Public discussion in this country sometimes seems to degenerate into a competition to see who can declare the greatest unconditional love for America. Immigrants love America, kids love America, and politicians really love America — sometimes several times, at a discounted rate. But in a land that often says, “America, love it or leave it,” I’ll admit that I’m at least willing to consider heading for the exit.
“Love” America? That’s a tall order, isn’t it? It’s a big and diverse place, so if I “love” the whole thing, does that really have to include rush-hour traffic and midwestern food? Or, more seriously, does it have to include the DEA, the NSA, the IRS and the various factions of control freaks that all-so-often dominate the country’s politics?
I love lots of distinct things about America; among them, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, bourbon, jazz and a long tradition of distrust of government and a preference (imperfectly implemented though it may be) for leaving people alone to guide their own lives and make their own choices. That last point is especially important. My family has a history of shopping for places to live where they won’t be hassled.
My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was “Marano” which supports oral history suggesting that her ancestors converted under duress from Judaism to Christianity and then fled to Italy to escape the Inquisition. I guess they didn’t love Spain enough.
My maternal grandmother told me that her father came to the United States, in part, to escape the military draft in Austria-Hungary. No love there, either.
In America, my family found more breathing room compared to the countries in which they were born. They had reason to be thankful, since they were more free than they had been in the old country. So, after all these centuries, has the migration at last come to an end?
That’s hard to believe. After all, this column focuses on violations of personal freedom by government agents, and I rarely have to wander across the border in order to find issues to cover. The inclination toward personal freedom that so attracted immigrants to American shores is continuously under attack from politicians from both major political parties. Those officials often proclaim their love for the country, but they seem to want to love it out of all recognition, into a place where travelers are stopped and scrutinized and homes are invaded by armed men over a choice of intoxicants or a taste for games of chance. They love telling us what we can eat, where we can smoke and when we can drink. They whisper their affections while they pick our pockets, constrain our business ventures in red tape (to the tune of $8,164 per household (PDF) in 2000, just to comply with federal regulations) and generally threaten us with laws and regulations we may not even know about.
This is not to say that the United States is especially bad when compared to other countries, which generally suffer under abusive governments of their own. And some things have definitely improved over the decades, such as equality before the law for women and racial minorities, and respect for sexual diversity. But the United States is, perhaps, no longer such a standout performer when it comes to respecting and defending individual liberty. That is, it’s no longer so uniquely enticing if you’re shopping for a place to live based on the local willingness to let you live your own life. To tell the truth, maybe America still looks as … well … OK-ish as it does not by an absolute standard, but only by comparison with the equally flawed competition.
No wonder there’s such an emphasis on unconditional love for America! Frankly, though, unconditional love is appropriate only for babies and puppies. If we stop and think rationally, we may someday decide that the place we now call home is no longer as loveable as it once was, and go shopping for a new address that puts more effort into earning our affection.