America, Do You Want Fries With That?

Cast your mind back to 2003 when the neo-conservative hawks in

George W. Bush’s government had their way and started yet another

bloody military excursion in to the Middle East. This time Iraq.

Washington tried its best to cobble together a coalition of other

countries in a far from convincing effort to show some kind of

international consensus for the war. France, a considerable

European military power, declined to join Washington’s coalition. Cue

much gnashing of hawkish teeth and, naturally, the renaming of

“French fries” as “Freedom fries” by way of indignation that the

French had the temerity not to be on the side of “freedom.”

Of course, the very word “freedom” is a big deal in the American

political psyche. And while freedom is of course a very big deal, it’s

worthwhile looking at the American interpretation of it compared to

other Western countries. They are not as similar as you may initially

think.


The American Revolution was very much a product of its time.

Nascent capitalism, with an emphasis on white enfranchised elites

having the freedom to make money and own property (including

slaves as human possessions) was in the ascendancy. This was being

free in the “freedom to” sense of the word. Freedom to make

money, own a slave or a gun, or both, and so on. That only

accelerated in the nineteenth century with more and more emphasis

on a rugged individualism that had scant regard for those who could

not keep up with the pack. A particularly money-focused American

version of Social Darwinism.


Non-American Western freedom, especially so after the global

trauma of World War Two, has a significantly different take. The

likes of Western Europe, Canada, Australia and others put more

emphasis on “freedom from.” That is to say, freedom from disease

(universal health care), freedom from poverty (robust societal and

economic safety nets) and freedom from ignorance (free or low-cost

higher education).


There are undoubtedly some shared freedoms between the US and

the rest of the Western world, such as a (supposed) commitment to

international law and democracy. But even the commitment to

democracy, the hallmark system of government when it comes to

individual freedom, is highly questionable when it comes to the US.

Not only in the shape of Donald Trump’s disastrous four years of

attempted authoritarian rule, culminating in the Capitol being

stormed in an attempted insurrection by his deranged, hoodwinked

supporters, but also when it comes to socio-economic justice and

wide-scale disenfranchisement.


Non-white Americans continue to be last in line for any freedom.

Despite a Civil War, a civil rights movement and any number of

initiatives to supposedly eradicate discrimination, police brutality,

mass incarceration and hatred, “freedom to” means very little when

you don’t have freedom from that list of poisonous injustices?

What difference does it make if you have a Constitutional freedom

of speech, but when you exercise that at say a BLM march or if

Kaepernick takes a knee, your legitimate voice of protest is drowned

out by a cacophony of racist, white-privilege shout-you-downs?


Why, as a non-white American, should you take any comfort in having

the freedom to own a firearm, but all that will do is make it more

likely to be gunned down by law enforcement? (The harrowing

reality that as non-white American, you can still be unlawfully killed

by law enforcement without a firearm).


Having the freedom to vote means nothing if you have been

gerrymandered, disenfranchised or physically turned away when

going to vote. Millions of non-white Americans have endured that

and will continue to do so.


The American interpretation of freedom is then a highly suspect

one. It remains locked into a late-eighteenth century version of it.

A version that was constructed exclusively and explicitly for the

benefit of white Americans above anyone else – a mind-set that

overwhelmingly prevails to this day.


Freedom is only freedom if the rules apply to everyone and not just

some. That’s whether it’s freedom to or freedom from. Too many

predominantly white Americans like to throw their liberty around as

if they and they and they alone in the world have freedom. That

American “freedom to” is though out of date, unfit for purpose and

having festered so long in the political psyche and body-politic of

the US, has become down-right deadly. Be that from the thousands

of gun deaths a year through to systemic racism that results in

continuing police brutality against predominantly African-Americans.

Those Freedom Fries sure come with a particularly bitter and hard

to swallow taste to them.


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