Are You Freer than You Were Two Years Ago?
Twenty twenty-two was an election in which authoritarians employed every sort of disinformation. They ran on "character" while engaging in corruption on a multi-trillion-dollar scale. They rolled out the old "take your Social Security away from you" fear-mongering for seniors. And, this year in particular, they stoked fear of losing access to abortion when in fact the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade returns decisions on abortion to states.
More bizarre yet, Democrats attacked conservatives as "a threat to democracy," but the code word "democracy" in the progressive lexicon actually means "more government control" and less freedom. Donald Trump is not a threat to democracy; he is a threat to those who continually undermine our democracy by limiting what we can say, read, listen to, discuss at work, hear at church, and learn in school. Joe Biden used "threat to democracy" many times in the 2022 campaign, and in every case, it was not a threat to democracy he had in mind; it was a threat to his party's power and with it the enslavement of the American people by Big Government.
What "democracy" and "freedom" actually mean is the right of individuals to do as they like without regulation, restriction, or intimidation from government or other powerful institutions.
America was founded as the "Land of the Free," and many generations have sacrificed to preserve our freedom, but the danger of losing their freedom was very much in the minds of our Founders. From the beginning, America was, as Franklin said, "a republic, if you can keep it." Or Madison: "We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties." Or Jefferson: "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."
We live at a moment in which there are daily "experiments upon our liberty" and in which "timid men," those who say they are "tired of political division," do indeed "prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty." Make no mistake: it is despotism that we face in Biden's proposal to double the size of the IRS; in the political weaponization of the FBI, CIA, and DOJ; in the amassing of information by technology giants; in the corporate surrender to woke ideologies; in the takeover of schools by progressive activists; in the proliferation of "hate speech" laws; in the self-censorship that so many Americans practice to appease political correctness; and in the influence of media on our thinking.
We live in an age of fear and conformity, and those who are weak have become enslaved and have willingly relinquished their freedom to the powerful forces of government, media, "expert" opinion, and corporate venality. The practical effects of this despotism can be seen everywhere. Rising taxes are used to transfer more and more of an individual's earnings to government, where it is used with little accountability to enrich those who support ever greater government spending and who make campaign donations to ensure this happens.
U.S. federal spending (excluding Social Security and Post Office expense) in 1901 was $588 million; it remained at approximately this level until 1917 and especially 1919, when the overhang of wartime spending drove it to $5.13 billion. Spending cooled under the Republican administrations of Harding and Coolidge but exploded under FDR to a height of $44 billion in 1945. One might expect that wartime number to decline, but by 1970, it was $159 billion. It first reached one trillion in 1995 and is $6.27 trillion in 2022.
As these figure show, federal government spending has grown by a factor of nearly 11,000 over the past 120 years, and it continues growing exponentially. There is only one possible outcome: government consumption of nearly all income and control of nearly all economic and personal activity. That is the definition of what Jefferson called "despotism" and what, in our time, is called totalitarianism.
Despotism can be reversed only by a concerted effort to cut government spending substantially at the federal and state levels, but this seems unlikely. In the near future, every child may be wearing a little red scarf around his neck, and every adult will lead much worse than Thoreau's life of "quiet desperation": he will be demoralized, fearful, and silent, just as were (and are) the inhabitants of communist states in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In communist Eastern Europe, the bars were full of deathly men drinking cheap liquor and watching flickering screens full of government propaganda and sports. With 20% of adults abusing drugs or alcohol, 80% overweight or obese, and near universal addiction to screen activity, America is going in the same direction.
Under this despotism, it is difficult for the individual to live freely. Even if he lives a private life, silent and ostensibly compliant, his freedom will be curtailed, and he will be labeled "non-conformist," like the few remaining book-lovers in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The rule of law and constitutional rights will have been swept away in the name of social necessity, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor put it in justifying her vote allowing unconstitutional affirmative action programs. It will no longer be possible to speak, write, assemble, work, or invest in a free manner, and there will be nowhere to hide. The entire world will fall under the control of despotism, and we will enter a long period, perhaps centuries or more, in which liberty will have been forgotten.
It seems the liberal media are determined to promote this enslavement, as when CNN rushes to list "20 false and misleading claims Trump made in his announcement speech" or when Rachel Maddow at MSNBC labels Arizona Republicans "election-deniers" for defending strict voting rules or when every liberal commentator labels claims of 2020 election fraud as "false," without evidence of their having been false. Multiply this kind of "reporting" by 100,000 daily, include Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and other progressive media, and the power of the media becomes clear.
The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk and replacement of Disney CEO Bob Chapek with former CEO Bob Iger may be steps forward, but Musk and Iger will find media wokeness well entrenched and difficult to control. For the most part, woke corporate employees are lauded as trailblazers for censoring conservative speech and imposing a progressive ethos even on children. How can children develop freely if everywhere they look, they see anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-white, anti-Christian, pro-LGBT+, and pro-abortion messages?
With the rise of political correctness and the woke mentality, Americans are less free than in the past. Children in the 1950s recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, took part in schoolyard flag-raising, learned the evil of communism, respected their parents, were not exposed to inappropriate material in school or at home, attended church with their (two) parents, worked chores and odd jobs, and idolized their nation's Founders. In sum, they grew up in an atmosphere of order and respect, and they were happier and healthier for it.
Freedom means the condition of acting and thinking on one's own, without restriction or regimentation, but if the polls are any indication, a large percentage of Americans now have little idea of what freedom entails. Otherwise, they would not elect governors and representatives intent on expanding the size and power of government. They have become comfortable with the regimentation of identity politics, political correctness, and woke thinking (an oxymoron, of course).
The road back from serfdom involves defying the restrictions imposed on everyday behavior — everything from asserting parental rights over education to supporting religious freedom with regard to abortion and LGBT matters to rejecting affirmative action and the climate change agenda. Freedom is the lodestar that must guide us in every decision of life. One step at a time, it may be possible to reclaim our freedom.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Max Pixel.