New York Post, December 5, 2023
Americans today have the “freedom” to be fleeced, censored, wiretapped, injected, disarmed, detained, groped and maybe shot by government agents. Politicians are hell-bent on protecting citizens against everything except Uncle Sam.
“We live in a world in which everything has been criminalized,” warned Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. There are now more than 5,200 separate federal criminal offenses and tens of thousands of state and local crimes. Thanks to the Supreme Court, police can lock up anyone accused of “even a very minor criminal offense,” such as an unbuckled seatbelt.
The Founding Fathers saw property rights as “the guardian of every other right.” But today’s politicians never lack a pretext for plundering private citizens. Federal law-enforcement agencies arbitrarily confiscate more property from Americans each year (without criminal convictions) than all the burglars steal nationwide. The IRS pilfered more cash from private bank accounts because of alleged paperwork errors than the total bank robbers looted nationwide.
Government decrees are blighting more lives than ever before. More than a thousand occupations have been closed to anyone who fails to kowtow to absurd state licensing requirements, from fortune tellers in Massachusetts to anyone rubbing feet in Arizona. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made it a federal crime to refuse to hire ex-convicts. Tens of thousands of drivers have been injured and hundreds killed thanks to red-light traffic-ticket cameras notorious for multiplying collisions.
Schoolchildren are being sacrificed on an altar of social justice. Teacher unions have worked to destroy local control of education, prevent teacher accountability, deny parents any voice in their children’s education and pointlessly shut down schools during the pandemic. In lieu of literacy, government schools are redefining gender and indoctrinating kids with values that many parents detest. When mothers and fathers raised hell at school-board meetings, the Biden administration and the FBI labeled them terrorist suspects.
Gun owners are America’s fastest-growing criminal class. One state after another is enacting “Show us the gun and we’ll find the crime” laws. The feds consider all 20 million+ marijuana users who own guns to be felons who deserve prison (unless their last name is Biden). Politicians demonize firearms at the same time governments dismally fail to protect citizens against violent predators.
Politicians and bureaucrats exploited the COVID‑19 pandemic to forbid any activities they chose, from going to church to buying garden seeds. Governors in most states effectively banned hundreds of millions of citizens from leaving their homes, but most Americans still contracted COVID-19 infections. Many pandemic policies were simply Political Science 101, using deceit and demagoguery to domineer humanity.
Despite perpetual controversies about police abuses, the federal government does not even bother compiling a body count of people killed by law enforcement. SWAT teams use battering rams and flash-bang grenades to attack 50,000 homes a year, routinely terrorizing people suspected of dastardly crimes like spraying graffiti or running poker games. Police unions ensure citizens do not learn the names of NYPD officers whose abuses spur settlements that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Federal Judge Don Willett derided the “Constitution-free zone” courts created where “individuals whose constitutional rights are violated at the hands of federal officers are essentially remedy-less.”
Politicians are increasingly dividing Americans into two classes — those who work for a living and those who vote for a living. Subsidy programs have multiplied even faster than congressional ethics scandals. Federal aid propelled college tuition increases that turned ex-students into a new debtor class endlessly clamoring for relief. Federal mortgage policies have been “wrecking ball benevolence,” in a federal judge’s words, spawning the 2007-08 collapse that slashed in half the net worth of black and Hispanic households. But politicians cannot undermine self-reliance without subverting self-government.
While politicians boast of bestowing freebies, taxes have become a financial Grim Reaper. Americans are forced to pay more in taxes than their total spending on food, clothing and housing. Inflation has become the cruelest tax as the dollar’s purchasing power has fallen 17% since President Biden took office, fleecing any citizen with a savings account.
Rather than the rule of law, we have a government of threats, intimidation and browbeating. “Government of the people” defaulted into “government for the people,” which degenerated into perennially punishing people for their own good. Self-government has been defined down to paying, obeying and wearing a federal blindfold.
Federal Judge Learned Hand warned in 1944: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.” But Americans nowadays are more likely to encounter liberty in history books instead of their own lives. Almost a third of young American adults support installing mandatory government-surveillance cameras in private homes to “reduce domestic violence, abuse and other illegal activity.”
At a time foreign democracies are collapsing like dominos, can America avoid becoming the “elective despotism” the Founding Fathers dreaded? The first step to reviving liberty is to recognize how far politicians have stretched their power. But nothing can safeguard freedom except the bravery of citizens who refuse to be shackled.
James Bovard is the author of the new book “Last Rights: The Death of American Liberty,” from which this piece is adapted.