Is America free?

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“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” – Lee Greenwood

Notwithstanding the earnest patriotism of Lee Greenwood’s anthem, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” something about that particular lyric has always rankled. There’s a passive-aggressive prickliness to that “at least” in there, as though it were the final rejoinder of an American arguing in an airport bar, leaving a piece of his mind with some over-served Belgians before slapping down a wad of pink, local currency as a pourboire and hustling to his departure gate for Orlando International.

If he had stayed to chat a little longer, this notional American might have found that his Flemish interlocutors enjoy greater freedom than he, even in the shadow of the bureaucratic colossus based in Brussels, commanding their continent with unchecked power. Or he may simply have discovered, as we all must, that not all song lyrics are true.

Americans of every political stripe are forever banging on about how free they are, without any scale of comparison. It is a time-consuming précis of any such discussion to have to explain to them how their own system works.

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