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Our Domestic Imperial Climate



 Of the many barriers to a climate of justice, few appear as difficult to overcome as the contempt for the rule of law that we are currently witnessing, which creates a climate of Presidential imperialism.  In a sense, of course, every US President is an imperial president, because the United States is an empire, beginning with the expansion of the United States into Indian Territory.  Today, however, the empire’s vibe is striking our democracy.

 

As Professor of Law at NYU, Maggie Blackhawk, documents in her essay, “The Constitution of American Colonialism” (Harvard Law Review, Nov. 2023), the laws of empire (or colonialism) existed as an external “constitution” separate from the “internal Constitution of the Bill or Rights and Equal Protection under the Law.

 

This external constitution consisted of such laws as the “doctrine of discovery” whereby one could colonialize any land that was “vacant” (Indigenous people do not count in the “discovery of the Americas) and the right of civilized nations to dominate “uncivilized territories” (just in. case Indigenous tribes were recognized).   Maggie Blackhawk writes:

 

Colonialism is commonly assumed to be antithetical to the constitution of the United States. It is, in many ways, constitutionalism’s opposite. It is fundamental law that is dedicated to building and maintaining an empire. Its function is not to set and preserve borders but to expand them and to govern fragmented jurisdictions.  The fundamental law of colonialism rejects equality for hierarchy.  Colonialism builds power and infrastructure to allow the center to exert force over and govern others.. . . The realities of far-flung unilateral governance over nonconsenting “foreign” peoples, lands, and governments require a distinctive set of fundamental values—hierarchy, a strong military, a robust bureaucracy, and unrestrained power (p. 23)

 

Are not these the values of Trump’s followers?  It does seem surprising that so many evangelical Christians appear to relish the imperial climate created at Trump’s rallies.

Their founder, after all, resisted rather than relished the Roman Empire. True, democracy was not an option in first century Palestine, and Jesus never had a chance to support a civic space.  We have that option today and if we are not careful, we may lose it.

 

It's true that President Biden also occupies the imperial office, and for the most part, continues the colonial/imperial United States tradition.  Still, he does not wear the emperor’s clothes.  He is not hollow enough inside to need them.  He also does not allow external imperial values to override his domestic Constitutional obligations, which cannot be said of Trump.

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