In the year 2001, what ought to be called the most controversial legislation in the history of the United States was rapidly passed through Congress with few objections. The Patriot Act was an almost entirely unconstitutional expansion of American governmental power, all of which could be and subsequently has been directed against American citizens who were otherwise entitled to constitutional protections of their lives, liberties and property. Enacted into law just two months shy of the ten year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Patriot Act authorised infringements on the civil liberties of Americans that would make many former Soviet KGB officers blush.
In spite of these epoch making changes to the birth rights of all Americans, Congress was given precious little time to debate the Patriot Act, the corporate media was uncritical of Patriot Act and those who dared to speak out against the Patriot Act were scarcely given any meaningful air time in an age when the internet did exist, but when social media as we know it today, did not.
Making matters more frightening was the fact that had George W. Bush not governed alongside a Congress in which he knew he could gather support for his unconstitutional proposals, he would have likely used executive power to impose the terms of the Patriot Act by declaring a national emergency. The same President Bush that suspended the writ of habeas corpus in order to fill the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp with prisoners would have almost certainly not hesitated to impose the conditions of the Patriot Act on the American people single handedly, had it come to that. Luckily for him though, Congress did what he wanted and no anti-Congressional executive action was required.
Eighteen years later and both the US Congress, corporate media and social media are exorcised about the building of a wall along the Mexico-US border. In the last two months alone, it feels as though more impassioned arguments against the building of the wall have been offered than that which was offered in opposition to the Patriotic Act over the entire period that both George Bush and Patriotic Act extender Barack Obama were in office.
Of course, one of the few voices raised against both the Patriot Act and Trump’s wall is that of retired Congressman turned active political commentator and thinker, Dr. Ron Paul. Dr. Paul was one of the very few Republican Congressman to vote against the Patriotic Act and today he has stated that he believes building a wall is a waste of money, not least because one could more effectively cut down on illegal immigration by implementing further cost saving welfare reforms.
Of course, Dr. Paul’s consistency is rare in American politics, but whatever one might think about Trump’s wall, the idea that it infringes on the civil liberties of Americans is simply absurd. The only thing the wall might infringe on is the scenic view of those who live on the border. That being said, since most of the US-Mexico border is barren desert, this clearly isn’t a problem. The wall is simply a proposed means of enforcing existing immigration laws which only impact those trying to enter the US without permission. In this sense, it does not directly effect any law abiding individual in the US, nor does it impact any law abiding individual living in or passing through Mexico.
The Patriot Act however effected and in many instances continues to effect all Americans who have lost their cherished right not to have their privacy molested by a government operating on a presumption of collective guilt rather than one operating on the presumption that all men and women are innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. Furthermore, the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp which opened not long after the passage of the Patriot Act, continues to impact the lives of individuals from across the world.
There is no question therefore that in terms of constitutionality, civil liberties, expansion of the government and the treat to law and order – the Patriot Act has been a tower of wickedness where by contrast, Trump’s proposed wall falls well short in terms of having such a negative impact on the United States.
Those like Ron Paul who oppose both the Patriot Act and the wall due to a commitment to limited government, continue to speak from a position of continuity. The same is not true of those who said nothing about the destruction of civil liberties that the Patriot Act and related measures entailed, whilst claiming that an expansion of a border wall which already exists along some parts of the US-Mexico border, is somehow the end of the world as we know it. To put it bluntly, those shrieking about a wall which does not effect civil liberties while saying nothing about unconstitutionality of the Patriot Act and related pieces of legislation, have either lost a grip on rational thought or else they never had much capacity for rational thought in the first place.
Sadly, for far too many self-described American progressives, the wall stands tall in terms of their priorities, while restoring civil liberties is less than an afterthought.