With 2014 gone (and good riddance), perhaps in 2015 America will look itself in the mirror and reflect on what it means to behave as if civilized rules only apply to everyone else. We look somewhat less exceptional from across the pond. Take this op-ed from Christian Christensen, a professor in Stockholm, for example:
… 2014 has been a year in which the mythology of domestic U.S. legal egalitarianism — reinforced by the mantra of blind justice and a near religious reverence of the U.S. Constitution — was exposed as a pretense. As abroad, so at home: Some people are more equal than others.
After the police killings of unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner; after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma; after the SCCI report on a torture program approved by the White House — more brutal than the world already knew, and in violation of domestic and international law; and after a majority of Americans when asked approved the torture; on reflection, exceptionalism looks more like license. There are not two sets of rules in America, Christensen concludes, but three: “one for white killers, one for black killers and one for police officers who killed black suspects.” And a fourth for rich, Wall Street bankers, I might add.
One thread ties together all these cases: The willingness of the U.S. to bend the law and condone the barbaric treatment of human beings is grounded in differences of race, ethnicity or religion. Police violence, the death penalty and torture are predominantly applied to nonwhites or non-Christians. How supportive would white Americans and lawmakers be of procedures such as “rectal rehydration” — a gruesome procedure that, according to the torture report, was applied to hunger-striking inmates — if they were performed on white Christians? How long would they would be to willing to tolerate routine police killings of unarmed white citizens?
It all seems, I don’t know, a little medieval:
Perhaps critics are right. Perhaps we’ve been wrong to base interrogation and prisoner treatment on traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe as citizens of a democratic republic we should strive in the 21st century to live up to our lofty, Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Maybe instead of falling prey to jingoism, we should reflect, examine our assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a “scientific method”. Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, law. Perhaps it could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! … Naaaaaahhh!
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)