Reactions to the revelation that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, may have seriously considered launching a drone strike against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have predictably been divided along partisan lines. Supporters of Donald Trump have seen it as one more strike (no pun intended) against a presidential candidate whose entire career of “public service” has been more concerned with her own glorification than with the American interest, though how that is different from the careers of almost every national politician of the last century or more, they have not bothered to explain. Meanwhile, devotees of this real-life Madame Defarge, who has publicly admitted that there were no hard and fast rules in her State Department governing how the targets of drone strikes were chosen, have tried to dismiss the multiple sources of this story because they have chosen to remain anonymous, ignoring the fact that all were present at this very sensitive State Department meeting, which would mean that they were part of Secretary Clinton’s inner circle and would be among the limited staff of the State Department with the highest security clearances. Revealing this information, even anonymously, not long before virtually everyone inside the Beltway, and certainly all those in Foggy Bottom, believes Mrs. Clinton will be elected the 45th president of these United States is tantamount to placing the future of one’s professional life in the hands of a woman whom no one has ever accused of being excessively merciful. Those are hardly the circumstances under which a single person, let alone multiple people, is likely to choose to lie about such a matter.
Yet lost in the partisan bickering is the fact that no one has suggested that the story could not—rather than might not—be true. That everyone today assumes that it is at least possible that a U.S. secretary of state might have considered using a drone—or might even simply have joked about doing so—to take out a civilian (even if he is a political foe) tells us how far not only our government but the American people have fallen since September 11, 2001. In this new era, drone strikes have become routine, and the only concern anyone seems to have (and relatively few Americans appear even to share this) is over “collateral damage”—that is, the innocent women and children whose only crime is to be in the vicinity of a man whom someone in our government regards as an enemy of the state. (Any unknown men in the vicinity are assumed to be enemies by extension—why else would they be there, other than to collude with the deserving target of destruction?)
The horrifying reality is not simply that most of the American people have so willingly accepted the idea that the United States can act as judge, jury, and executioner; they have accepted the idea that George W. Bush or Dick Cheney or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton can singularly exercise that power. Polls show that most Americans are in favor of abolishing the death penalty; yet the death penalty is only imposed once a criminal has been convicted in a court of law, and only executed once all desired appeals have been exhausted. The willing acceptance of drone strikes as routine or even necessary gives the lie to Americans’ self-assessment as being the most moral—let alone Christian—of nations.