After 2020, I thought 2021 could have had promise, but to me, this past year seemed less free. In important ways, it was.
With 2020 over and the hope that lockdowns, virtual school and COVID running unchecked through the largely unvaccinated population would be distant memories by the end of 2021, well let’s just say I’m disappointed, as are many others. We’re here at the end of 2021 with the threat of new lockdowns, virtual school and we definitely have COVID running unchecked through the now-largely-vaccinated population, never mind the unvaccinated.
We’ll have plenty of time to figure out “what happened”—that’s for historians and statisticians to tell us. But now we’re stuck in a moment and we can’t seem to get out of it. I can tell you one thing I feel really sure of, that freedom took a real hit in 2021. It got hit by surging crime, by a shameless disregard for truth, and by a worldwide notching up of thuggish regimes and plan old thugs.
The year started with many progressive cities playing the “defund the police” card, while big cities suffered surges in crime and thugs running the streets, many of them young teens with guns. In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declined to run for a second term, ceding the office to mayor-elect Andre Dickens, who ran on a “fund the police” platform. Candidate Antonio Brown was dragged a half block trying to stop carjackers from taking his own vehicle at a campaign stop, and the police took 45 minutes to respond. While I chuckle a little at the karma, I realize that parts of Atlanta are not particularly safe for shopping or just walking around. Knowing you’re safe is an important part of knowing you’re free. This was repeated in so many cities around America, and more so if you’re Jewish, or a minority.
Asians suffered worse than most. They got hit from the elite academia side of “woke,” because Asian-American culture values education highly, leading to an imbalance in admissions to top schools. Imbalance is undesirable in the woke equation, where addressing causes of inequality of outcomes has become unfashionable, but forcing the outcomes into “equity” is the rage. In Loudoun County (the richest county in America), two years of boat-rocking by Asian-Americans against unchecked wokes exploded into what the media portrayed as right-wing Republicans rabble-rousing against a non-existent CRT. They could not have been more wrong if they hired a Hollywood scriptwriter to pen pure fiction.
In Atlanta, a local shooting of Korean massage parlor workers, in places where the massage itself is frequently a side dish to the happy ending, was framed as a hate crime against Asians. The #StopAsianHate hashtag and obligatory articles with fresh quotes from activist organizations literally formed the day before press time presented a huge boiling problem that I think largely isn’t real, but then again, Asians have reason to fear. The shooting, according to law enforcement and prosecutors, was the sick act of a man who said he was sex addicted. The shooter admitted he was drunk and planned to get one more massage before shooting himself, but changed his mind at the last minute, turning to murder. We all feel less free.
Mental health is a key to well-being, and to a feeling of freedom. The year 2021 stretched everyone’s mental health to the limit. The Mental Health America advocacy organization publishes a yearly review which ranks all 50 states and D.C. based on access to mental health. They reported that the number of Americans living with mental health issues increased by 1.5 million to 47.1 million, or 19% of the population, since 2020’s report. Here’s a few points from the report.
- Suicidal ideation continues to increase among adults in the U.S. 4.58% of adults report having serious thoughts of suicide, an increase of 664,000 people from last year’s dataset. The national rate of suicidal ideation among adults has increased every year since 2011-2012. This was a larger increase than seen in last year’s report and is a concerning trend to see going into the COVID-19 pandemic [emphasis mine].
- A growing percentage of youth in the U.S. live with major depression. 15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, a 1.24% increase from last year’s dataset. In the bottom-ranked states, up to 19% of youth ages 12-17 experienced major depression.
- Over 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe depression, and multiracial youth are at greatest risk. 10.6% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression (depression that severely affects functioning). The rate of severe depression was highest among youth who identified as more than one race, at 14.5% (more than one in every seven multiracial youth).
We seemingly all know someone who took their own life in 2021. My family has been mauled by this monster, and many other families have been harmed, if not by suicide, then by rampant drug use and the destruction it brings. Suicide is the ultimate foe of freedom, and when it rises, we know we’re less free.
To maintain freedom, it’s important to know that the the rule of law is followed, especially at the highest rungs of our government. The primary driver of American greatness is our commitment to having a law-abiding government. What good is a constitution if the people entrusted to protect and enforce it, consider it to be garbage?
In the closing months of 2020, we all saw the awful spectacle of our then-president trying to bully the sitting Governor of Georgia, and other election officials, into betraying their oath of office. We saw him then address citizens directly, in person at massive rallies and online, feeding them the same lies that were rejected over 60 times in court, even by friendly judges. We saw him do everything in his power to twist, subvert, and outright violate the laws that govern our elections. Finally, we witnessed the storming of our national Capitol while Congress was in session, performing a Constitutional duty of certifying the results of the presidential election.
Every government official, from the Vice President of the United States, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Attorney General, to members of Congress, became political weapons, opposing one another in an ugly battle that could easily have turned into a massacre. On January 6th, I did not feel particularly free.
In the aftermath, Republicans in Congress almost universally chose crass politics over statesmanship, led by a lawless POTUS who was only interested in accruing power to himself. They were afraid of the most extreme voters, and perpetuated the conspiracies that racked our nation. A nation based purely on political power is not on the path to more freedom. The sight of the Capitol surrounded by fencing and uniformed soldiers completed the montage of repression.
