Shall Bush Become a Dictator?
There is a strong push in Washington to create a governmental system in the USA which is new to our country, one in which the president and the executive branch possess new powers of a "national emergency" character, powers which override the preeminence of Congress in many areas and which eclipse traditional civilian freedoms and rights.
The fact that hundreds of captives can be held by the president at Guantanamo, Cuba, without a declaration of war, without formal charges, and with virtually no human rights is indicative of the administration's awesome new authority.
International law (the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners, for example) also seems to not exist for our current government, which advocates, among other things, the same kind of preemptive attack upon a potential enemy as was aimed at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy on December 7, 1941!
It would seem absolutely incredible for the United States to be adopting war doctrines typical of the most aggressive states of modern history including demands for unilateral disarmament (Iraq) as well as the assertion of the right of attack with deadly force, now including nuclear weapons. This was, of course, the manner in which Nazi Germany forced the disarmament of the Czech state after Munich.
This bellicose posture by the USA certainly makes us the most warlike country on the face of the globe today, and the administration's desire to place weapons in space aimed down at the Earth can only reinforce the awesome power of the USA. But, in fact, what it does is to reinforce the power of the U.S. presidency, especially since a Republican majority in the Congress after November may give Bush immunity to any legislative resistance.
Within this context, the creation of the proposed Department of Homeland Security is especially frightening. What the administration seeks is a very huge bureaucracy all of whose employees will lack any meaningful civil service or union protections. This means that the president will have, at his beck and call, literally an army of servants whose jobs totally depend upon political loyalaty to one person. And these underlings will be armed with huge powers by the so-called "Patriot" Act and Bush-Ashcroft directives to spy on, to harass, and to control the rest of us.
Our government leaders have often done horrible things, but many times their deeds are brought to light because they cannot control all civil service, unionized employees.
Some honest souls ("troublemakers") dare to put the brakes on, citing statutes perhaps, or serving as whistle-blowers. Thus we have a check upon absolute tyranny, because of the independence and professionalism of at least some elements of the Federal work force. But that will all be wiped out by the homeland security structure. We will have a "Presidential Security" Department but total insecurity for any citizens who pose a political or ideological challenge.
In short, are we not on the verge of creating a dictatorship? Really, it seems to me that we are at the same stage as the Roman Republic when it was persuaded to hand over supreme power to Julius Caesar, or at the same stage as Germany after the Reichstag Fire (when the Nazis used the excuse of the Nazi-set fire to begin rounding up political opponents and to dismantle civil protections for German citizens).
For Native Americans, the powers sought by Bush are frightening, because we remember how the Interior Department with its Bureau of Indian Affairs established a virtual totalitarian dictatorship over Indian Country, a dictatorship lasting until after World War II. Indians know all too well what it means to be "protected" by a powerful bureaucracy.
Is it not very dangerous to place "security" under the likes of Tom Ridge, a man who was reportedly ready to put Mumia Abu Jamal to death when he was governor of Pennsylvania, in spite of evidence of a possible miscarriage of justice? What does that suggest about protections for social critics and non-Whites? And what about the historic willingness of the FBI to pursue a political agenda, as in their harassment of Martin Luther King Jr.?
The tragedy of 9-11 came about because George W. Bush and his team failed to set up a central anti-terrorist command center in the White House and failed to pay any serious attention to the vital information which they did receive. They had plenty of information! What they lacked was common sense and competence, focused as they were on a payback to campaign contributors and political buddies! A new department is not the answer. A new president might be!
© 2002 Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. He is the author of Red Blood, Africans and Native Americans, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard and other books. He is professor emeritus of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at his web site.
This article was originally published in News From Indian Country mid November 2002 issue.