What is the twisted definition of freedom
Freedom Subject: Is the United States the Home of Freedom?
Two Harley-Davidson motorcycles drive along a dusty road, all around a wasteland. This is how "Easy Rider" begins. The 1969 film quickly became a cult - after all, it captures the attitude towards life of a generation: The USA, the land of freedom, everyone can be anything there. What the film also showed its audience at the time: Society sets narrow limits to freedom. The constitution of the country was conceived of as extremely liberal from the start. The greatest possible negative freedom - freedom from external restrictions - became an anchor of identity for the United States. The myth of the "Frontier" is the second anchor of the American nation. The freedom to colonize the land without possessions, which it never was, became the freedom of the supposedly unlimited possibilities of the "American Dream". This was accompanied by the marginalization and exclusion of minorities.
Freedom often did not await emigrants in the USA
Freedom - in the definition of Hannah Arendt - knows neither need nor fear. Only those who can participate in public political life as equals among equals are truly free, Arendt sums up in her collection of essays "Freedom to be free". So the "Land of the Free" is nothing but an illusion? The greatest marketing success in history?
What a sight the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor must have been to the millions who fled the misery in Europe to the New World during the 19th and early 20th centuries. "Give me your tired people, your poor, your enslaved masses," wrote the American Emma Lazarus, thus setting a memorial to the statue. But those enslaved masses by no means expected freedom. For years they toiled off the cost of the crossing in a system of debt bondage. Once these were finally paid for, most of them lived their lives in moldy tenements or some kind of wooden shed in the vastness of the country. After the abolition of slavery, they were the faceless legions who worked their 18-hour days in the factories of early capitalism.
On the back of those oppressed by slavery, the United States not only financed its War of Independence - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also held slavery. Slaves were also the main economic power in many states. The freedom inherent in the US government system was always opposed to the realities of racism and slavery. For all of the oppressed, "freedom from fear", as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in 1941, was not an option for much of the country's history. While Europe discovered the welfare state after the First World War, in the USA the primacy of private welfare prevailed.
Under Roosevelt the USA became the "Land of the Free"
Was that due to the deep Protestant faith, as Max Weber diagnosed in his work "Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism" - only those who enjoy divine pleasure become rich, and vice versa? Or was it an inherent belief in the American character that the world was a matter of imagination? Anyone can go from dishwasher to millionaire at any time. This is how the culture journalist Kurt Andersen analyzes it in "Fantasyland".
It was only Franklin D. Roosevelt who succeeded in breaking the freedom monopoly of the wealthy with his economic policy, which became known as the "New Deal" from 1933 onwards. Now America began to become the "Land of the Free". Banks and financial markets were regulated, social and pension insurance introduced, women were given more influence in public and private life - the "real New Deal for the people" is connected with the awakening of women, according to Eleanore Roosevelt. Only racial segregation remained until Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement finally overturned it in the 1960s. Up until the 1980s, the USA developed a social and economic policy that also sought the freedom of the weak majority. Then something strange happened, at least in the western world: the most powerful nation on earth elected a subordinate actor to be its president.
Under Ronald Reagan, the people of the United States lost their freedom
Under Ronald Reagan, the Republicans began the metamorphosis into a party of libertarians, rich, evangelicals and reactionaries. Social, educational or health policies have been privatized. The most influential thinker - if you like to call her that - of this movement was Ayn Rand. Her main fiction work "Atlas throws the world off" has sold millions of copies to this day. In it, Rand outlines the blessings of radical laissez-faire capitalism, which sees its promise of salvation in a world without state regulation and considers taxes for theft and poverty to be invariably self-inflicted. In Rand's worldview, capitalists are the good guys - the richer the better - and their critics are underexposed thieves and murderers. Since then, influential Republicans have been promoting the total freedom of the few - with success.
Those born in the United States in 1940 had a 92 percent chance of earning more than their parents. In 1980 this chance was just 50 percent. The life expectancy of newborns in the USA is falling - in no other western state is this the case. Today the richest Americans pay less taxes than the poorest. Almost 50 million US citizens depend on food stamps, millions of whom suffer and die in the opioid crisis caused by a billionaire clan.
About 25 percent of all prison inmates worldwide are incarcerated in the USA, where their labor is exploited in an often slave-like existence. Most of them are black or belong to another minority. The "American Dream" has become a hollow promise.
Under Donald Trump, freedom is dwindling with fear
The president who the Americans elected in 2016 also makes empty promises - an enemy of the freedom of the many. Donald Trump could have jumped straight out of Ayn Rand's novel. Perhaps it is the culmination of the American feverish dream of freedom. He incites against those who think or disagree, twist facts into his personal truth, grant the rich tax breaks, promote the privatization of the education system and champion the rule of the fittest.
In his dialectic there is only freedom for the victor, and at any cost. Under Trump, the US has a record national debt without it benefiting the general good. More people than ever are not free from fear. In 2019 it will remain a dream, the "Land of the Free".
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