The New American Bully

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison (January 30, 1787), discussed the dangers of government and the balance of liberty and oppression. He warned against a government of wolves over sheep and famously said, “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem,” which can be translated as, “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.” Or as we hear it more often these days, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

It is a nice sentiment, an encouraging ideal that stirs one’s patriotic spirit to be sure. But these days this seems to be an outdated conviction. People only want freedom that is safe, a freedom that is well regulated and peacefully dished out by the bureaucrats we have elected. If this pandemic has taught us anything it is how Americans want to be safe above all else, and they want the government to keep them that way. They aren’t overly concerned about individual liberty but rather ensuring everyone is doing their part for the common good.

This has given rise to a new type of bully. Now to be honest I have yet to experience this myself but I keep hearing stories from others (mostly women) who have been approached by complete strangers in grocery stores or standing in line at a retail shop for not properly wearing their mask or not making sure their child has their mask on or being not quite 6 feet apart, or any other deviation from the prescribed law of the land. They seem to thrive on being confrontational. They want to make a public scene to force their neighbor to meet their own standards. It is a self-righteous, virtue-signaling action to let others know who the good guy is and who is bad.

What happened to all those anti-bullying adds that were so prevalent a few months ago? Why is it okay for grown men to intimidate women in public while everyone else just looks silently away? Is a mask that is a little loose around a woman’s nose such an affront to your life and liberty that you need to bully them into tightening it up? Is a child running through the aisle getting too close to you such an impingement on your safety that you will bully her mom in front of her?

Perhaps it is the mask itself that encourages the new American bully to be so bold. Possibly these are the same keyboard warriors who spout off from the safety of their own homes attacking the character of the person they have never met. They can hide their faces and be assholes in public to try and intimidate everyone into a nice, peaceful slavery. But in our “brave” new America we praise the bully, we celebrate him, he is doing it the right way, he really cares, he just wants us all to be healthy and for life to get back to normal. Just do what he says, and it will all be over soon.

So, we get in line. We adapt our life to meet their standards. We close down and open up when they say we can. We worship how they want us to worship. We meet where they allow us to meet. We wear what they want us to wear. Dissent is unloving and unchristian, and we will bully those who do not toe the line.

How I long for men who will opt for dangerous freedom.

Later in that same letter is where Jefferson writes, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions indeed generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people who have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”

When will we give the bully his medicine?