Updated: Aug 16, 2022
An excerpt from Ro Khanna's new book Dignity in a Digital Age was an aha moment for me. In it he writes,
Conservatives claim to stand up for the freedoms of Americans, but their vision is, by their own admission, limited to restricting state action. It’s freedom from excessive government regulations and interference – but it is silent about the most pressing economic and social constraints that Americans face every day. And these too are questions of freedom.
He's exactly right. The idea of "freedom" is not only enshrined in the American constitution and history, it is part of the American DNA. But we have let the word and everything it stands for be trivialized and distorted to such an extent by the modern GOP that today "freedom" has become synonymous with the impunity of privileged groups, be it wealthy or white, to flout laws, ignore convention, and endanger community without consequences. Two glaring examples of this kind of freedom are the anti-vax movement during the worst of COVID times, and the attack on the US Capitol on Jan 6, 2021. This is "freedom" as represented by the GOP, which claims to be the party uniquely carrying the mantle of this idea.
But I would argue that there are more important and more meaningful ideas of freedom, and these kinds of freedom are much more represented by the Democratic Party as a whole and even more strongly by the progressive wing of the party. Let's list some of them -
Freedom over our own bodies: The COVID deniers and their enablers in the Republican party screamed and shouted and, in some cases, became violent over the idea of vaccine mandates, but the GOP has launched an all-out attack on the rights of women to have freedom of choice. There is no doubt Democrats are the party of personal freedom.
Freedom from gun violence: Democrats have been trying for years to enact gun reform in the face of relentless obstructionism by the GOP. Even today the bill on background checks passed by the House is languishing in the Senate without even a vote. More such sensible gun reform bills are slated in June, but all will meet with the same fate unless Democrats get a significant majority in the Senate.
Freedom to live safe, healthy lives: Democrats are the ones who care whether our air is clean and our food safe from contaminants. GOP administrations typically defund or defang the EPA and the FDA in service of their corporate cronies and donors.
Freedom of opportunity: America used to be a country proud of its economic mobility. Once any American could dream of making it big by dint of hard work. But 30+ years of trickle down economics and corporate giveaways by the GOP have created extremes of income inequality that have effectively crushed the American dream of millions of young people, our next generation. Only Democratic policies investing in educational infrastructure, job training, and social safety nets can return us to the freedom of mobility and opportunity.
Freedom of thought: The GOP attack on books is terrifyingly dystopian. By creating the false specters of Critical Race Theory and White Victimhood, Republican operatives in several states and school districts are attempting to control what our children can and can't read and what our teachers can and can't teach. This is a loss of freedom that will reverberate for generations.
Freedom to be oneself: The anti-trans bills in various GOP-led states expose the hypocrisy of a party that claims to be about personal freedom. Democrats, on the other hand, are firmly on the side of a person's right to be who they are, irrespective or race, gender, or sexual orientation.
As Ro Khanna states, it's time for us take back the message and mantle of "freedom". It is crystal clear which party really stands for this American ideal.