Freedom! What a wonderful power—or is it? I considered that paradox after speaking with one of my Chinese students from Shanghai. I had asked him what had struck him most about being in America. His answer was, “all the freedom we enjoy in this country.” It was such a contrast to his country’s control under “socialist capitalism”.
Yes, we have freedom in this country, but like everything carried to an extreme, too much of it can be just as bad as too little of it. Let me illustrate.
I showed a segment of an Internet video called, “How to Run a Political Campaign: Campaign Strategy” to my Civics and Government class at Green River College. I showed my students the video because I wanted them to know how it feels to run for public office. I thought having that perspective would make the lectures and discussions about government more realistic and relevant. It had that effect.
One of the points the narrator in the video made was that politics is an area where there aren’t a lot of rules for what to do and what not to do. He went on to say that becoming a candidate is not for the faint of heart. The situation can change drastically with one misspoken word, or one decision not carefully thought through.
Voters have very little patience for a candidate who has not carefully considered why he/she is running and why they believe they are the right person for the job. There is Donald Trump, though, who seems to defy this adage.
Trump has been blunt, honest, and politically incorrect, stating his true feelings about issues. As a result, early Republican voters have found his freedom to speak as he pleases refreshing. This seems to be counter-intuitive—to do the opposite of what is culturally and politically acceptable, and to be rewarded with soaring poll results and money filling Trump’s campaign coffers.
Trump’s sense of freedom has turned controlling cultural rules on their head, but has it made America a better nation, or one dragged back into historical stereotypes about race, women, and immigration? Is freedom a blessing or a curse in these cases?
While freedom is part of who we are, freedom also allowed a mentally ill person to walk into a classroom at Umpqua Community College and shoot and kill eight students and a teacher for no reason, and then kill himself. Freedom presents its hazards, too.
It forces the media to reconsider if the names of shooters should be published to prevent the fame and attention that the shooter attained from setting a negative example to others who crave notoriety.
Freedom by itself can be very destructive. It needs to be melded with self-control, concern for others, and a sense of balance and perspective. Of and by itself, it, like any virtue, can turn ugly very quickly.
To prevent just such a thing from happening was the goal of the Founders of our Constitution: to balance freedom with the need for order. The Constitution was written to protect individual liberty and at the same time provide structure to protect society from ruthless people who abuse their freedom. In the long run, their foresight has been highly successful.
My Chinese student was in awe of our freedom, as well he should be. The People’s Republic of China overemphasizes control and the result is corruption and poverty.
But we in America need to think about the negatives of liberty as well as its positives as we live our lives. Any virtue becomes evil without limits. Freedom without restraint can destroy us.