The Corner

The Spirit of 9/12 — and 1776

[A continuation of “A Fair Trial.”]

My family left Communist Czechoslovakia because it was the kind of place where, to put it crudely, when government prosecutors declared somebody guilty, you could measure out coffins for the defendants without having to worry that you were wasting your money. It was like Castro’s Cuba today, or Kim’s North Korea.

Not only is America different — how’s that for an understatement? — but something in our national soul absolutely revels in the difference. Earlier this year, thousands of people went into the streets waving teabags and carrying placards declaring their anger about how excessively powerful the U.S. government is becoming. Too much taxing! Too much spending! Too much regulation! In short: Too much federal-government power!

The Tea Partiers have been mocked, because — as in the case of any group of demonstrators — it’s fun for the media to focus on the real crazies. It should go without saying, but, just so I don’t get needless hate mail on this: The Tea Partiers  comparing the president of the United States to Hitler, and saying things like “Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama’s Ovens,” are wicked and vile, and I condemn them absolutely and without reservation. If I thought the average person at a Tea Party harbored such sentiments, I would condemn the movement itself. I don’t, so I won’t. The crazies simply do not represent what is true, valuable, and central in the Tea Party movement: the loudly proclaimed recognition that government — if it is not carefully monitored and limited, by watchdogs and procedural safeguards — can easily turn from the people’s servant into its master.

I seriously doubt that I am more patriotic and civic-minded than the average American. I am a product of my generation in being uncomfortable with great displays of flag-waving; I associate it, on an emotional level, with used-car dealers and lying politicians. But I do recognize that I have certain duties as a citizen. One of them is to serve on a jury, if I am called to do so. Indeed, if this trial goes ahead here in New York, I will be in the potential jury pool – and I give my solemn promise that I would be fair and impartial in the matter of these defendants. Because, as we were all taught in Civics 101, in our system, in a criminal trial it was always the government that is on trial. Did the government prove its case? This is a vital safeguard against exactly the sort of tyranny the original Tea Partiers of the 1770s rose up against.

Is it wise to give these defendants a civilian trial, as opposed to a military one? We won’t know for certain until the actual event. This particular trial may indeed backfire in a number of ways; indeed, it may never get off the ground in the first place, owing to public protests. But if it does move forward, I think New York City will rise to the occasion.

The whole world will be watching, just as they watched us on the days after 9/11. Perhaps we can amaze them once again — by remembering who we are, and acting like it.

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