When and how did America lose her soul?

America has lost her soul.

You feel something is missing, the kind of sense of community that we used to have–20 or 30 or 40 years ago—that somehow we were all in the same boat. Perhaps the rich were simply more skillful, and still had some sense of shame, and we all had the sense— however illusory— that people were in public office to help the government improve the lives of ordinary people. That’s why the Republicans backed the EPA, because it seemed we all wanted clean air and water, and that that shared goal was also recognized and supported by everyone.

Somewhere along the way, America seems to have lost her soul. When and where was it?

Was it when our government engaged in torture in the first Bush administration, and the majority of the population went along with that, boosting the TV ratings of shows like “24”,  which worked closely with government officials?

Was it when Barack Obama banned the use of torture by executive decree— it was already banned by U.S. law and the Torture Convention to which the U.S. was a party, but also banned the publication of any pictures of torture–the torture our government had committed in our name?

Or was it when Obama failed to implement the Torture Convention’s provisions that required him to prosecute those American officials who were responsible for torture?

Was it when Obama manipulated the investigations into those who were responsible for torture, so that no one in a position of authority was ever held to account?

The lengths to which the U.S. government was willing to go to avoid prosecuting those responsible for torture were extraordinary.  For example, according to a diplomatic cable from 2010 later released by Wiki Leaks, the U.S. appears to have intervened inside the Spanish judiciary to get cases against Bush and Cheney and others re-assigned from the crusading investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzón.  Was it a pure coincidence that the Spanish Supreme Court through a series of what appeared to be highly corrupt actions, ended the career of Garzón on the flimsiest of pretenses? Or that Spain abrogated its model law on universal jurisdiction, under which Spain accepted jurisdiction over Bush and Cheney and their accomplices? Acting under that law, Garzón had previously issued the order that led to the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his prosecution in English courts.

Now Donald Trump has revoked the visa of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is investigating the commission of war crimes in Afghanistan by the United States. Is that just further evidence of how America has lost her soul?

Did Obama’s use of extrajudicial executions of Islamic terrorists, or those presumed to be so in so-called “signature strikes” if they were 14 years old and engaged in suspicious activities (wrong place, wrong time, wrong friends), even when their names were not known, contribute to America’s loss of her soul?

Or did the greatest blunting of American moral consciousness actually occur when Obama resolutely refused, against the unanimous advice of his top military and civilian advisors, to do anything to halt the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria, which resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 people?

The blunting of American moral consciousness has had many manifestations.  How could the majority of Americans get upset over the separation of children from their families at the Southern Border, when they had looked away as a half a million people were slaughtered in Syria? Out of sight, out of mind? Except these atrocities were committed in full sight, and seen by everybody except those who looked away.

However it happened, somewhere along the way America lost her way,  and her soul.

That is why it  sometimes feels so forlorn in this country which has lost her soul, which no longer cares about the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, or  Yemen, or the  Philippines.

America has indeed lost her soul. Should we be surprised that the President of the United States constantly lies, and has launched an all-out attack on the very concept of truth itself?

The current president is not acting alone, with the entire Republican Party supporting and defending him no matter what he does, and no matter what the issue.  They have made their Faustian bargains, but somehow seem to have forgotten with whom those bargains were struck.

Trump’s coterie of billionaires and their accomplices which currently run the country don’t care about improving the lot of the ordinary people any more, but rather are content to tear down those protections of health, the environment, and other aspects of well-being which generations of Americans built up over the years.

Will we find the soul of America again, and restore it to its rightful place as the centerpiece of a vibrant democracy?

It is too soon to say.

The answer seems to depend on how long Trump’s coterie of billionaires continue to control the government. As long as they do, it appears that the soul of America will remain lost, perhaps never again to be found, or at least not for a long time.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.