How do you justify prosecuting instead of praising a person for exposing draconian governmental invasions of privacy? Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal yesterday offered an especially pathetic attempt to blunt this question. He maintains that the claim that Snowden rescued us from dictatorship is pathetic because dictatorship is unlikely to emerge from our old and well established democracy.
This is a classic example of changing the subject. Snowden may not have prevented us from dictatorship, but he shined a light on a program that should not have been a secret in anything that pretends to be a democracy. Moreover, Snowden’s revelations have not yet stopped the program, but that is no argument for a lack of appreciation of his contribution.
Even more important, on the 4th of July, it is useful to reflect on the quality of our “old and well established” democracy. We live in a country that pretends to be democratic by giving lip service to values it does not implement. It is opposed to torture, but it has practiced waterboarding and “harsh interrogation.” It values our privacy while secretly noting our phone and internet associations and tracing our credit card and other banking transactions. It preserves free elections while imposing registration requirements in an effort to discourage voting and creating conditions in which precincts where voters are unlikely to follow the party line are forced to wait in lines that take hours in order to cast a vote. It praises equality while employing discriminatory laws or practices to imprison African Americans in obscene numbers, to dampen their vote, and to be denied benefits rightfully theirs. It promotes democracy abroad by installing regimes favorable to our economic markets in staged and manipulated elections. It purportedly adheres to the rule of international law while sending drones on assassination missions in non-combat areas killing without due process of law with severe consequences for innocent civilians. It follows the rule of the People while listening to K Street lobbyists empowered by the ability of business corporations to influence the outcome of election campaigns. It worships democracy while making change extremely difficult permitting gerrymandering to cause a minority to run the House and embedding in the Constitution a Senate whose majority in fact has represented 26 states comprising just 17% of the population. It calls itself a democracy while wiser heads recognize it to be a corpocracy.
Admittedly this is a glass half full. We have much to be thankful for. But our old democracy ought to be vibrant enough to recognize that people like Snowden should be regarded as patriots, not potential prisoners.