Freedom remains the foundation of our country. It’s right there on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, where “freedom” looms large. It is set in stone in our buildings, in our anthem, and in just about all of our civic events and ceremonies.
It is also, unfortunately, incredibly overused by many politicians, to the point of becoming an empty platitude, often used by conservatives to criticize everything they disagree with, from taxes to wearing seat belts in your car.
This is unfortunate, both for our policy and for our country. For starters, it makes no sense that such a powerful and defining idea of what makes the United States great has become a partisan cudgel used to smite opponents, especially when the party that wields it the most l ‘has distorted beyond recognition. Republicans have turned “freedom” into selfishness, beggar-thy-neighbour nihilism, unbridled, predatory economics, and allowing the rich and powerful to do whatever they want without caring about ordinary people. Their “freedom” is a pretext to hand over the keys to the car to the powerful, nothing more. Instead of the most transformative and powerful ideal born of the American experience, it has become a justification for preserving the established order.
That’s not what freedom means. This is not what freedom should be. And it’s time for progressives to step forward and claim freedom for the revolutionary and transformative idea that it truly is.
Let me go back a bit to January 6, 1941. The world is at war; Nazi Germany occupies much of continental Europe. Franklin Delano Roosevelt has just been re-elected for a third term. In his State of the Union address, Roosevelt wanted to both argue for an end to American isolationism and uphold the ideals the nation stood for. He spoke of a new world based on four essential freedoms, the freedoms that define America. They’re simple, straightforward, straightforward – and define not just the fight ahead, but a progressive vision for the future.
Here is what he said:
- The first is freedom of expression and expression — all over the world.
- The second is freedom of each to worship God in his own way – around the world.
- The third is freedom to want, which, translated into global terms, means an economic understanding that will assure every nation a healthy peacetime life for its people – everywhere in the world.
- The fourth is safe from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world reduction of armaments to such an extent and in such a complete manner that no nation will be able to commit an act of physical aggression against a neighbor anywhere in the world. the world.
More than eighty years later, with Europe once again at war, it is shocking to see how pertinent these lines ring. Looking at what is happening in our own countries, these four freedoms (of speech, of religion, of want, of fear) become even more urgent, more immediately necessary.
In recent years, we have witnessed a real backlash against freedom of expression. We’ve had politicians pulling books from libraries, states actively banning teaching about racism and oppression or talking about gender and sexual identity. Those who complain the most about the “cancel culture” have worked full time to silence any dissenting views. A vocal minority of Christian nationalists have taken control of the Supreme Court and are using it to impose their religion on the country. They have eliminated the right to abortion and then consider marriage and contraceptives – and they will not stop there.
Years of economic shocks, crises and governments that put the rich before all of us have left a country where millions of families are on the edge of poverty. Rampant and rampant inequality has turned the world’s richest country into a place where full-time workers live in poverty and are one medical bill, car repair or missing paycheck away from economic pain. Despite our immense wealth, Americans live shorter lives, endure a lot higher crime rates and live in conditions of far greater economic inequality, distress and uncertainty than any other advanced country. American working families want economic stability, prosperity, respect, an economy where hard work is rewarded with what they need. Instead, we have an economy defined by fear, because any mistake, any calamity, any crisis can leave many workers destitute.
It’s time for progressives to embrace freedom – and talk about it as the freedom to any oppression, not the narrow, jingoistic, “do what I want” caricature it has become. Let’s build a country where freedom of speech, religion, desire and fear define who we are. Our freedoms: a land where we can all live our lives to the fullest, embracing the ideals that built this country.