Choosing the Next Commander-in-Chief

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

The solemn ritual to legitimate the empire has begun. When completed, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, Elizabeth Warren, Marco Rubio, Jim Webb, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker or Mike Huckabee will be the new Commander-in-Chief.

A national election is important.  It is how a great power shows humility and accountability to the will of the people.  After the votes are counted in November 2016, the authority to use the overwhelming violence of the empire will gently change hands, a transition unimaginable among peoples less blessed by the gods.  Thus, the empire will carry on, freshly legitimated by popular acclaim.

Will you join this public ritual? Or will you decline to vote for a new Commander-in-Chief?

In various other settings, many of us participate in communal rituals of legitimation and renewal.  Family reunions, so-called founders’ days hosted by venerable institutions, ethnic festivals and local elections serve to gather people, focus attention, reaffirm values and a communal identity.  By participating, we say “yes” to a broader purpose and confirm its importance. All of this is good.

But what if your extended family is involved in the sale of meth?  What if the institution to which you have given so much has become a front for a criminal enterprise?  What if the festival you enjoy has evolved into a venue that exploits the naïve and the innocent?  You would stop participating in its rituals of legitimation, right?

Many of us said that the US government had “gone rogue” during the years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  We prayed for a return to the rule of law and voted for Barack Obama in the hope he would lead in that direction.

But he didn’t.  He built on the lawless and violent ways of his predecessors and added the people of Waziristan, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and now Yemen to the roster of victims.  And no, President Obama’s support for an agreement with Iran because “the only alternative is war” should not convince us otherwise; it is simply another form of extortion.

Illegal, aggressive and violent interventions in societies that pose no threat to the US are now the bipartisan norm, one unlikely to change under any Republican or Democrat elected as Commander-in-Chief. This is not going to change any time soon. Venezuela, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon and Thailand are places that may next experience the violence and carnage of US interventionism.

Yes, I know our national government consists of more than its foreign policy. It includes important programs and efforts that contribute to human well-being.  In a similar fashion, when one gets acquainted with the principals of a garden-variety criminal enterprise, one may find gentle fathers and loving mothers, picnics in the park and lots of charitable activity. Yet we know better than to be fooled by the attractive veneer or to assume the underlying evil can be kept apart, “over there.”

If we do not want to legitimate the criminality of US foreign policy, we can decline to participate by thought, conversation or voting in the ritual of choosing the next Commander-in-Chief.  That is my intention. Aside from tax resistance, it is the most effective action by which to say “no.”

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. A version of this essay first appeared at


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