Trump’s conspiracies did not spring out of the ground fully formed, like golems or orcs summoned by an evil necromancer. They were not born without some seed of reality. There were years of cloth woven by political Madam DeFarges whose machinations resulted in this national paranoia. Democrats have always done their best to stretch the definition of “voter” to include the long dead, out of precinct, out of state, and non-citizens. They’ve done this in a fairly organized way: Stacey Abrams, in 2018, claimed that then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp rigged the election for governor, and refused to concede. She still uses the “stolen election” trope to paint Georgia officials as corrupt racists. Even reasonable measures to deal with voter roll hygiene, prevent unethical electioneering, and bring some measure of standards to local election officials are decried attempts to rig an election.
During the 2020 pandemic, judges repeatedly imposed knee-jerk rules on state and local election officials, introducing uncertainty in the absence of tested and documented procedures to deal with postmarks on mail-in ballots, new election systems, and strained personnel. In Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, this uncertainty yielded predictable results—voters who believed the worst. When judges can overrule years of election processes and laws passed by legislatures to run things their way, we end up with some elections following the so-called “Stalin rule”:
It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.
(That quote was apocryphal, but nonetheless, true on its face.)
The Democrats fully embraced this truth, accusing Republican-run states of monkeying with the vote counting. Trump countered by playing their same game, but amped up, and with his particular style of causing the most havoc. Now both parties are dealing with a kaiju universe they’ve unleashed, and has its own agenda, mostly of rampaging through our elections dealing destruction like Godzilla.
President Biden promised some normalcy, healing, and unity for America. Instead, he’s the presidential equivalent of what designers call “negative space”—he says a lot with nothing. Biden’s odd style of expressing anger at “the people,” while regularly throwing gaffes and non-sequiturs that the media then has to cover for, has not done him, or the nation, any favors.
In the months after January 6, I was unhappy and frightened to see the FBI put up billboards around Atlanta asking for tips on the Capitol riot. Over 500 people have been charged with various crimes (not insurrection), but the leaders who funded websites, ran Facebook ads, and organized the “Stop the Steal” movement have been largely left alone. Efforts to bring some kind of charges against Trump have generally stalled, mired in his lawyer-in-depth defense. Even the January 6th commission has gotten stuck in the dense forest of executive privilege, with the Biden White House siding with Trump on certain documents. The year 2021 resolved precisely nothing regarding the events of January 6th.
We are left with the feeling—and more and more, the knowledge—that Trump and many of his supporters in high government office, had a plan to suborn and illegally harness the power of government to undo the will of the people in the 2020 election. If anything makes the world less free than an autogolpe in America, I can’t think of it (short of a nuclear war, which by definition doesn’t count).
I could go on, but this piece is getting rather long, and I think you get the point. The past year has not given us any truth. The government has continued to lie about events in Afghanistan, about the motivations behind COVID restrictions, mask mandates, and which drugs get approved/not approved. Our freedoms to speak freely, worship freely, decide what our kid learn, and manage our own risks have been eroded. At least it feels that way.
And in a real, measurable way, we see that we’re less free. The Cato Institute publishes an annual Human Freedom Index. If you scroll down to page 368, the United States of America, you see that over time, our freedom has eroded. While we are still largely a free society, protected by sacred laws like the Bill of Rights, our freedoms have been attacked by a thousand cuts to other areas.
Religious freedom has declined from 9.8/10 in 2008 to 9.4 in 2019. Media freedom has fallen from 9.2 to 8.2, and the most troubling, media self-censorship has gone from 8.6 to 6.5. As the media itself suffers mitosis with Fox News in one cell and much of the liberal mainstream press in another, they feel the need, by market power and management, to create echo chambers and only report stories that help their narratives, or in ways that contribute to the cellular nature of their organization. This is unhealthy, and erodes everyone’s freedom to know and have accurate information.
Government censorship has moved from 9.6 to 8.2 as the government continues to look for ways to tame social media. And as America goes, so goes the world.
China has moved quickly in 2021 to destroy whatever freedoms Hong Kong had and was promised in 1999 when the British handed it over. There are now no independent news organizations operating in Hong Kong that are free from the daily and oppressive control of the CCP. China continues to report absolute falsehoods regarding COVID-19, to block any investigation into the virus’s origins, and disappears from public life anyone who decides to go against the official line. Even tennis stars. Surely their actions are bolstered by the fact that America is run by an incompetent and distracted cabal whose main benefit is “at least we’re not Trump.”
Russia under Vladimir Putin has always been a thug state run by professional thugs and Beria-inspired secret policemen. Now Putin is so bold as to threaten open war against a nation slated to be a NATO member, and President Biden is giving him enough negative space to do it. If Biden could have soured our relations with NATO and Europe more than Trump, nobody thought it possible, but he has done it.
The Taliban—well I can’t say more than has been said. They’re the same Taliban that President George W. Bush overthrew, and they’re back in black. The net-net here is many nations that felt some kind of pressure not to go completely thug no longer feel constrained. From Myanmar to Sudan to Iran, it’s open season on freedom. The nations that kept their freedom have done so largely without the older brother America at their side.
I entered 2021 with hope and some fear. I hoped that COVID would be dealt with, through vaccines and our efforts to “flatten the curve” in 2020. I hoped that Trump would break toward civilization and step down normally. I hoped that our government might learn to function without division, distraction, and ignoramuses in Congress. I hoped that people would settle down to their jobs and families. None of that happened. In fact, it got much worse.
I leave 2021 scraping it from the bottom of my sneakers with a stick, and I’m about ready to get out the hose to finish it off. We are all less free than we were 12 months ago, and that’s saying a lot.
Hopefully, against hope, in 2022, the seed of freedom, responsibility, and reason will begin to bloom again. That’s the one good thing about this time of year: like the Detroit Lions, we all get to engage in hope for the future.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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