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Stephen Gottlieb: Liberty And Terror

Some things sadden us: Cries of election rigging started long before anything happened perhaps because Republicans had spent years very publicly trying to rig the election against Democrats by excluding or gerrymandering Democratic voters. People stick to rumors of election rigging despite repeated counting and recounting of votes, repeated failure to produce evidence of wrongdoing and numerous decisions in which judges of both parties made clear that they saw nothing more serious than trivial mistakes. Armed groups mimicked battles for power in dictatorships, stormed and vandalized the Capitol, attacked Capitol police, and attempted to stop the count. Even some Congressmen still insist on forcing their way past metal detectors intended to keep all weapons out.

So there’s a need to state the obvious although it probably won’t get to the ears or minds of the people who ought to change their behavior.

The militia and gun crowd seem to believe that overturning democratic procedures would put them in charge and Republican supporters seem to agree. But once force displaces democratic procedures, force rules, with no end in sight, and freedom is gone. Harm is permanent, putting the future in the tank.

Armed groups shout about liberty and freedom, but whose? Whose now and whose in the future? If some colonel or general controls, or if gangs, criminal groups, death squads, private armies, or internal army factions compete for control, what does liberty mean? That your son or brother hasn’t yet been impressed into service? That your mother or sister hasn’t yet been raped? Is that freedom? We know people who sent their children here to get them away from the clutches of the Sendero Luminoso, founded as a Peruvian Marxist organization by Abimael Guzmán, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Peru and forcing students to fight. Are the Chinese, Burmese, or Syrians free though they too are ruled by militaries? Does Cliven Bundy come out on top, ignoring the larger society’s need? Or once the rule of force takes over, does even his resort to jury nullification end whenever an army wants what he has.

Armed groups, gangs and militias fight, split and recombine. Some in militarized countries may be happy for a time, but the long run is about who muscles their way to the top, like Joe Stalin who long ruled the Communist Soviet Union and slaughtered tens of millions in his purges, including those who thought they’d been his friends. The long run is ruled by guns, not principle or freedom but power wielded to mow down any who could challenge the rulers. Whose side are you on, on issues yet to be defined? Whose side are you on as power shifts among armed groups?

And does it even matter. In the wars south of the U.S. border, who’s been safe? Sonia Nazario wrote “Someone Is Always Trying to Kill You,” the cover story of the New York Times Sunday Review a year ago. Is that freedom? If there is no rule of law, everyone is at risk. Armed groups have the adrenalin of their weapons but there are weapons on all sides. Indeed, absent the rule of law, absent counting actual votes, everyone with a gun is either a bandit or potential ruler. That’s not liberty. That’s slavery. If anyone cares, the Founders of our country would have agreed – liberty, to them, meant the right to vote and by their votes choose their leaders.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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