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Sunday, March 30, 2008

How does one define something or someone as "anti-American"?

As... interesting as a recent flame war has been, I'm not going to sabotage this blog by solely devoting myself to it. Frankly, it, and that individual, aren't worth it.

So, instead, I will go with an interesting question I've heard recently, and it got me thinking. How exactly does one define the term "anti-American"? The late Justice Potter Stewart famously said regarding hard-core pornography in the case Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." While there is a certain sense to that as applied to both pornography and "anti-Americanism", there are those who nevertheless bandy about the term as frequently as we hear the words "sale" and "car" in television commercials, rendering it effectively meaningless. However, there are a few things that can be genuinely considered "anti-American". The easiest of those to discern is treason and related crimes, as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Next, I refer to Article I, Section 9, and the following quote: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." This is, admittedly, a bit more tenuous an argument. However, I find this particularly apropos given the current Administration. The United States of America has not actually been invaded in quite some time, and outright rebellion has not occurred in the 143 years since the Civil War. However, habeas corpus has been suspended with respect to the prisoners in Guantanimo Bay, a military base occupied by the United States and subject to United States military law. The only problems with such an arrangement are that even military law has been superseded in this instance by the creation of special tribunals, and that the people currently imprisoned there, while allegedly enemy combatants, are civilians. With the gravity of charges against those individuals, I doubt the minimal protections adhere to the higher ideals upon which our nation was founded, and it certainly abridges at least the spirit of Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, it almost certainly abridges in spirit the prohibition against bills of attainder contained later in the same section, and it abridges Amendments IV and V, specifically, former's protection of people's right to be secure in their persons against unreasonable search and seizure, and the latter's protection against the deprivation of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. In addition, considering their treatment, I consider this a clear breach of the Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, I also assert that the Sixth Amendment, in its entirety, is abridged by these laws. As such, I consider, on this count, President Bush and a number of his Congressional allies "anti-American," especially given the damage the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 have caused to the standing of this nation, both domestically and abroad. While this is not treason, it is a breach of the contract our government has made with our people and a violation of the public trust.

I could continue on, but I'll stop with those who oppose personal freedoms. Specifically, I find anti-American the belief that some religious test should be required to hold public office. This is expressly prohibited by Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. Related to this are those who support the elevation of one religion at the expense of all others, in violation of the First Amendment protections against the establishment of religion and the right to the free exercise thereof. By this measure, Gov. Huckabee, Roy Moore, Pat Robertson, Orel Roberts, John Hagee, and a large number of evangelical Christians are anti-American. If history teaches anything about religion and politics, it is that innocent people tend to die in large numbers when church and state get too closely related. The irony of those most likely to use the term "anti-American" being the most likely to actually be "anti-American" is not lost on me.

Those who are most "American" are those who see that something is wrong and do their best to change it in a peaceful manner. By that measure, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a number of others are and were far more "American" than any of those mentioned above. If there is irony in this, it is of a sad sort, because it means that several of those with great power are not using it properly, instead using their positions of power to spread fear or simply expand their sphere of influence. It means that several of those with great power are, to use a phrase by Hannah Arendt, encouraging the banality of evil.

Enjoy this music by Chronic Remorse. The song is Commander.


Candace said...

Excellent post. It amazes me how the "right" has gotten away with framing themselves as being more "American" than the rest of us. Somehow, wearing that little flag lapel pin makes fascism okay. And now, McInsane's first campaign commercial talks about how he's "an American for president!" Well, duh. Since you have to be an American to be president, what exactly does his ad mean? I'm afraid it may be code for "white male." Oh wait - "white Christian male."

I recently ran across an article along the lines of, why don't we progressives start name-calling and belittling the "religious" "right" the same way they've framed us? How about a bumper sticker that says, "There are two kinds of Republicans: millionaires and suckers." Or, how about, "Big truck, small dick." (I'd like to see something like, "Gas guzzlers are unpatriotic.") Why not?

Mandelbrot's Chaos said...

As an aside, I corrected the post in two small areas, both for clarity. First was clarifying the nature of the issue Justice Stewart discussed with his most famous quote. My second correction was taking out a duplicate word, "are", in the final paragraph of the main body of my post. I could probably clean up my post more, but frankly, I don't want to.

I respect what Senator McCain has survived, and I respect the fact that he has served this country with valor. However, there are other things I most certainly do not respect about him, and I do not want to see him in the White House as anything more than a guest of a sitting President or fulfilling the duties of his office as a Senator. The simple fact that Senator McCain was a POW does not, of itself, make him qualified for the job he holds, much less the highest elected office in the land. Furthermore, his judgment leaves much to be desired, and if the rumors of his temper are to be believed...

With my talent for pissing people off, I'm not sure the left would want me, and with my tendency to think for myself instead of blindly follow, the right certainly has no use for me. As for me, I would suggest that some enterprising progressive start making those bumper stickers and t-shirts. I might even end up buying one, and they might make a mint. But do I think it would actually change anything? Not really.

1138 said...

Candace I also suspect it also means some particular sect of Christian, if not today, it will one day because eventually it always does.
Four legs good two legs better.

I believe the term you are looking for was un-American because anti-American is self defining.

Candace said...

Hey Fred, there's a gift for you on mah blog (should you choose to use it.) :)