February 2, 2024 | www.baltimoresun.com
The notion that Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided across a broad spectrum of political issues is as orthodox as the heliocentric theory of the universe.
The notion is not without some basis. Abortion, religion, LGBT rights and climate change sharply divide the parties. But a closer look reveals remarkable unity on issues more important to the future of the country. It explains why the more things change in American politics with each election cycle and new faces in the corridors of power, the more they stay the same. Unity is alarming when it drives a country off a cliff.
The two parties unite behind limitless executive power, the diminishment of Congress to mere ornament, and the jettisoning of separation of powers — the Constitution’s crown jewel that thwarts the government from unjust encroachments on liberty. The two parties agree, for example, that the president possesses the power to play prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner to kill any person anywhere on the planet based on secret, unreviewable speculation that the corpse could have become an imminent national security threat. We all live at the indulgence of the president of the United States.
The two parties unite behind the bugle cry that the United States is the indispensable nation uniquely endowed with angelic DNA tasked with cramming political virtue down the throats of adversaries by force and violence — i.e., a warfare state.
The two parties unite behind the multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-security complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned. Our $1.5 trillion and climbing annual national security budget passes effortlessly in Congress with virtually no debate. The lavish funding persists despite the absence of any audit of Pentagon spending and an unending series of calamitous interventions.
We spent more than $2 trillion on a 20-year fool’s errand in Afghanistan to return a second edition of the Taliban grislier and more misogynistic than the first. None of the authors or participants in this extravagant folly have been demoted or lost political standing or stature. A craven Congress has failed to hold hearings on “Why our Afghanistan Venture Shipwrecked,” to prevent repetition.
We have stupidly spent more than $2 trillion in Iraq, precipitated by Saddam Hussein’s imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction, to make it a satellite of archenemy Iran. None of the authors or executioners of this stupendous blunder have suffered professionally or lost political standing. Congress has held no serious oversight hearings addressing the Iraq war, like the highly acclaimed Fulbright hearings on Vietnam.
We orchestrated the overthrow and gruesome murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after he abandoned his WMD. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effused that Gaddafi’s ouster and death marked smart diplomacy at its best. Libya soon degenerated into a violent dystopia and sanctuary for international terrorists and human traffickers. Our ambassador was killed in Benghazi. Immigrants by the millions departed from unpoliced Libyan shores for Europe causing radical political upheavals and strife among our European friends and massive drownings in the Mediterranean Sea.
None of the authors or participants in the Libyan disaster have lost professional or political esteem or luster. Congress fixated on the Benghazi tragedy but left the elephant in the living room unexamined: What were we doing in Libya after Gaddafi had surrendered or destroyed WMD? The intervention guaranteed that neither North Korea nor Iran will ever reject a nuclear arsenal to deter a United States invasion.
The parties are unified behind fighting pointlessly in Somalia, Yemen and Ukraine, or attacking China if it invades Taiwan. The parties are unified behind special forces in more than 100 countries in such remote and inconsequential nations as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso or Chad.
The two parties unite behind a surveillance state in which the cherished Fourth Amendment right to be left alone is crucified on a national security cross. The Big Brother National Security Agency surveils the entire American population without suspicion that crime is afoot. The NSA views the “not-yet-guilty” (most of us) as necessary targets.
What the NSA intercepts, stores and searches is generally unknown. Congressional hearings are rare and superficial. When the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, lied in 2013 to the Senate Intelligence Committee in disputing that the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans, there was no penalty or even official rebuke.
Americans remain clueless as to whether the bloated and exorbitant surveillance state has foiled even one terrorist attack against an American.
The two parties unite behind a soaring national debt exceeding $33 trillion and annual budget deficits as far as the eye can see. The idea of a freeze or slash in federal spending is not even on the table. The parties unite behind fiddling, while the nation races off a financial cliff risking bankruptcy in our lifetime.
The two parties unite on secret government pivoting on the state secrets doctrine, shocking overclassification of documents, executive privilege, and flouting congressional subpoenas or requests for information. The consequence is untold waste, fraud, maladministration and lawlessness. As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis admonished, “Sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
Unity is not always a good thing. It commonly leads to stagnation and the persistence of evils like slavery or burning witches.
Separation of powers necessitates a broad consensus before the government acts. It can slow remedies for pressing problems. But experience teaches the alternative of limitless executive power and jettisoning of checks and balances is vastly worse.
Armstrong Williams (www.armstrongwilliams.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”