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Writing for National Review, Jonah Goldberg asks “who’s running the country?” His conclusion: nobody. And that’s a very good thing.
As I read the article, the thought occurred to me that not only is nobody running the country but that — to a very large extent — we are running ourselves. That is reassuring. In a world where many governments do run their countries and the private lives of their citizens, Americans still have overwhelming control over our personal affairs. That is: we are still very free.
A quick look around the world shows how little freedom is afforded the majority of human beings. In Iran, for example, anyone who dances to a silly little song risks a whipping. In Russia, homosexuals live in fear. As for China, res ipsa loquitor. Even Canada has criminalized vaguely-defined hate speech and — although one of the more opprobrious of those laws has been repealed — an amorphous criminal code provision still imposes the risk of prosecution and jail time on those who dare speak their minds in public.
In the United States, however, most people wake up in the morning and think little — if at all — about the government. When the coffee is poured, we can greet the day comfortable in the fact that the guys in black masks are not likely to burst in and haul us off to the Gulag. The day-to-day of life is still pretty much under the individual’s control.
Government intrusion is a huge concern, of course, and things may soon get much worse. I am enough of a reactionary to see that the future is bleak if things stay this way. Still, for the most part — and at least for right now — Americans speak and act freely without worrying about what the government will do to them.
It’s certainly true that business owners have to consider what the government might do to them. Just about every large corporation has a compliance office busy with the task of reviewing laws and regulations imposed from on high by noxious bureaucrasies. Small businesses often have retainers with law firm they can turn to if some government agency comes calling. But frank government action is relatively rare, and owners and employees can safely occupy themselves with their individual responsibilities free of concern.
Both the criminal and the civil law are ultimately controlled by private citizens who sit on juries and adjudicate cases without coercion. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of civil lawsuits are settled before trial. This means that the parties are ultimately in control of their legal destinies. Compromise between free people is the order of the day in American law.
And while there are loud voices calling for the government to enforce political correctness, most of the present day attacks on speech are in the private sector. Brendan Eich was forced out at Mozilla by a bunch of whining cranks, not by government edict. Phil Robertson survived the demands that he surrender his Duck Dynasty. Under a government empowered to take him into custody, he wouldn’t have spoken at all. Al Sharpton — notwithstanding his status as the most toxic man in the nation — is at liberty to blather and lie. Short of sedition (one wonders) he will not be arrested, even by the good folks who rightly loathe him.
Have we noticed that the press enjoys greater freedom now than at any time in history? Sure, the mainstream media is in the leftwing tank. Even so, the media is still run by private businesses. It’s good to remember that for every windbag like Brian Williams there is a windbag like Bill O’Reilly.
Things are really looking up in the entertainment industry. I just got a smart TV, and have been enjoying streaming videos through hulu and Amazon Prime. My freedom to watch what I want is constrained only by my wife’s taste for French films.
Actually, most of us need think of the government only once a year on tax day. Taxes are out of control at every level of government — and many of them are hidden — but the fact of the matter is that government is rarely on our minds.
None of this means we should bury out heads in the sand. The government is a behemoth and must be reined in. But there is still time, and all is not yet lost. Absent some catastrophe in which Homeland Security pounces on the citizenry, the political system will allow for reform — even radical reform — if the people and their representatives have the will and the nerve to roll things back. In the midst of trouble, there is still freedom to hope.
Americans are the freest people who have ever walked the earth. There is no question that a free people must be ever vigilant. We are, however, still at liberty to be peaceful vigilantes. Indeed, between cable and the internet, we can now gather together from coast-to-coast.
We have a fight on our hands. But our hands are not yet tied behind our backs.Published in