“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ to left to lose.”
These words from the song “Me and Bobby McGee,” penned by singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, epitomize the mindset and the back story of Nikolas Cruz, as he went on a killing rampage at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.
Freedom for Nik Cruz meant that 17 students and teachers died and 15 were wounded. In Parkland and across the nation, thousands were traumatized.
Charles Koch, multibillionaire industrialist, stated his view of freedom in a speech he gave to an audience of libertarians in the late 1990s. To him, property was the basis of human freedom and the state – along with any public institution or even the idea of “public good” – was the very definition of “tyranny.”
World War II was already raging in Europe as President Franklin D. Roosevelt enumerated his “four essential human freedoms” in his January 1941 State of the Union address: “Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want.”
These three individuals gave their definitions of freedom. Each differed widely in his perspective. The question for all of us is: which of these views will prevail in America in 2018?
Let’s examine each definition to reveal the underlying principle of freedom.
Cruz was viewed as weird and creepy by those who knew him. He felt powerless and isolated, according to an article in the “Daily Beast” by Gideon Resnick and Elisha Brown, entitled, “White Supremacists Claim He Trained with Them: Students Said He Wore a Trump hat in School”. Perhaps rage and anger were what motivated him. Perhaps it was mental illness.
One thing is sure about him. A gun gave him power and he used that power to wreak havoc and death.
He also had, as Kristofferson defined freedom, nothing to lose. He had lost his mother and his adoptive father had also died. He was a social reject and he and his brother Zachary did not get along. That’s the danger of people who feel powerless. Everything that they value has been stripped from them. Such people who have this level of “freedom” are a danger both to themselves and to others. This is the effect of our national emphasis on individualism and individual rights.
Koch and his brother David cannot be put in the same category as Cruz. They have wealth and power – $81.4 billion and counting. Charles Koch is organized and methodical and he’s doggedly persistent. He’s got purpose for his life and that is to make the United States a nation where all the social nets, set up over the past 100 years, are destroyed: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and public education – the list goes on.
Freedom for the Koch’s is “no restrictions upon property.” Economic freedom is their goal, according to writer Nancy MacLean in her book, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” That means any government regulatory agency must be dismantled. The problem with the Koch’s view of freedom is that it means rule by oligarchy – rule by a few.
In contrast to the Koch’s philosophy, Roosevelt’s view of freedom gets closer to the ideal balance between individualism and the public good: Freedom of speech and of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want. These were the goals with which we fought against fascist tyranny during World War II and against communism during the Cold War.
If we don’t take care of our average citizens and protect them with affordable healthcare, with a safety net as found in Social Security, and regulatory agencies such as the EPA that give us clean air and water, and the Federal Reserve which protects us from depressions, we risk turning into a nation of individuals with nothing that binds us together.
The problem with the Koch’s approach goes back to Kristofferson’s lyrics: If you take away everything a person possesses, where only the privileged few have any freedom or power, you will create a nation of people with nothing to lose – in other words, a nation of people like Nik Cruz. That is the danger facing us with the “Dark Money” organizations created by the Koch’s and their billionaire allies. America’s freedom is at stake.