July 3, 2014

What Do Americans Think About Liberty?

The political spectrum is a good indicator of American pride.

On July 3, 1776, the day before signing the Declaration of Independence from England, John Adams stirringly penned, “I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means.” Tragically, 238 years later, many Americans have begun to doubt Adams’ words and have grown increasingly unsatisfied with their freedom.

According to a recent Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans satisfied with their level of freedom to choose what they do in life has plunged from 91% in 2006 to just 79% in 2013, placing the land of the free an abysmal 36th among countries with the highest degrees of satisfaction with their freedom. This is disturbing on its own, but when you consider that only 10 other nations experienced as sharp a decline in satisfaction – and that those 10 nations included countries like Venezuela, Pakistan, Egypt, Greece and Yemen – it becomes downright frightening.

Of particular concern is what this dissatisfaction means when paired with Americans’ growing distrust of not one, not two, but all three branches of government. Another recent Gallup survey showed that Congress’s approval rating is just 7%, the Supreme Court’s just 30% (a 4% drop from this time last year), and the executive branch’s just 29%, marking a six-year low. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans believing government corruption is widespread has risen dramatically since 2006, ballooning from 59% to 79%.

Of course, a healthy distrust for government is far from a bad thing. As James Madison said, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” What’s perplexing, though, is that Americans now have more confidence in the military and police than they do in our government’s executive, legislative or judicial branch, with 39% and 25% having a “great deal” of confidence in the military and police, respectively. While we hold our Armed Forces and local protectors in the highest regard, the reality is that as institutions, they are extensions – be they direct or indirect – of the government Americans so distrust. And the Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams writes, such an upside down trust scenario “is not exactly a healthy place to be in a constitutional republic.”

Diminishing trust in government and dwindling confidence in Liberty are hardly surprising, as many Americans have increasingly measured Liberty by government provision rather than government restraint. And when government has failed in providing – as government will always do – Americans have begun blaming their condition on a flaw in the liberties they enjoy.

Indeed, those who understand Liberty the least take the smallest pride in America. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, “solid liberals” – those who support big government, are skeptical of business and markets, and are consistently liberal on social issues – are the least likely to take pride in being an American, with just 40% saying they “often feel proud” to be American. Meanwhile, among “steadfast conservatives,” 72% often feel proud to be American, and among “business conservatives,” the percentage jumps to 81.

How does all this bode for American Liberty? Well, for one thing, 40% of solid liberals probably won’t be proudly waving American flags at tomorrow’s parades. But thankfully, they’ll have the freedom not to because of those who remain aware of the toil, blood and treasure that true freedom cost, who still understand the true meaning of Liberty, and who are willing to sacrifice for those glimpses of ravishing light and glory. Liberty will remain secure only as long as the latter remain stronger than the former.

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