Moral legitimacy is the cornerstone of democratic government. Without it the ruling body cannot claim the consent of the people. This simple fact is of no concern to the Bush administration, but it should be to those of us who are alarmed by steady decline of our basic institutions. The administration operates entirely according to the expedients of deception and brute force, the antithesis of our government’s original design. It garners its dwindling support through lies, public relations antics and jingoism. Even so, the public has seen through the fog of propaganda and is rejecting the administration’s most cherished project: the occupation of Iraq. (Latest polls show that 6 of 10 Americans no longer believe the war was worthwhile) This fact attests to the innate ability of the majority to see through the fabrications of the state and recognize the basic injustice of the current policy; no mean task given the astonishing efforts of the corporate media to distort the news from Iraq.
Policy is the actualization of government. It is a window into an administration’s soul. The popularity of a given policy, by itself, shouldn’t determine whether an administration has the right to govern. That’s decided by free elections and on the basis of moral legitimacy. In the case of the Bush administration, both of these components are lacking. A group of prominent statisticians has come forward with evidence that there were major discrepancies in the November presidential elections casting doubt on the final results. Their conclusions suggest that, “a systematic, nationwide shift of 5.5% of the vote may have occurred” causing significant “errors in the official election tally”. (uscountvotes: Exit Polls; ZNET, 2-1-05) This is the most serious charge of vote fraud to date. The legitimacy of Bush presidency is in no way certain.
Beyond the growing evidence of vote manipulation, the administration’s conduct is morally deplorable. Its unambiguous complicity in violations of human rights (torture), its attack on fundamental liberties (The Patriot Act, imprisonment of American citizens without due process) and its “illegal” waging of aggressive war have eroded its “alleged” mandate and called into question its right to govern.
The question for the citizen is simply this: when is it no longer acceptable to “do nothing”?
The appointment of the criminal Alberto Gonzales as the “highest law officer in the land” is a clear sign that inaction is no longer a reasonable option. The administration has now chosen to elevate a man whose very existence should inspire the contempt of people who value liberty. American’s have overwhelmingly rejected torture in poll after poll. (79% of Americans disapprove of the use torture “for any reason”) Nevertheless, the administration has chosen to foist a man upon the nation whose name is synonymous with the systematic abuse of prisoners, a flagrant violation of the 8th Amendment, as well as international treaties and conventions. His appointment is a blatant challenge to those who have any regard for even minimal standards of justice.
The Gonzales nomination has only contributed to the sense of alienation and division throughout the country. The collective disdain for government has never been greater, although that unhappiness still hasn’t poured out onto America’s streets. No one can predict with any certainty when the dissatisfaction will express itself, only that a large percentage of Americans no longer accept the moral legitimacy of the regime.
The political avenues for change have dimmed considerably. The Democratic Party poses no alternative to the warmongering and domestic repression initiated by the Bush administration. Moreover, the election of John Kerry (in my opinion) would have stymied genuine change by co-opting activists and transforming their anti-war efforts into a “rubber-stamp” for the occupation. Movements don’t need to compromise; they are free to maintain a pristine anti-war and anti-repression (Patriot Act) platform that reflects the values of its membership. The opportunity for meaningful change is no longer possible within confines of the two party system. The restoration of basic rights and the end of this bloody, colonial war will only occur through social upheaval. Fortunately, American’s can refer to the founding document, The Declaration of Independence, for inspiration. It is the nation’s roadmap for revolution.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Consider the revolutionary wisdom of the founders in advocating the “Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” It is an assertion that is not only historically unprecedented, but also particularly poignant given our present situation. It fully expresses the moral responsibility of the citizen to secure his own freedom against an unjust and repressive regime.
Are We There Yet?
The calculated savaging of civil liberties and the stunning assault on human rights proves without any doubt the President has abandoned any pretense of honoring his sworn obligation to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That does not mean, however, that we should run out into the streets with pitchforks in our hands. The absence of moral legitimacy may vindicate violence (as it certainly did when the founders fought the British) but that doesn’t infer that it is the prudent choice.
The state cannot be beaten through violence, but only through a carefully considered plan to elicit the sympathies of the American public. It is the shifting of consciousness (hearts and minds) that will precipitate regime change in America, not violence. When that shifting begins, infrastructure begins to shut down and the determination to continue the repression erodes. To achieve that, the public must be engaged in activities that cast light on the real nature of the regime. The administration’s devotion to force must be exposed to the broadest possible audience. That requires clever minds and a well-disciplined alternative press. In many respects, these are already in place and simply awaiting a trigger mechanism.
Again, it is the seething discontent that is the real force for change. So far, that has not been effectively expressed. Right now, some small, unpredictable incident could prove to be the trip-wire for massive civil disobedience. It is up to non-violent strategists to anticipate that “galvanizing event” and know how to capitalize on it. The administration must be “drawn out” so that the public can see the true character of the government. Their cavalier disregard for civil liberties and gluttonous appetite for violence should make this an uncomplicated task. Overreacting is the greatest threat to the administration, it is their Achilles heel. Martial law-type tactics only prove that the state has lost the consent of the people and its moral authority to rule.
Having rejected its primary obligation to preserve liberty, the Bush administration maintains its tenuous grip on power through force alone. The social contract that binds the people to the government and obliges them to follow its laws is no longer applicable. We have entered a brave new world, where the state is the principal facilitator of human rights abuses and terror, and where the citizen’s foremost obligation is resistance to authority. Our founding documents have provided us with a compass for this very situation. It is the signpost for re-establishing freedom and for honoring the will of the people. The restoration of liberty is the moral imperative of our generation, but it’s uphill all the way.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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State of the Union