The Trouble with Freedom

There’s “Freedom and Liberty” the abstract big idea that all Americans bow to and exalt as God granted rights, or at the very least the minimum aspirations of man. And then there’s the complex reality of freedom and liberty which immediately and mercilessly sets us in the Thunderdome of ideas to do battle with the eternal struggle to balance individual liberties against the greater good of society. (Two ideas enter, one idea leaves?) Thinking Americans of all political persuasions have always understood that the former was a great, lofty and motivating goal, but the latter was the thorny business of self-governing. Where the idealistic individualist rubber meets the collectively paid for and publicly accessible road.

Only those simple minded “Freedom and Liberty” loving people have neglected the road, allowing it to become so pitted with potholes that the only answer they can imagine is to break up the road previous generations had built and let it go back to gravel.

The modern American right wing, in the simplicity of their constitutional conservative fetishism, has taken the big abstract idea of “Freedom and Liberty” and made it concrete by festooning it with Bald Eagles, tri-corner hats and tea bags. They use this idea along with the imagery of the Revolutionary War as the Rosetta Stone of all life’s problems, even completely re-imagining the Constitution itself in the narrowest possible terms. It is to them a dead document, born complete, mature and musty from the minds of the Founding Fathers whose sole concern was such “Freedom and Liberty” (for white, landowning males, anyway). It’s as avuncular, yet cranky as your grandfather. Giving you life, grounding, rules and wisdom, but never flexible enough to let you wear a hat at the dinner table or listen to rock and roll (devil’s music). It’s tough but fair, so long as you don’t mind when it’s not fair, and completely inapplicable to modern life. 

The intellectual phonies of this movement, like Antonin Scalia, call themselves “Originalists”. The rank and file call themselves “Tea Partiers.” What they are in a few words are dupes, dopes, racists, greedheads and assholes. At best, they use their purposefully limited understanding of the Constitution to justify their prejudices and self interest. At worst, they are being used by the malefactors of wealth like the Koch Brothers (who are just the latest exemplars of American industrialist greed) to derange the one man, one vote democratic system into an anti-democratic one dollar, one vote scheme that effectively gives the entire game to the wealthiest minority against the far greater populace. 

May I firstly note that the revered Founding Fathers were not as concerned with “Freedom and Liberty” as these modern Founding Father fetishists believe. Their great motivating concern was self-governing. Sure, that meant freedom from England’s colonial rule, but not for the absolute freedom of the 13 Colonies going their own separate ways, no less the complete anarchy of all Americans becoming free agents to create their own local fiefdoms. No. The entire effort to formalize and ratify the Declaration of Independence was a series of compromises in order to bind the 13 Colonies together in a loose but focused confederation, respecting their individuality but all pulling together towards the goal of winning independence from Britain and securing self-determination for this coalition – the greater good.

Secondly, the “Freedom and Liberty” trope has been used, along with their limited interpretation of the Constitution, by the right wing to stop certain ideas that might serve the greater good (but not their greater good) over and over again practically since the moment the ink on the Declaration dried.

Our history has been the often violent struggle of the People to actually enjoy the benefits of the ideals codified in the Federal Constitution and various state constitutions. Ideally, it should never have been violent, or a struggle, but it was and is because there have always been more powerful interests able to take a greater slice of the pie for themselves. Often they’ve left so little pie for everyone else, that the ignorant were pitted against each other for their meager share (what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable). The more enlightened took to fighting the powerful interests to expand the slice, only to be accused of class warfare, socialism, bolshevism and communism. The dupes, kowtowing to the wealthy, always hoping that they themselves (or their children) will join that elite someday, look to ever expand the pie (for the benefit of the wealthy) and gratefully accept as little as is given to them exclaiming that it’s the owners right to give as little as they want. I never got pie from a poor man, so we’d better give tax cuts to the rich and not regulate their businesses. 

Even today, after having lived through the Great Depression, the implementation of the New Deal and the post WWII period, the greatest period of wealth and equality in human history where we grew the pie enormously and also divvied it up more fairly than ever, the dupes, dopes, racists, greedheads and assholes are back and better than ever ready to deny their brothers and sisters Freedom and Liberty, so that the wealthy may have more Freedom and Liberty. The Constitution demands it. 

The Constitution demands complete freedom of speech for the wealthy because money is speech and cannot be infringed. And if anyone says they have too much stuff, that’s Nazism.

The Constitution says corporations are people and have as many rights as individuals (and money, so even more rights).

The Constitution says guns are an absolute right (never mind that pesky “well-regulated militia thing” or the health and welfare issues inherent in bullets flying around willy-nilly).

The Constitution demands that property is sacrosanct and minimum wage laws, the EPA, air quality standards, equal rights legislation, etc. any attempt to tell businesses what to do is wrong, evil and anti-American. 

The fact that we had 40 years where we almost completely ignored such nonsense and it worked out really, really well for everybody, even the wealthy made out better, is irrelevant because what we did to achieve such success was wrong, evil and anti-American. The New Deal was unconstitutional. The Founding Fathers would have hated Roosevelt and the post-war years. They would have loved Hoover and Reagan. Let’s get back to that level of economic incompetence. The Constitution demands it.

The Constitution is a suicide pact. If you don’t like it you can leave. More pie for us.

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