Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lawless impulses and the question of why

Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston report at the New York Times today:
WASHINGTON — Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.


The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.


Still, at least one high-level meeting was convened to debate the issue, at which several top Bush aides argued firmly against the proposal to use the military, advanced by Mr. Cheney, his legal adviser David S. Addington and some senior Defense Department officials.

The usual suspects: Dick Cheney, David Addington, and the Oct. 23, 2001, memorandum written by John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty.

Jay Elias, whose diary today at Daily Kos drew my attention to this, asks the really interesting questions:
The lawless impulses of Dick Cheney have been well-documented, and of course this comes as no surprise. But what always shocks me, and what is of course absent from the NYT article, is any explanation as to the why. Why do this? What was the virtue, beyond a naked grasp for executive power, in doing this? What threat did the so-called Lackawanna Six pose that could not be handled by the FBI? What is the benefit to the American people if we choose to use our armed forces this way?

I have no idea. Years after the abuses instigated by Cheney first came to light, I still haven't the slightest understanding of what his motives were. And I don't suppose I'll ever know.

Updated to add: Many of you have made excellent points about the will to power, the fetish for nationalism, and the codification of executive power.

They are all plausible explanations of his immediate motives. But ultimately, I think they fail to satisfy.
The striking conclusion: "But he's a human, and there must be a more human explanation out there."

I frequently use the language and imagery of the demonic when speaking of Cheney but I also believe Elias is right. Richard Bruce Cheney was, after all, born to human parents and "his mother was a softball star in the 1930s." I even have something in common with him: he started but did not finish a doctoral program. I've done that twice. [Wikipedia]

This does not mean I am going to abandon demonic language. I do not believe in it literally but I do believe that as we give ourselves over to "the dark side" it grows in power over us. By our human choices we yield our thinking and our wills to evil. We feed it and we allow it to dominate us. Eventually it can become almost impossible to think or act otherwise. This is why language of possession or demons perdures in many cultures; it expresses something of how we understand those who appear taken over by astonishing wickedness.

One should note that it is also a way to exercise social control and personal vendettas (charges of witchcraft, etc.). We objectify our anxieties and resentments then attack the identified "other." Just think of all the sexual insecurity dealt with by trying to cast a demon of homosexuality out of someone else! No end of abuse and tragic scapegoating can result from this.

So, is Dick Cheney my convenient scapegoat, my excuse for almost everything that was wrong with the Bush years? I have no doubt there is a lot of truth to this. He can be my target for the guilt I feel over years of political inaction, my focal point for resentment over the American populace buying into all manner of irresponsible bullshit over decades and electing people with easy - and false - answers.

Cheney also pushes some of my most primal buttons and those are constellated around the accumulation and abuse of power. The abuse of power by clergy, for instance, is perhaps one of my hottest of hot buttons. It makes me incandescent with rage. Bosses who treat employees like scum. Domestic abusers. Child abusers. Corporate abusers - and isn't that what the economic crisis and our desperate attempts to rectify health care in this country have brought into focus? And politicians who accumulate power for their own ends to the great detriment of the people they should be serving.

Accumulation and abuse of power, or the desire to do so, is a central theme in my fiction. Let's face it, I am writing a whole series of novels to denounce this. Readers here will be familiar with my ongoing attacks on this in our current political and social realities.

Dick Cheney and David Addington are a matched set, dedicated to the maximum accumulation of executive power and ruthless in their disregard of law and tradition in their pursuit of that power. Torture, signing statements, expanded powers of a commander-in-chief: the horrors of recent years that have threatened our constitutional democracy are all linked to Addington (who I suspect is the real brains behind it all) and Cheney (the will behind it all). If I did believe literally in the demonic I would say they had both sold their souls and were now inhabited by demons. Figuratively, not literally, that is sadly where I am with respect to these two.

But I am not a dualist and I do believe that even they are God's creations and objects of God's love. Here is where I truly venture into faith and the "evidence of things not seen." So what shaped these two and what choices have they made, and why, over the course of their life would that eventuate into their actions in recent years and into the present?

I can only speculate that there must be some primal anxieties at work. I have no idea what those are or have been.

In any case, Jay Elias has raised an interesting issue: "Years after the abuses instigated by Cheney first came to light, I still haven't the slightest understanding of what his motives were."

--the BB


Ellie Finlay said...

That's a seriously great graphic at the top of your post.

And I agree with Jay. The question of Cheney's motives is quite vexing.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Grandpère showed me the article in the newspaper this morning. My immediate comment was, "What's wrong with the FBI?" GP said, "What would make Cheney want to do something that?" I guess he was channeling you, Paul. I'll show him your post and let him ruminate on it.