Patriotic Americans love the Fourth of July.
With a mixture of gratitude, pride, and wonder, we commemorate the courage and heroism of the founding generation who somehow found a way to defeat the mightiest military power on earth to win our national independence and secure our liberty.
We celebrate our country's exceptional history overflowing with astounding achievements, all made possible by a political system that — however imperfectly — did more to protect and uphold the rights of individuals than any other country ever did.
As we celebrate our rich national heritage and the blessings of liberty this Independence Day, my enthusiasm is tempered by the sober realization that the lamp of liberty is not burning as brightly as it used to.
The founders foresaw this unhappy development. Indeed, they regarded an erosion of liberty as practically inevitable, as encapsulated in Jefferson's written statement, "The natural order of things is for liberty to yeild (sic), & government to gain ground."
To say that government has been gaining ground at the expense of the rights and liberty of Americans is an understatement. Here are a few signs of the times:
1. The federal government, through obscene asset forfeiture policies that trample the Fourth and Fifth amendments, now robs Americans of more wealth than burglars do. The damage is even greater when you add it what local police forces appropriate from defenseless citizens denied due process of law. When the law allows those hired to protect our property to seize more of it than illegal thieves do, it is plain that the property rights of Americans are under siege.
2. One of the complaints made in the Declaration of Independence was that King George III has afflicted Americans with "swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."
That sounds like a spot-on characterization of state and federal bureaucracies today. In recent years, unelected federal bureaucrats have imposed more than ten times as many of the rules that we must obey than our elected Congress. Examples of bureaucratic abuse and oppression are legion:
a) At the federal department level, the Treasury recently bypassed Congress to change the rules of accounting in a heavy-handed attempt to prevent American businesses from moving their headquarters overseas to escape the highest corporate income tax in the world. The number of bureaucrats at the VA has increased by over 50 percent in the last 12 years, yet service to veterans has deteriorated. Agriculture lays claims to large shares of crops — I'm thinking particularly of raisins — and charges farmers if they keep all that they have grown. HUD is trying to control where people live.
b) At the federal agency level, bureaucrats can hound you out of business, as the Federal Trade Commission recently demonstrated. Then there is the National Labor Relations Board that has presumed to dictate in what states private corporations may open branches. The Bureau of Land Management has created a safe zone, called a "national monument," for illegal immigrants; and it has also set aside land for green energy while imposing illegal guidelines on fracking, guidelines that a federal judge has nullified because BLM lacks statutory authority. The Supreme Court unanimously rebuked the Army Corps of Engineers for violating the property rights of private citizens. The EPA — "the worst of many rogue federal agencies," as I have written on my Forbes blog— has been found to have deliberately refrained from warning the people of Flint, Mich., that they were drinking dangerous water at the same time they recklessly released tons of toxic sludge into the San Juan River in New Mexico and were slow to warn people of the health threat. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau harasses banks that don't have "acceptable" contingency bankruptcy plans in place, but refuses to tell banks what criteria are used to determine whether a plan is acceptable or not — as unfair and farcical as the "double secret probation" that the dean imposed on Delta house in the cinematic spoof, "Animal House."
3. It isn't just our God-given, inalienable right to property that is under attack. The political powers-that-be are going after life and liberty, too. In the June 21 issue of Forbes, Editor-in-chief Steve Forbes said, "It is now a federal crime to walk a dog on federal lands with a leash that's longer than 6 feet," with a penalty of up to six months in jail. Federal entities from the Social Security Administration to the IRS to the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Education have their own SWAT teams, armored vehicles, submachine guns, etc. (How about a little gun control there, Mrs. Clinton?)
Americans are even in danger of losing the right to free speech. President Obama and Hillary Clinton both seek a reversal of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision so they can suppress anti-Hillary movies and other forms of political speech.
Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius infamously made a public declaration that there would be "zero tolerance" for any health-insurance company that dared to contradict or object to her pronouncements on Obamacare. Lois Lerner and a cabal within the IRS colluded with a cabal of congressmen to stifle the right of conservatives to speak in the political arena. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is leading the charge to criminalize any dissent from his political position on climate change, thereby suppressing scientific inquiry and debate. (Scientific "consensus" is fluid; for example, the decades-long official government line against dietary cholesterol has been undergoing revisions.)
So, as we celebrate the Fourth of July, what can we do to reclaim our liberty? The Declaration of Independence tells us what we must do: Since the purpose of government is to secure the "unalienable," God-given rights of individuals, then "whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it."
Just as a farmer must get rid of a sheep dog that attacks the very creatures it is supposed to protect, it is time to throw off such a defective government when it begins to oppress and plunder.
It is time for those of us who still love liberty to fight for our rights with the same resolve as those patriots who embodied "the Spirit of '76." As John Basil Barnhill, in a statement often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, said in 1914: "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty."
We need to make government that fears trampling on our rights.
Personally, I think that any person in our country who stoops to censorious thuggery in an attempt to silence us deserves to be exiled. They don't belong in "the land of the free." The problem is, there are too many Lerners, Whitehouses, et al. to make this practical advice. So, then, what we need to "exile" — that is, to excise from our polity — is the alien fascist ideology that is hostile to our God-given rights. That is how we are going to revive the Spirit of '76 and save the soul of America.
Mark Hendrickson is Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.