Ironically, just a short week after the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we find ourselves commemorating the 227th anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution. Yet while there is much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there has been little to celebrate.
As I make clear in my book "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago.
Consider the state of our freedoms — set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like — and judge for yourself whether this Constitution Day should be a day of mourning, celebration or a robust call to action:
The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind and protest in peace without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government.
Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault, whether it’s Americans arrested for daring to film police officers, journalists prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers, or protesters tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.”
The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons.
The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen's home without “the consent of the owner.” Yet with the police increasingly posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a violent standing army on American soil.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal.
Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors. The technological future appears to pose even greater threats to what’s left of our Fourth Amendment rights, with advances in biometric identification and microchip implants on the horizon making it that much easier for the government to track not only our movements and cyber activities but our very cellular beings.
The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendmentwork in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears.
The Eighth Amendment is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.
The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—has been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme.
As for the 10th Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, D.C. power elite—the president, Congress and the courts.
If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded. In this regard, ironically, Osama Bin Laden was right when he warned that freedom and human rights in America are doomed, and that the U.S. government would be responsible for leading us into an “unbearable hell and a choking life.”
The choices before us are simple: We can live in the past, dwelling on what freedoms we used to enjoy and shrugging helplessly at the destruction of our liberties. We can immerse ourselves in the present, allowing ourselves to be utterly distracted by the glut of entertainment news and ever-changing headlines so that we fail to pay attention to or do anything about the government’s ongoing power-grabs. We can hang our hopes on the future, believing against all odds that someone or something will save us from inevitable ruin.
Or we can start right away by instituting changes at the local level, holding our government officials accountable to the rule of law, and resurrecting the Constitution, recognizing that if we follow our current trajectory, the picture of the future will be closer to what George Orwell likened to “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
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