Elected Angels

Whenever we see President Obama appear on TV and express his support for democracy and a prosperous nation, most of us would probably believe that he earnestly means the words that come out of his mouth, that he completely supports popular government.

When we watch old speeches of Josef Stalin promising his people freedom and prosperity, on the other hand, we immediately identify his statements as a farce, an empty attempt at fooling the populus into believing that he is not the hideous tyrant that he is.

Such is the conventional view that the sons and daughters of most Western nations are brought up on; children are taught from a young age that Presidents are good and dictators are bad. When we grow older, we often retain the tendency to be more skeptical of the leaders of more authoritarian nations, and are likely to afford a greater amount of trust to people like Clinton or Obama than to people like Mussolini or Milosevic.

However, does the democratic process of election unequivocally separate those who intend to rule with an iron fist from those who intend to rule by the people? I think not.

Take a look at the following articles; one’s on Putin, and one’s on Obama.

http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20120714-359072.html

http://news.antiwar.com/2012/07/13/obama-order-gives-power-to-seize-control-of-all-communications-systems/

In the red corner, we have Vladimir Putin, who has written into law a provision declaring NGOs like Human Rights Watch or the World Wildlife Fund as “enemy agents” (what kind of weapons do human rights advocates carry?), and re-criminalized the slander of state officials. Putin is generally deemed as reprehensible in the US; he’s had a history of using loopholes in the law to increase his power, seized control of media outlets to weaken the influence of opposing candidates, and held executive dominance over Russia even when Dmitri Medvedev, his faithful subordinate, held the office of President. Scary, isn’t he?

In the blue ring, we have Barack Obama, who has claimed that he has the authority to take control of the Internet, phone lines, or any other communications systems in the event of an “emergency”. Disliked by some but lauded by many, Obama’s had a history of attempting to write the laws by himself (he attempted to make ACTA into a law without putting it to a Congressional vote), signing laws that would give him the authority to arrest anyone at any time (and then trying to undermine the authority of judges who declare those laws unconstitutional), and launching drone strikes that end up killing civilians.

Is the President truly that much more moral than Putin?

Don’t make the assumption that I equate Obama with Putin; Obama has a greater degree of respect for human life and welfare, however, he has very little respect for the limits of his own power. He has pushed for draconian legislation that would, if not for the intervention of judiciaries (and sometimes Congress), give him power that would make the Founding Fathers vomit.

As such, we shouldn’t put any executive governmental figure –democratically elected or not– beyond strict scrutiny of his/her fundamental attitude towards government. The corrupt heads of the Russian political system, like the wrongdoers of the Bush and Obama administrations, are all people, and as human beings in power are capable of (and prone to) committing heinous crimes, we must never turn our backs upon people, lest we be consumed by an ever-expanding sphere of governmental authority.

Satan: The Evil Within

Nearly all of us are familiar with the concept of Satan, the personification of pure evil. He tempts his victims with the promise of granting them their hopes and dreams, only to pull them into his inferno when they have no way to escape. The Christians like to think of Satan as a red, horned, goat-legged monster (probably in order to make him easier to identify), but in reality, the devil is never so easy to identify. The devil is not a charging mass of soldiers, he will never admit that he bears any ill intentions towards you. He is not HIV, for the only way that he may wreak havoc upon you is by your own consent. As the master of deception, his job is to make you greet him with open, unwitting arms.

Now, the concept of Satan need not be taken literally in order to be potent; I follow no religion and don’t believe the devil is a physical being or even an outside force, but despite my descriptions of him as a largely symbolic being, he is nonetheless very real.

Where is this devil? He manifests himself in our behavior, tempting us to engage in dangerous behavior ranging from procrastination in the face of an ultimate deadline to falling for the tricks of politicians who promise to bring you security by removing restrictions on their power to kill or otherwise coerce you whenever they want. If you gauge his intentions by the smile he wears on his face, then you will fall for him, as he only ceases to smile when he knows that you have no escape from his wrath.

