The “Freedom” Billionaires & the GOP Are Selling Americans Is Deadly
Will Americans wake up to how bizarre and toxic this rightwing ideology actually is?
What is freedom?
Earlier this week, a group of “freedom fanatics,” shut down the Covid vaccination operation at Dodger Stadium, slowing down the process for hundreds of people before the police stopped them.
They called it an “Anti-lockdown Freedom Rally and March,” saying “We’re not going to stop until we get our freedoms back.”
They’re the same type of folks who argued that New York’s lockdown was an unconstitutional violation of their freedom, and spent much of 2020 proudly refusing to wear masks because “freedom.”
They even occupied the Michigan Capitol with assault weapons because, they said, Governor Whitmer’s efforts to prevent Michiganders from dying of Covid were assaults on their “freedom.”
As NBC reported, that invasion was preceded by months of events like one where: “Dozens of demonstrators took to the Michigan Capitol in Lansing for a rain-soaked protest Thursday — the third such event in the past month — demanding their ‘freedom’…”
Billionaire-funded rightwing groups and the Republicans they own spent most of last year telling us that wearing masks, social distancing, and closing some businesses to prevent spreading a deadly disease infringes on our “freedom.”
A RedState headline referenced “Covid Tyranny,” while over at Newsmax their headline was, “No Masking Biden‘s Disdain For Freedom.”
Back in the 1930s, wealthy rightwingers argued that FDR’s proposed Social Security program was a socialist plot to destroy America’s freedom.
Ronald Reagan made a similar argument in the early 1960s against LBJ’s Great Society proposal to start a single-payer healthcare system for seniors called Medicare.
“If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining,” Reagan said. “One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America [before Medicare] when men were free.”
For the last 40 years Republicans and the billionaires have used a massive media machine to tell us that Democratic “socialist” programs like unemployment insurance and the minimum wage diminish Americans’ freedom.
They argued a decade ago that Obamacare was a direct assault on our freedom. The rightwing organization Freedomworks helped organize Tea Party protests back then, and promoted “Open America” protests across the country against lockdowns last year.
Republicans in the Senate today want to cut Covid relief and oppose any sort of anti-virus measures because, they say, they diminish American’s freedom and discourages our “incentive” to get back to work making billionaires richer.
They’ve been selling this grotesque notion of freedom to us for decades, but Americans are starting to wake up to how bizarre and toxic this rightwing ideology actually is.
What is true freedom?
Back in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address, pointed out that “a necessitous man is not a free man.”
— If you’re unconscious and on a ventilator because Trump told you wearing masks was for wimps, you’re not free.
— If you’re hungry and can’t buy food for your family, you’re not free.
— If your landlord threw you out on the street and you’re homeless because you lost your job and can’t afford to pay rent, you’re not free.
— If you’re sick and afraid to go to the hospital because you know the bills will leave you broke and homeless, you’re not free.
— If you need to go to college or trade school to get a better life but can’t afford it, you’re not free.
When a Kansas man died of Covid recently, his family said he became infected because rightwingers “refuse to wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect one another.” After all, wearing a mask infringes on freedom, right?
Mr. Farr’s obituary read: “He died in a room not his own, being cared for by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways. He died with covid-19, and his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary. He was not surrounded by friends and family.”
But, Republicans would argue, he was free!
The billionaires and their Republican puppets tell us that real freedom, in fact, means a small number of people being able to concentrate hundreds of billions of dollars in their own money bins while the children of one in seven American families today go to bed hungry.
America’s billionaires and their Republican puppets tell us that the real meaning of freedom is bigger tax cuts for billionaires and more deregulation, poison and pollution for everybody else.
It’s literally been their governing philosophy since the Reagan Revolution, and everything from Bush’s “Clear Skies Initiative” that empowered polluters, to Trump’s putting an oil lobbyist in charge of the EPA and a coal lobbyist in charge of our public lands at the Interior Department bears this out.
They’ve managed to convince millions of working class Americans that freedom essentially means the “right” to die in debt, to remain uneducated, and to be hungry and even homeless while working crappy jobs at $7.25 an hour to make the billionaires richer.
But it’s a lie.
Real freedom requires a foundation that allows people to step away from struggling for survival and toward meaningful activities in life. It’s the soil in which a functioning civil society and a healthy free enterprise system are rooted.
The experience of nations all over the world shows us that freedom grows most rapidly and best flourishes over the long term in societies with a strong middle class and a strong social safety net. Just take a look at northern Europe, Australia, South Korea or Taiwan.
And that middle class grows with education, a job that pays a fair wage, and access to healthcare that doesn’t bankrupt you: things that are guaranteed as rights by virtually every developed nation in the world…except America.
The foundations of freedom are paid for by taxes: good schools and colleges, hospitals that aren’t run on a for-profit basis to rip people off with “surprise billings,” and jobs with pay and benefits that allow for a decent life.
Billionaires and their Republican shills want us to think that raising the top tax brackets on people who take in more than $400,000 a year (Biden’s proposal) will take away our freedom. In fact, raising those tax brackets is what built the American middle class between 1940 and 1980, when the rate paid by the top bracket was 74% to 91%.
America needs a healthy conversation — a debate, even — about freedom.
Will we continue to hold the notion that being free means getting lousy pay, no union, being broken by healthcare expenses and putting our kids to bed hungry?
Or will we realize, as most of the developed world figured out decades ago, that for a society to be free its richest people must help fund the essentials of life for all those working people and consumers who turned them into billionaires?
Freedom doesn’t mean you “have nothing left to lose.”
It means standing tall on a foundation of essential security and safety: A home, job, and freedom from fear of sickness.
It means a political system that responds to the will of the majority of the people. It means the American Dream that 40 years of Reaganism has left in shreds and tatters.
We must return to freedom. And FDR — whose picture now hangs in the Oval Office — has shown us how to get there.