Independence Day is almost here, the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (which actually happened on the second of July, but never mind). It’s a time when America gets all of its flags out and launches explosive ballistics into the air to remind ourselves that we are the freest free people who have ever freed themselves.
Here in 2018, I wonder if we shouldn’t be mourning it instead.
I fully admit that I’m a raging Anglophile to the point of adopting Doctor Who as my official religion, but I think it’s inarguable that our former sovereign kingdom is a better place to be than America right now. They’re ranked 21 in life expectancy compared to our 31st place on the list, they have a lower infant mortality rate, our homicide rate is four times what theirs is — don’t even get me started on the difference in gun violence — our suicides are off the charts in comparison, and their poverty rate is lower than ours.
What freedom are we exactly crowing about here on the Glorious Fourth? What dystopian hellscape did we wrest from the English that is worth filling the sky with gunpowder and Toby Keith tunes?
They have the National Hospital System; we have people who won’t call ambulances for crippling injuries because they can’t afford the ride. They (for now) have a welfare state that actually allows people the independence to better themselves and live full lives, meanwhile ours is a punishing pittance designed to humiliate the few entitled to it as a reminder that they didn’t become millionaires and that’s entirely their own fault. Their women and ethnic minorities also have more opportunities than us. We couldn’t elect one of the most uniquely-qualified women in America ever to head our executive branch because something something emails. Meanwhile, Britain is on their second female Prime Minister, neither of whom was the result of some dreaded liberal affirmative action ploy.
I use the United Kingdom as an example because that’s who we fought the Revolutionary War against, but I could use pretty much any other developed nation. America does not rank high on most lists of benefits that constitute real freedom. We incarcerate more people than virtually anyone. We have the most money and the worst income inequality. We have more hate crimes.
America is more “free” in two regards that I can see. One, we trail the rest of the world in handling hate speech. We’ve enshrined the First Amendment to the point that all speech is considered sacred, no matter its consequences. Which is how we end up in a world where the American president goes around calling the press the enemy, someone like Milo Yiannopoulos encourages people to start shooting journalists, a crazed misogynistic stalker does just that, and a talking head on FOX News like Sean Hannity somehow finds the marbles to blame the action on Maxine Waters. Our free speech is the equivalent of a free range wolverine farm. There’s a reason Germany doesn’t let Nazis speak, and it’s the same reason they don’t have open Nazis running for public office unlike us.
We also have the freedom to arm up. Which means, frankly, a bunch of white dudes are free. They’re the ones most likely to own a gun and the ones most likely to turn a school or a movie theater or a clinic or a newsroom into an abattoir. They’re also the ones you can most count on to either use their gun on an intimate partner or leave it unsecured where a child can make a fatal mistake. In other words, a lot of people trade the freedom to not get shot for some other person’s freedom to hopefully, maybe shoot someone they think deserves it. That, as far as I can tell, is the extent of the “freedoms” we have over the rest of the developed world, and I for one am not really about to drop $50 on fireworks over it.
Then there is our preoccupation with independence. Nothing has proven America’s falling place in the world like the Trumpian resurgence in our delusion of isolation. In that mindset, America is an island beset by hordes intent on taking our money, land, rights and more. The truth is that America is dependent on the world, and anyone who denies that is a fool. The recent trade war that the president has launched should be all the proof we need. Our closest allies and partners are starting to impose tariffs that will drive prices beyond affordability for many people, and it’s all in the name of proving a ridiculous point about how we don’t need no one.
The myth of independence needs to die. Treating Mexico and Canada as enemies, not to mention the rest of the world, is nonsense. America cannot and should not do things alone. We have tons to learn from the multiple nations clearly doing things better than us, and our attitude these days resembles an alcoholic insisting they can stop on their own when they absolutely cannot. It’s a bravado mixed with an unwillingness to face the true monster.
In other words, it’s staring at the pretty light of the fire and saying everything is fine. This Fourth of July, we should probably be mourning the many freedoms we lack rather than celebrating the few we’ve still got.