As the danger posed by this force is very real, we must also realize that since our devil is not an external force like the wind or the rain, the key to defeating him is within our own minds. As he can only attack you when you allow him to, you must be able to see past his illusions through the lens of truth. Stand firmly by your goals, your dreams, and your respect for the rights of others, and so long as you do so, he will not be able to open up your door. To do so is by no means easy (and I do not claim, in any way, to be perfect in this regard); he will knock ceaselessly and implore you to let him in, but if you believe strongly enough in what is right, the devil will lose in the end.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of warding off deadly desires within, resisting the will of people who have already succumbed to those temptations is even more complex. You can’t so easily bend the will of a dictator who is intent on killing you, but we can prevent such ugly weeds from growing on humanity by encouraging others to live a moral live and inform them of the dangers they will surely face. If ignorance is the first step towards defeat, then knowledge is the first step towards freedom.

Looking back at what I’ve just said, this post may seem like some sort of secular sermon. Indeed, religious principles operate on a common level with nonreligious principles, and as there are variations of ideas such as the Golden Rule in both Eastern and Western philosophy, we can identify certain morals as basic to our humanity. Killing, stealing, and enslaving are basic wrongs that nearly all of us can identify, and these are some of the principles by which all of us can live a moral life.

Superman-In-Chief

“He’ll use his superpowers to win in Iraq, then kung-fu chop the Taliban! Our image in the world he’ll mend, he’ll make the Jews and Arabs friends, he’s Barack Obama, he’s come to save the day!” -JibJab

Although clearly a work of satire, the song lyrics above are a reflection of what our society wants and expects of the President of the United States. Since Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901, most of our Presidents have cheated Congress, defied the Courts, overused his veto power, and made a mountain of unrealistic promises to garner public faith in their ability to make America truly great. Lyndon B. Johnson promised healthcare for all in his Great Society program, FDR believed that tightening the government’s hold over the economy would get us out of the Great Depression (which is a well-publicized myth), and Obama promised to lower healthcare prices by eliminating competition and raising taxes. In short, every President pledges to defecate rainbows and turn the USA into heaven on Earth.

However, the problem with promises made by Presidents is not that they are unrealistic and often ludicrous, nor is it that the people believe that the President can single-handedly solve great moral or economic crises. The issue is that most people want the President to be able to do these kinds of things, and will cheer him on as he tears up the checks and balances of our republican system to attain that power. And as historical hindsight will tell you, any government big enough to give you anything you want is capable of taking away everything you have. Hitler and Stalin are the most obvious examples of governmental destruction of its own people, but an American flag pin is no safeguard from corruption. Just look at how humanely some of our most beloved Presidents have used their power: FDR interned 110,000 immigrants and loyal Japanese-descended citizens, Abraham Lincoln arrested tens of thousands of dissenters and “suspected” criminals. The 4th Amendment’s requirement of probable cause should have stopped both Lincoln and FDR right in their tracks (the courts did declare Lincoln’s arrests to be unconstitutional, but after he died), but they didn’t, because people trusted the President to make the best decisions for the nation and never suspected that the gun might be turned on them. Constitutional checks and balances are the only safeguard from tyranny; don’t assume you’re safe just because the government tends to kill Islamists and people from nations being invaded.

With that established, it becomes clear that more is less in terms of Presidential power. Most adults are capable of handling their own lives without a nanny state changing their diapers; it is the people who create vigorous economies and have the rightful authority to decide what substances go into their own bodies. The government’s only rightful authority is to prevent the people from materially and physically infringing upon others’  lives, liberties, and property, and the President, as an employee of the people, is bound to the duty of enforcing the law. I do not want some elected savior who is pre-ordained by some deity to save the nation, I want Presidents like Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, and George Washington, who abided by the law and sought to achieve only what the Constitution allowed them to. This nation was built by people, not Chief Executives, and the people, not the government, are the key to its future success.