… but won’t be.
Because we are all deranged. Duh.
Dahlia Lithwick , in yesteday’s typically despair-inducing and yet still somehow sparklingly witty essay in Slate, has really put her finger on one of the many bizzarro maladies afflicting the American psyche.
The real problem is that too many people tend to follow GOP cues about how hopelessly unsafe America is, and they’ve yet again convinced themselves that we are mere seconds away from an attack. Moreover, each time Republicans go to their terrorism crazy-place, they go just a little bit farther than they did the last time, so that things that made us feel safe last year make us feel vulnerable today.
“Terrorism crazy-place” is a pretty good turn of phrase too, I must say. Dang, she’s good.
Partisan Democrats might be tempted to play their favorite game and say, “See? It’s them!” but Dahlia is not pinning TDS all on the Republicans. “[W]hat was once tough on terror is now soft on terror. And each time the Republicans move their own crazy-place goal posts, the Obama administration moves right along with them.” Yes, the Repugs take the lead, but who’s making the party in control of everything follow along?
No, TSD afflicts both parties, and the general public as well. Definitely this piece must be read in full, but I hope I’ll be forgiven for quoting such a large chunk of it:
But it’s not just the establishment that opposes closing Guantanamo, trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or reading Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights. Polls show most Americans want Abdulmutallab tried by military commission, want Gitmo to remain open, and want KSM tried in a military commission, too. For those of us who are horrified by the latest Republican assault on basic legal principles, it’s time to reckon with the fact that the American people are terrified enough to go along.
We’re terrified when a terror attack happens, and we’re also terrified when it’s thwarted. We’re terrified when we give terrorists trials, and we’re terrified when we warehouse them at Guantanamo without trials. If a terrorist cooperates without being tortured we complain about how much more he would have cooperated if he hadn’t been read his rights. No matter how tough we’ve been on terror, we will never feel safe enough to ask for fewer safeguards.
Now I grant that it’s awfully hard to feel safe when the New York Times is publishing stories about a possible terrorist attack by July. So long as there are young men in the world willing to stick a bomb in their pants, we will never be perfectly safe. And what that means is that every time there’s an attack, or a near-attack, or a new Bin Laden tape, or a new episode of 24, we’ll always be willing to go one notch more beyond the rules than we were willing to go last time.
Some of the very worst excesses of the Bush years can be laid squarely at the doorstep of a fictional construct: The “ticking time bomb scenario.” Within minutes, any debate about terrorists and the law arrives at the question of what we’d be willing to do to a terrorist if we thought he had knowledge of an imminent terror plot that would kill hundreds of innocent citizens. The ticking time bomb metaphor is the reason we get bluster like this from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, complaining that “5-6 weeks of ‘time-sensitive information’ was lost” because Abdulmutallab wasn’t interrogated against his will upon capture.
But here’s the paradox: It’s not a terrorist’s time bomb that’s ticking. It’s us. Since 9/11, we have become ever more willing to suspend basic protections and more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions. The failed Christmas bombing and its political aftermath have revealed that the terrorists have changed very little in the eight-plus years since the World Trade Center fell. What’s changing—what’s slowly ticking its way down to zero—is our own certainty that we can never be safe enough and our own confidence in the rule of law.