“It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”
– Thomas Paine
While Congress subjects the nation to its impeachment-flavored brand of bread-and-circus politics, our civil liberties continue to die a slow, painful death by a thousand cuts.
Case in point: while Americans have been fixated on the carefully orchestrated impeachment drama that continues to monopolize headlines, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law legislation extending three key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which had been set to expire on December 15, 2019.
Once again, to no one’s surprise, the bureaucrats on both sides of the aisle—Democrats and Republicans alike—prioritized political grandstanding over principle and their oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution.
As Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) predicted:
Today, while everyone is distracted by the impeachment drama, Congress will vote to extend warrantless data collection provisions of the #PatriotAct, by hiding this language on page 25 of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that temporarily funds the government. To sneak this through, Congress will first vote to suspend the rule which otherwise gives us (and the people) 72 hours to consider a bill. The scam here is that Democrats are alleging abuse of Presidential power, while simultaneously reauthorizing warrantless power to spy on citizens that no President should have… in a bill that continues to fund EVERYTHING the President does… and waiving their own rules to do it. I predict Democrats will vote on a party line to suspend the 72 hour rule. But after the rule is suspended, I suspect many Republicans will join most Democrats to pass the CR with the Patriot Act extension embedded in it.
Massie was right: Republicans and Democrats have no problem joining forces in order to maintain their joint stranglehold on power.
The legislation passed the Senate with a bipartisan 74-to-20 vote. It squeaked through the House of Representatives with a 231-192 margin. And it was signed by President Trump—who earlier this year floated the idea of making the government’s surveillance powers permanent—with nary a protest from anyone about its impact on the rights of the American people.
Spending bill or not, it didn’t have to shake down this way, even with the threat of yet another government shutdown looming.
Congress could have voted to separate the Patriot Act extension from the funding bill, as suggested by Rep. Justin Amash, but that didn’t fly. Instead as journalist Norman Solomon writes for Salon, “The cave-in was another bow to normalizing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance powers.”
That, right there, is the key to all of this: normalizing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance powers.
In the 18 years since the USA Patriot Act—a massive 342-page wish list of expanded powers for the FBI and CIA—was rammed through Congress in the wake of the so-called 9/11 terror attacks, it has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.
The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well.
The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience are now considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.
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