The Fourth of July has long been declared a national holiday so Americans can take time to celebrate our freedom. To many Americans, that makes us unique. But, in reality, the US is not the only country with freedom. Indeed, based on a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which looks at 60 indicators in five separate categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture, the US ranks only 19.
That means 18 nations in the world offer greater freedom than the US. Further, 75 of the world’s nations are democracies. Another 41 are governed by a hybrid system. In fact, of the 167 nations measured, only 52 are listed as authoritarian regimes, including several friends of the US, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Obviously freedom is something to celebrate. But have some Americans taken the concept of freedom too far? And are all of the citizens of the US truly free? The answer to those questions may well depend on who you ask. Certainly, the thousands of people incarcerated or on probation for drug use might not consider themselves free. Likewise, those who have been convicted of felonies and can no longer vote or find a suitable job despite having served their time may not consider themselves free.
In addition, the African-Americans who have been segregated into the poorest areas of our largest cities with under-funded schools, disproportionately high unemployment and few opportunities might not consider themselves truly free. American Muslims who are discriminated against for the way they choose to dress and worship might not consider themselves entirely free. The so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the US by their parents at a very young age, and now live in fear of deportation, are unlikely to celebrate their freedoms. And the Native Americans who live in some of the nation’s worst conditions, and who continue to watch their traditional lands stolen by large corporations without fair compensation, may not think themselves free.
At the same time these people are denied their freedom, others – namely some greedy and mean-spirited Americans – abuse theirs.
For example, many corporate leaders, bankers and hedge fund managers use their freedom and wealth to buy favor with politicians. They then use a variety of legal tricks to “legally” steal money from ordinary Americans. They ship American jobs offshore. At the same time, they use their wealth to convince politicians to cut taxes. And for good measure, they often stash their money in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Faced with less revenue, our federal and state governments cut the funding of public schools and universities. The inevitable result is that our nation lags behind many others in terms of upward mobility.
Corporate-owned news media have used their freedom to boost ratings with propaganda. Instead of reporting on things that really matter, such as bringing transparency to our government, they focus on sensational trials and violent crimes – especially those involving people of color. The result is to create more fear leading to more segregation.
Following gains by the civil rights movement, some racists in the South resurrected the Confederate battle flag under the guise of celebrating history. To the descendants of slaves, this was an obvious show of power intended to keep them in “their place.” At the same time, a small portion of our citizens have stockpiled weaponry with the express purpose of intimidating their neighbors and threatening the government to which they pledge allegiance. (Does the name Cliven Bundy ring a bell?)
Freedom, then – at least in the US – is relative. For some in the US, there is too little. For others, there is too much.
Some excuse such things by claiming that freedom is, by its very nature, noisy and messy. However, Germany is free. As a matter of fact, it currently ranks 6 places ahead of the US. Yet in Germany, it is illegal to display the Nazi flag. That may restrict the freedom of some, but it shows a clear sense of responsibility and a compassion for those harmed by Hitler’s regime.
Maybe it’s time the US embraced such values. Even after 239 years, we can still learn and improve our nation. We should understand that with great freedom comes great responsibility – that in a nation of more than 330 million, you cannot do everything you want without infringing on someone else’s freedom. That’s where responsibilities and regulations come into play. As well-educated men of means who celebrated enlightenment, I believe the Founding Fathers assumed our citizens would understand that concept.
Unfortunately, too many don’t.