By Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino

Each day, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Americans–from veterans to newly naturalized citizens, schoolchildren to government officials–repeat the words “With liberty and justice for all” as they say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Liberty and justice is more than a great slogan for bumper stickers and T‑shirts. It serves to remind all Americans that allowing the abuse of power to go unchecked invites tyranny to our shores.

Our nation’s founders designed our maddeningly complex, sclerotic system of government for a reason: to deprive rapid, unnoticed outgrowths of tyranny from strangling liberty and justice. For nearly 240 years, this “American experiment” has proven quite durable. But a series of equally shocking revelations just unearthed demonstrates how the forces of tyranny are never far from the surface.

Recent gripping testimony from three eyewitnesses of the Benghazi terrorist attack on an American consulate and the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stephens shocked not only the Congress but also the entire nation. The graphic detail of these firsthand accounts was a wide departure from the official government version that centered on a provocative video and a spontaneous violent response.

ABC News debunked this bizarre official account by releasing 12 heavily edited drafts it had obtained of U.S. government “talking points” showing a factual synopsis of events, as verified by eyewitness testimony, devolve to the vague mush the White House, State Department, and an unquestioning media repeated for weeks after the attack. As new details emerge, we can expect suspicions of an elaborate White House cover-up, perpetrated for reasons we still can only guess, to grow.

The next chilling assault on American liberty and justice came from the Internal Revenue Service, which cavalierly admitted to targeting individual Americans and conservative nonprofit organizations on the sheer basis of their political beliefs. These include anti-tax activists, advocates for smaller government, and supporters of conservative causes, such as the Tea Party.

Pro-Israel organizations, especially those known to be critical of President Obama, were also included in this net of hyper-scrutiny. The IRS unit in Cincinnati responsible for identifying organizations that fund terrorism justified its “special attention” on Israel by pointing out that Israel is located in the Middle East, where there is a “higher risk of terrorism.”

Every American, whether they agree with these groups or not, must recognize that any government-initiated effort that involves targeting Americans on the basis of their beliefs is more than raw discrimination; it’s an alarming abuse of power, and, frankly, terrifying.

Let’s take a step back. One of the founding principles of this nation is fair and representative taxation. Until now, our federal government has protected the integrity to grant the IRS its authority to administer and execute tax levies and collection. This authority is rightfully sustained for as long as American citizens have the basis to trust that the rule of law is being applied evenly and fairly.

One would expect that the revelation that a few “low-level workers in Cincinnati” tampered with the unimpeachable, fragile, if not grudging trust between the IRS and the American public would have been met with white-knuckled rage from government leaders dedicated to uphold the institutions of the United States and to the best of their ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What did we get instead? A non-committal, vaguely disinterested observation that “That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate.” Followed by, “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” a passive, faceless expression of remorse barely sufficient to excuse bumping into a stranger on a subway car, let alone violating the most fundamental rights associated with free speech, political expression, and personal belief.

Further reassurances that “Mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation” are hardly reassuring. It signals an alarming and suspicious lack of recognition that there’s been a shift in our democratic reality.

We’re moving past the time to parse words. The IRS has committed an outrageous and unprecedented abuse of power, and tried to tiptoe away. President Obama did little more by letting us know he “has no patience” for a fundamental violation of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. “No patience” is an emotion more appropriate to crowd hecklers, not clumsy tax mavericks who topple the over two centuries of nurtured public trust. Our federal elected officials like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, and especially Senator Charles Schumer, who rarely misses an opportunity to add his two cents, have been eerily silent over this slap-in-the-face to liberty.

A telling sign of a budding tyranny is when the force in power begins to believe it is above the law and beyond the need to answer to the American people. It’s time for Americans to turn off the television, stop tweeting and texting, and start taking notice of those extraordinary liberties being taken to reduce liberties Americans have rightly taken for granted since the Declaration of Independence was signed. v

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