Dear President Obama,
My name is Emily. I have a family I love very much, love to write, just finished a postgraduate Master’s in translation, am a fan of the Nationals. And I currently keep up with family, team, and literary culture from approximately 4000 miles away. I am one of millions of American citizens living abroad.
I was born and raised on the East Coast, but I have been living in Antwerp, Belgium for almost a year now. And I miss the United States almost every day. But lately, I’ve been forced to consider that the United States I’ve been missing these past months—the democratic nation of freedom, equality, democracy, and justice, the country I love and would die to serve and protect—might not exist anymore.
Why? Because the government, and in particular the executive branch, have acted in secret. It’s true, that’s nothing new. Governments worldwide have always, and probably will always, act without the knowledge or consent of the people they serve, in defense of those people and for the protection of their liberties. But this time, it’s gone too far. This time, government is not acting to protect and serve Americans and defend their rights as citizens. This time, you are acting to take those rights away.
In undergrad, I was one of those laughed-at liberal arts majors, but I’ve learned a few things in the course of my B.A. One of those things is that under the Fourteenth Amendment,”… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
While Section 1 of the Amendment doesn’t state that those same obligations apply to the federal government, Section 5 makes it clear that “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” If Congress has the power to enforce those provisions, doesn’t that mean that Congress also has the obligation to abide by them in its own dealings?
In February, I was angered by the declaration that the government has the authority to carry out targeted drone strikes against American citizens abroad. For obvious reasons, I was frightened, too. And now, in July, I am baffled by the lack of response from my fellow Americans.
Having been away from the US, I can’t hope to answer for or explain the general domestic apathy toward the declaration, or towards the use of surveillance drones on American soil. But I hope that I at least can try to speak for Americans abroad, Democrat, Republican, or independent like me, when I say that this decision, from the man who is supposed to represent this country that I love, who is supposed to speak for us, act for us, defend our liberties as well as our physical nation, horrifies me to my very core.
“Trust us?” Please do not insult the intelligence of your own countrymen. Any American who’s been through the fourth grade knows that the United States was created out of a lack of trust for government, because of an abuse of power and a lack of representation. And that our system of checks and balances is designed to ensure that that abuse of power and lack of representation stay where they belong: in our national memory. To ensure that government is truly “for the people”, not the people for the government. So I am not sorry to say, I don’t trust the government, because it is clearly not acting for Americans like me.
Again, I love this country. I love the United States for her innovation and creativity, for her unflinching bravery in the face of evil, for her commitment to justice, to freedom, to democracy. I am proud to be an American, and would never give that up, no matter how long I remain on foreign soil.
What you are doing is wrong. It stifles those values, those liberties and rights which protect us as Americans, and which make our country the unique, ever-growing nation that she is. Where it doesn’t stifle them, it twists them, turning that amazing creative energy and innovation, which could have been used for good, into a force for oppression, fear, and hatred.
I’d like to close with two questions which clarify my stance on this, and highlight my feeling of not being represented by your administration, and particularly, by you. I hope all Americans will contemplate these questions, because it’s never too late for change.
- Does being resident abroad somehow negate a citizen’s Constitutional rights? In other words, should I be afraid that my other rights will be taken away too, simply because I do not reside on U.S. soil? To put it even more clearly: am I less American than you?
- Drones are unmanned aircraft. Let me say it again: drones are unmanned machines. And machines, as we all know very well in our own lives, often make mistakes. They can’t reason like humans can. There may be human operators on the other end, but the intelligence they have won’t always be perfect, and drones will make mistakes. As an American living abroad, what would you say to me if you made a mistake? Worse, what would you say to my family?
Thank you for reading. I hope that these questions will give rise to some serious reconsideration, and to some positive change, discussion, and dialogue.
Emily K. Iekel
James Madison University Class of 2012
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Class of 2013