America under Attack
America is a providential nation, chosen by God always to be a beacon of freedom and hope. In the freedom and opportunity it offers its citizens and in the example it offers to other nations, America is that "city upon a hill" envisioned by John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By that, he meant that the pilgrim colony in New England, standing proudly as if on a hill, would be a model of goodness and right living for all to see.
America is still that city upon a hill, but our future is less certain. Will we remain a nation in which our basic freedoms are guaranteed? We face a progressive movement that is willing to sacrifice our liberty in exchange for what it calls social justice. That fact has been apparent for over 40 years, what with President Carter's universalist idea of America as merely one nation among others, one that showed everywhere a face of weakness and compromise, and certainly since Sandra Day O'Connor's ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) that schools had the right to employ race as a factor in determining admissions. O'Connor as much as admitted that her ruling was unconstitutional — that is, it violated the equal protection clause by admitting students with inferior qualifications ahead of others more qualified — but she argued that the "compelling interest" of diversity overrode constitutional liberty. In the years since Grutter, most colleges and universities have institutionalized roundabout racial quotas condoned by the Court.
O'Connor's ruling in Grutter was one more brick in the wall of the progressive assault on liberty. Justice Thomas, in a dissert joined by Justice Scalia, wrote that with Grutter, the Court "has placed its imprimatur on a practice that can only weaken the principle of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Protection Clause." On this Fourth of July, Americans should consider Justice Thomas's words and resolve to restore the full measure of liberty that our Founders intended.
America cannot be the home of "partial liberty." Any violation of any of our constitutional liberties must be offensive to all Americans. Those who are willing to cede the rights of others, thinking it will not impact them, are sadly mistaken. This is especially true at a time when assaults on Second Amendment rights of gun ownership and First Amendment rights of religious expression and free speech are under widespread attack by progressives. The attempt to force Christians to spend tax dollars funding abortions is an egregious example.
The problem with O'Connor's principle of "compelling interest," aside from that it is a direct violation of the Constitution, is that it can come to mean anything. If society has a compelling interest in admitting a "critical mass" of minority students to elite institutions, it can also be said to have a compelling interest in restraining population growth through abortion or sterilization, or in eliminating or jailing certain groups judged to be offensive. If Justice Ginsberg's concept of a "living Constitution" prevails, none of our liberties is safe. We could be imprisoned for speaking the name of Christ, and our right to free and fair elections can be stolen by the IRS, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the federal courts themselves. If society is willing to violate the original text of the Constitution, then it is left with no yardstick for measuring right and wrong. To ignore the Constitution in the interest of social justice is to open the door to the worst sort of tyranny.
The Left's idea of social justice is not what America's founders, either those in Virginia or those who later arrived in New England, had in mind. Nor is it what God had in mind for America. Our true identity is that of a democratic and faithful people who shrive within a capitalist economy.
A useful chart shows the evolution of wealth in Britain since 1270. Adjusted for 2013 prices, incomes barely rose for five centuries. Only after 1800 did wealth begin to expand significantly, and only after 1920 did it expand exponentially (from £5,298 in 1920 to more than £30,000 today in 2013 inflation-adjusted pounds). That expansion, however, was as nothing compared to economic success in the U.S. Under capitalism, America has become rich, with per capita GDP increasing from a level below that of Britain in the 19th century to $53,000 today.
Americans should be proud of the affluence they have achieved, but wealth is only one factor, and not the most important. Americans have always enjoyed a greater degree of freedom than any people on Earth. Conservatives must defend that freedom against progressives who are eager to destroy our liberty.
One of the greatest dangers at this time is the unlawful seizure of property through taxation and other legislation. Bernie Sanders's promise to tax stock market transactions for the sake of paying off student loan debt and offering free tuition in the future is precisely this sort of seizure. Sanders's proposal would confiscate an estimated $2.2 trillion over ten years, much of it from retirees and small investors. This massive transfer of funds from one class of citizens to another, based entirely on political expediency, violates the Constitution's protections of equality and its prohibition of unlawful seizure.
At this moment, a separate bill sits before Congress that would force inheritors of retirement accounts to withdraw all funds from tax-protected accounts within five years of inheritance. Doing so would subject that money to potentially enormous taxes, beyond what many retirees could bear, and it would place their financial futures, carefully calculated and planned on the basis of tax-deferred inheritance, at risk — all for the sake of transferring large amounts of retirement funds from the elderly to the young. That bill may be popular with candidates like Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete, but it would be devastating to many retirees.
Individually, these tax hikes may not seem like much, though Sanders's one-half-percent tax on each stock trade (with smaller taxes on options and other trades) would amount to a giant seizure of assets over a lifetime. Combined with hundreds of other proposals, the measures now being considered constitute a near-total takeover of the private sector and the complete destruction of economic freedom.
These assaults on our freedom show just how willing progressives are to put social justice ahead of constitutional liberty — although social justice is not their true goal. Their goal is permanent power in the name of social justice, which is a very different thing. Given free rein, the Left would transform America into a repressive dictatorship ruled by ideological extremists. The Fourth of July is the best possible time to reflect on the danger we face and to resolve to defend American liberty.
Along with all the joyful celebrations of the Fourth — the food, the fireworks, and the parades — we should take time to consider the danger we face. Progressives, especially those running for president, have become far more blatant in their support for one unconstitutional measure after another. America is still that "city upon a hill," but progressives would bring us down from that hill and steal our freedom and opportunity. Now is the time to stop them.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).