Today we received the news that the government has been using the Patriot Act to examine the phone records of Verizon customers. This was upsetting, but hardly surprising. Secret surveillance and the increasing reach of the national security state have been hallmarks of the so-called War on Terror for a dozen years now. Although president Obama has stepped back from some of the most egregious policies of the Bush administration, such as extraordinary rendition and torture, he sends drones around the world to rain death from the sky and lets the NSA do all kinds of secret spying on American citizens.
It was not supposed to be this way. Back in 2008 it looked to me like this former Constitutional law professor would get Guantanamo closed and pivot America away from the paranoia and destruction of civil liberties embodied by the Bush-Cheney years. I was much too naive, and should have known better.
The one basic fact of our nation's politics during the last century has been America's status as an imperial power. Every single president since McKinley has fought to maintain that empire, regardless of their political philosophy. From the gunboat diplomacy of Teddy Roosevelt to the CIA's Cold War assassinations to the more recent taxis to the dark side, upholding this empire has meant abuses of power and the open flouting of the law of nations. It has meant building up a national security state removed from political oversight and transparency, and no president, liberal or conservative, has managed to tame it, or ever will.
Imperialism is an American political fact of life. America's empire will only cease once it collapses or is forced into retreat. No one man, including the president of the United States, will ever have the ability to dismantle it or deny its relentless demands.