“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(Written by Ben Franklin, sometime shortly before February 17, 1775)

After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, I met with my regular group of morning coffee buddies. One was United Airlines’ most senior pilot, a man who spent about half his time flying and half involved with United’s safety and training programs.

Like everyone else that day, we were in a state of shock. “As a pilot, what do you think we should do to prevent this from happening again?” He answered, “I’ve been thinking about that and know exactly what we should do. Put a secure door on the cockpit so no one can get in. Don’t do anything else. Then there would be no way to hijack a plane. There would be just the risks of flying that we have always lived with, like weather, pilot error, mechanical failure, or a planted bomb. But for God’s sake, don’t overreact and try to make flying 100% safe or flying will be unbearable and whoever did this will have won.” A year later he said, “Well, we have done a good job of shooting ourselves in the foot.”

I think we did a lot more than shoot ourselves in the foot.

1. We went to war with two countries. One might have been justified. For the other, the US Government trumped up false intelligence that was used to justify a war to save face around Desert Storm. What did it cost us? We abandoned all of our principles. We used torture, contrary to the Geneva Convention and basic human rights, and we used out-of-country prisons so we wouldn’t need to follow due process. We kept people as long as we wanted without charging them or giving them a fair trial, and we chalked up huge losses of men and women, ours and foreign, in death and injury.

2. The Patriot Act is a draconian joke. It is a law that allows the government to do many of the things our original Patriots fought to eliminate. The Patriot Act abridges the very limits on government that the Founding Fathers wanted for America to be the land of the free.

3. Drones and the concept that, without due process, the President can take out anybody he feels is a threat are very disturbing.

4. How can there be any question as to whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor? At great personal risk, he exposed secret unconstitutional activities of our elected officials who took an oath to uphold the US Constitution. That makes him a true Patriot. This “wire tapping” e-mail monitoring is unconstitutional, and those doing it should be put in jail. We would probably need a special election to fill all the vacancies and create more jail space.

I have always been proud of America and am amazed at the miracle of its formation and the incredible insight and foresight of our Founding Fathers, and the Scottish enlightenment that helped pave the way. I have felt safe in the cradle of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and I have always been an optimist.

But that is changing if I can’t be sure my e-mails aren’t read and my phone calls aren’t listened to and if I’m afraid to say what I want to say—that I don’t trust that politician, that I’m going to vote for that other guy, that I have an unpopular view like “I think Snowden is a hero and that the President is the traitor.”

For the President of the United States to disregard and marginalize protections that have made this the great country that it has been—is that treason? He risks the integrity of the whole country and compromises our structure. He is the constitutional guardian and in a position of trust.

We should be outraged and demand that all of this be stopped, take the risk of trusting our fellow citizens, and tell the President to behave himself. If we stand by and don’t exercise our democratic rights and say we have to allow this loss of liberty to protect us from this risk, then maybe we are becoming a people who deserve neither liberty nor security.