A few evenings ago a popular cable news show featured a “man on the street” segment in which ordinary Americans were asked basic questions about July 4th they couldn’t answer. For this particular segment, the interviewer was on the boardwalk in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego, roughly between Crystal Pier and city fire station 21. As an avid runner, I often ran down the boardwalk past the pier and fire station, then double-backed on the beach heading north under the pier before touching pavement again at Tourmaline Surf Park and then heading inland towards Loring Street. It was terrific.
Terrific because I was free to do so. I didn’t need a permit, a pass, or a bribe for local officials in order to guarantee unimpeded passage through the neighborhood. Similarly, those Americans unable to name the year we declared independence, the country we gained it from, or that otherwise thought Jesse Ventura was one of the founding fathers have the freedom to be ignorant of such things.
I’ve traveled abroad extensively. There are plenty of places where you can’t simply go out for a run or maintain basic civic ignorance. Off the top of my head I can think of an African country I’ll leave nameless where you can pretty much plan on having things stolen from your luggage at the airport unless you give scam artists working just outside the airport grounds cash (yes, they prefer US dollars) in exchange for their “security screening” of your bags*. That’s low end stuff. I’ve been to places where going out for a run with excessively short sleeves could mean arrest. There are places where people routinely vanish, never to be seen or heard from again, simply for doing the things we’re free to do in America.
These days, we don’t have an appreciation for how bold a move it was 240 years ago when 56 colonists signed a document that basically told the most powerful men in the world to take a hike. Back then, Britain’s King George III and Lord North presided over what George Macartney (British statesman and colonial administrator at the time) called a “vast empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained.”
It wasn’t just that England in those days was geographically expansive. England’s socio-political system at that time was little different from the whole of the human experience – an omnipotent head of state from whom all rights and authority extended. Had our founding fathers declared the colonies to be the Kingdom of America and then appointed a monarch to rule over it, our independence would’ve scarcely been an historical footnote.
What made our Declaration of Independence unique is that in 1,458 words (including signatures), it shattered the accepted norms for the human condition. Rarely before, if ever, had power been described as belonging to individuals – and not to heads of state. The idea that a free people could be empowered to employ a government of their choosing was a radial notion. Indeed, in one document our founding fathers upended the understood political power equation known throughout all human history and across all cultures.
That’s what still makes our independence unique. Just as all human history is replete with Kings and Czars and Emirs and Tribal Elders who issued edicts and orders and demands from on high to the masses, so today we exist in a world in which power often extends from a leader at the top, down through to the populace below. Names for this have changed over time: feudalism, socialism, fascism, communism, Ba’athism, radical Islamism. Behind the name it’s still the same thing – a rarefied and unaccountable few dictating down to the masses. Even in America, after 240 years, we see those with a propensity to move away from the radicalism of our founding, back towards submission to those on high.
In 2016 America, this manifests itself in a feel good and social media ready form of purported benevolence that masks the constraints it seeks to impose upon individual freedoms and liberties. Free stuff sounds great, until the ones giving out the free stuff decide it’s time to set conditions for what and how much stuff you can get when and how often. No one I know would say equality is a bad thing, but it’s curious how these days it appears the word equality as been hijacked and allowed to sanction bigotry towards those that don’t belong to certain demographic groups. Even stranger, under the banner of equality many colleges have created “safe zones” and “free speech zones”. Isn’t a “safe zone”, by definition, exclusionary since those defined as “unsafe” aren’t supposed to be in them? More worrisome, if there are “free speech zones”, then what does that make all those areas of campus outside the “free speech zones”?
When speech itself isn’t re-branded as “hate” and then censored, it’s airbrushed to make it more palatable. Take the word “communism”. The on-line version of the Oxford Dictionary takes the original Karl Marx quote “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” and has rewritten it to read “each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.” No wonder so many young people see nothing wrong with socialism, and see no dangers in their becoming increasingly dependent upon the state for their livelihoods.
Speaking of livelihoods, those too must be of the acceptable kind. Things like Pride events, Coachella, and Democrat candidate rallies are okay. If Donald Trump, or for that matter anyone whose language doesn’t conform dares to try and exercise his/her First Amendment rights, there will be mob violence in the streets. And in the House of Representatives, where House Democrats promise further guerilla tactics following their sit-in over gun control. They’ll probably use #goodtrouble to advertise as they have in the past.
Because it’s important these days to be as loud, shrill, and obnoxious, not just in the presentation of one’s opinion, but in the enforcement of it.
#ShoutYourAbortion challenges women to go out and tell the world all about their abortion, as if the procedure was little different than a tummy tuck. #F**kYoFlag represented a group devoted to publicly desecrating the US flag. (What would happen if a group desecrated the LGBTQ rainbow flag in public?). “We shut sh*t down” has been used by anti-Trump agitators. When we’re shrill towards one another, we stop having a dialogue.
It’s important for those that prefer a submissive relationship between themselves and those in power to not have a dialogue. In their worldview, the leaders tell us what to do, and then we do it. Period. Fail to fall in line and expect repercussions. Their activism is based on this principle. Go to the websites you’ll see printed towards the bottom of their manufactured protest signs and t-shirts, and you’ll learn how a bunch of rarefied and unaccountable “community organizers” bleat out instructions to the masses. Or call them. 212-633-6646 will get you in touch with one of the top dog activist outfits in the country.
Such behavior isn’t only found within activist’s circles. Yours truly recently encountered a middle-aged man who couldn’t conceive of any way Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch talked about anything other than their grandchildren during their controversial meeting in Phoenix. Nor could he see any impropriety in a sitting Attorney General meeting with someone her Justice Department was looking at as part of an on-going criminal investigation. It was well, Bill Clinton you see, and who were we to question a former POTUS?
For questioning Bill Clinton’s ethics, I was branded “mentally unstable” by this gentleman. Like many, he was the kind of guy that lived and breathed all things internet and social media. He’s probably one of those people that actually gets all of their news from Facebook. Or that thought it was cool of Google to honor Yuri Kochiyama on their May 19th homepage. If you don’t know about Yuri Kochiyama and her particular brand of activism, go to http://clashdaily.com/2016/05/google-supports-terror-supporting-radical/ and be amazed. With information sources like these, is it any wonder some Americans actually think Jesse Ventura was a founding father that helped us gain independence from Russia in the 1870s?
On this Independence Day, perhaps what stands out most this year isn’t the level of dependency we’ve grown unfortunately comfortable with as a nation. It’s that we have collectively forgotten that with our freedoms come responsibilities, and chief among those is the civic duty to understand our founding and its circumstances, and then to cherish those things because if we don’t they’ll go away.
In 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked the famous question, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”. He responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
* The scam artists are in cahoots with airport employees. Give them money and they’ll make sure the airport workers responsible for putting your stuff on the plane don’t steal from your bags. Decline their “security screening” and next time you visit that particular country, plan on seeing a local wearing that awesome pair of trousers and dress shoes you noticed missing when you returned home from your previous trip.
Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/westher/7696452436/;Esther Westerveld; CC by 2.0