"All men having power ought to be mistrusted."--James Madison
Many Americans, desperate for change in their lives and government after years of war and increased economic hardship, are looking upon Barack Obama as a savior, comparing him to Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ. Even civil libertarians who had fought to defend our constitutional freedoms against the constant encroachments by the Bush administration heaved a collective sigh of relief when Obama took office.
However, while it is admirable that Obama has already made good on some of his campaign promises, the danger is far from over because we still labor under a government armed with dictatorial powers which can, at a moment's notice, dismantle our democracy. As constitutional scholar Aziz Huq recently warned, "No one should assume that the end of the Bush presidency marks the end of the imperial presidency."
Let us consider the facts.
The national debt is increasing at an alarming rate. It passed the $10 trillion mark in the fall of 2008 and, according to some predictions, could grow another $3.4 trillion by 2018. As it currently stands, each citizen's share of the national debt (not including personal debt) amounts to roughly $34,000. And as of November 2008, China, Japan and the United Kingdom were the biggest foreign holders of our debt, with oil exporters such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia not far behind. Not only does the country face a national bankruptcy, we are also in danger of being held hostage by foreign powers.
We live in a surveillance state. Our every movement is monitored by cameras on sidewalks, streets, ATMs, and in shops, offices, schools and parks.
The notion of privacy has become passé. The government has at its disposal the most invasive technology that has ever existed. Satellites, which are so sophisticated they can read a postage stamp lying on the ground from outer space, are trained on the United States. What this means is that they can track your every move.
We are continually being spied on. The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment, has largely been eviscerated. Intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency, which has for decades been listening in on the telephone calls of American citizens, are not going to relinquish that unprecedented access.
We are becoming numbers in the system. The government is edging closer and closer to requiring every citizen to carry a national ID card. It's now being championed through a congressional law called the REAL ID Act, which will require all citizens to carry a card that will possess the most intimate information about us. The information on these cards will range from our Social Security numbers to fingerprints and even our buying habits. These cards may eventually be equipped with radio frequency identification tags, which will allow the government to track us day and night, wherever we go.
Police officers are out of control. Take, for instance, the 40,000-plus no-knock raids conducted annually by police SWAT-team style across the United States. Dressed like military troops, doors are rammed down and innocent American citizens are often terrorized and sometimes even killed. And unknown by many, the local police are being provided with specialized equipment from the government in order to collect data for federal intelligence agencies. This essentially means that the local police may eventually become extensions of agencies such as the CIA and FBI.
The American military empire, a $700 billion industry, threatens the financial stability of the country and poses a serious threat to our constitutional freedoms. Contrary to everything America's founding fathers warned against, military troops are now being trained as domestic police. At any moment, depending on how the government defines the term "national emergency," the country could be placed under martial law and the Bill of Rights would be lost to history.
Our political structure is riddled with corruption, with Congress in the hands of professional politicians who are largely out of touch with the average voter. And more often than not, what comes out of Congress is more determined by what a lobbyist pushes than what you, the American citizen, wants, requires or needs.
The list goes on and on and on. When faced with such seemingly insurmountable problems, it's tempting to buy into the idea that Barack Obama, with a stroke of his pen, could make it all go away. But that's not going to happen. The grim reality is that not every bad policy put in place by George W. Bush and his predecessors will be--or can be--undone by Obama.
So is there any hope in all this? The hope is in you and me. We must be even more vigilant in protecting our freedoms. And it will mean holding all government officials accountable for their actions.
Those who drafted our Constitution understood all too well that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's why James Madison, the father of our Constitution, warned against trusting anyone in power--no matter how well-intentioned those in power may be.
We must always be mindful that the Constitution starts with three beautiful words, which are the basis of the American constitutional government: "We the people." Thus, if anything significant is to be accomplished, it will require American citizens doing what that rag-tag group of colonists did in 1776: they finally said enough is enough and took the steps necessary to bring the government under control. And that is the spirit that will bring about any real and lasting change for the better.