I don’t know your political affiliation, race, religion or gender, and frankly I don’t care. If you’re a human being and you live in this country, I’ll assume that you want (at least to some degree) the three things Americans are famous for wanting: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Living in America means you get to have these things. Right? …Right?
Wait. Let’s talk about that for a second, because it seems like this assumption might not be everything it’s cracked up to be. Much like living in America, eating at McDonalds, Deflategate, and watching ABC’s latest primetime lineup.
1.the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.
2.the existence of an individual human being or animal.
3.the period between the birth and death of a living thing, especially a human being.
4.(in art) the depiction of a subject from a real model, rather than from an artist’s imagination.
1.the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.
2.the power or scope to act as one pleases.
1.the action of following or pursuing someone or something.
2.an activity of a specified kind, especially a recreational or athletic one.
the state of being happy.
Please take special notice of the fact that nowhere above does it say anything about being free to impose your religious beliefs on others, or use those beliefs to limit another person’s happiness. As in the case of recent court clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses–or, in other words, DO THEIR JOBS–on the basis that same-sex marriage is against their religion. (By the way. You know what job pretty much never requires you to go against the teachings of your religion, in order to do that job? Being a Wal-Mart greeter. As a bonus, that job also comes with the freedom to give out cute little happy face stickers and be treated like human livestock by your employer. So really, everyone wins!)
It also does not say anything about being free to subjugate, exclude, intimidate or otherwise step on other Americans based on whether you believe they are “as American” as you are. Anchor babies? Still American. Black people? Ask them where they’re from. Fun fact: unless their heritage is actually African, they’re not actually African-American. They’re just plain American. Native Americans? Turns out, these guys are the most American. (Definitely more American than you or George Washington.) I submit that from now on, when you meet a random person with the last name “Monroe” or “Hamilton,” you ask them if they’re “English-American” or “British-American.” Really, it makes just as much sense.
If we’re free to be happy, it also follows that we’re free to be unhappy. It’s your choice. You’re also free to go to college, or not. Get married, or not. Have children, or not. Get a job at someone else’s company, or pursue a technical career, or start your own business. Or not. You’re free to make money, if you can. But if you can’t make money, for whatever reason, you’re free to ask for help. Or not. Other people, organizations, even certain branches of the government are free to help you out if they feel like it. Or not. (These kinds of things are usually decided by laws, which are written statutes of public belief and its resulting opinion.)
Which brings me back to the point of this post:
The one thing we as Americans are most free to do? Vote. Decide. Take part in the way our government runs this country we call home. Or…not.
And that’s the part that really, really makes me want to use my freedom of thought to get really, super angry. Because these freedoms we think we’re entitled to, they’re not really entitlements at all. These freedoms had to be fought for. People had to die so that we could have these freedoms. They had to argue, and sacrifice, and even spend years in prison so that someday the rest of us could be more free.
Some people, like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Joan Baez, and Gloria Steinem (to name a few) have spent their lives putting aside their own pursuit of happiness, so we could live in a world where fear wasn’t our baseline emotion. Where anger didn’t always lead to violence. Where misunderstanding didn’t automatically lead to mistrust, segregation and the suspension of freedom for certain groups based on their willingness to bow down. On what they looked like, what they did for a living, what their last name was, or how much money they made.
The aristocracy was supposed to have no place in America. The Feudal system, where power “trickled down” from Kings, through nobles, then military, then eventually to the common people (if anything was left over, that is) was supposed to have died out long ago. But what do we have now, if not an aristocracy of so-called self-made “great” men, leading and controlling a country of people who are either too vain, too busy, too scared, too indecisive, or too ignorant to decide for themselves. Whether they lack the ability or the opportunity to voice their opinion doesn’t matter. The result is the same.
I get it. I do. I was raised in a state where libertarianism has become a running joke, where legalizing marijuana seemed almost silly given that most people had been growing it without government interference for years. I grew up at the forefront of a generation where it’s considered cool to “give zero f***s” instead of actually caring about anything. Today, we fight like cats and dogs over inconsequential things like who should win Project Runway, or whether anyone is Keeping Up with the Kardashians. (Seriously. Keeping up with what? Where are they going? What are they actually accomplishing that we need to follow-up on this like it’s some kind of twisted, neverending research project?)
We get our news from people like Jon Stewart (or we used to) because our only other choices were boring CNN, alarmist and occasionally insane Fox News, or some mixture of the two that somehow left us feeling less informed and more uncomfortable than before we tried to figure out what was going on in the world. Then there’s the Facebook and Twitter news filter, which gives you a totally different version on reality based on how angry or gullible your friends are. Even then, we’re too busy liking things and sharing pictures of cute baby animals to really stop and dig for the truth. Figure out what it might mean for us, and more importantly, the future of this county.
Politicians and satirists alike have joked about what might happen if taking part in the legislative system was an easier feat. If we voted for candidates by liking things on Twitter or Facebook, instead of trooping down to a community center to poke holes in paper. Can you even imagine? I think the fact that #DeezNuts is now a viable candidate for the 2016 presidential ballot says it all.
Though I appreciate a little sophomoric prank every now and then, I can’t bring myself to laugh at this situation. Enough is enough. It’s time to start taking things seriously, or risk losing our ability to laugh when our thoughtless choices turn into very real consequences. When the things we shrug off or ignore today turn into laws that will dictate how we live our lives tomorrow, on a daily basis.
As hilarious as it is that Donald Trump is running for president, it’s not okay to vote for him. Even as a joke. Especially as a joke. Our carefully practiced apathy might seem cool and hipster, but it’s also the reason our country has fallen to the old guard of privileged (and usually white) men who are bred and raised in the sincere belief that the world is theirs for the taking. That they can do whatever they want–oppress, lie, steal, rape, enslave–and get away with it.
Guess what? Right now, this country IS theirs for the taking. And they will get away with it. We’re talking about it, tweeting about it, and liking our guts out. But that’s not going to stop them from winning.
So, who’s really laughing now?