I have some inlaws who fit right into the hole you have them fitted for.
    I keep looking in the mirror and asking, “did I behave like that during the Clinton years?” I’m almost certain I didn’t, but, am I right?

  3. The President’s power to imprison people for life is unchallengeable and unreviewable.
    Caligula, Tiberius, etc have nothing on this bitch.
    Ancient Rome with bigger boom booms here we come (or we already there?)

  4. I believe right-wing think tanks pretty much had the original Patriot Act written before 9/11/01 – it was more of an intellectual exercise of every power they ever wanted and not real legislation. And then BOOM – you had people like Dick Armey saying ‘This is too much’ and being ignored. The is about the opportunity that 9/11 opened, not a response to 9/11.

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