By Vermont Rep. Paul Dame
“When did we stop celebrating Independence Day? I hope that it’s different for other folks, but I know in my short memory as a millennial, my whole life I grew up celebrating “The 4th of July” and very rarely heard it called “Independence Day.” It seems like there is certainly a correlation between dropping the “Independence” and the very character of our nation seeming to become increasingly dependent – though it’s hard to determine which caused the other. It’s probably fair to say that there has never been a time when so many Americans have relied so heavily on their government to meet their basic needs.
That’s pretty astonishing in light of the fact that the first American generation, those who declared our independence from Great Britain, did not rely on their government even to protect them from armies composed of men who lived half a world away. They were able to accomplish political Independence because they all lived in a time where most people had to live incredibly self-sufficient, personally independent lives – something completely foreign to the vast majority of Americans today.
Politics is always a downstream derivative of culture. Many of the settlers left the comforts of a civilized Britain to set out into unknown territory with absolutely no government-provided infrastructure at all. Contrast that with today where most of us dread spending our vacation – or just one night – in a place that doesn’t have a WiFi signal.
There must have been certain contempt from that amazing generation regarding their government back in Great Britain. They had come here, literally building their homes and businesses with their own hands, with little to no aid from their king, and as the colonies grew and became more prosperous and wealthier due to the hard work and industriousness of their inhabitants – then the king wanted to get involved. Not to help further spur economic growth, or even to provide the colonies with other amenities afforded to their relatives back in England – but to take a piece of the action. Yet now today’s average American surrenders more than one third of their income (income tax, social security tax, medicare/medicaid tax, state & local income tax) to their government, while pioneers of the new digital age seem apathetic.
It seems clear to me that libertarians like myself will never see the restoration of a political independence under these conditions. It’s too hard to swim upstream. I’m not convinced we will see Liberty in our Lifetime, until we first see the restoration of culture of personal independence in our everyday lives. Too often when a problem is identified, or a difficulty encountered, too many Americans think of their Government as the first-response team. Immediately think tanks begin planning a legislative or executive response. As long as Americans ask that of their Government – the Government will continue to deliver. Therefor we need to create a culture where show others how to be personally Independent before we can expect them to join us in our cause of political independence.
I hear small government conservatives complain that we don’t need a “Nanny State.” But the results of several elections seem to indicate that many people believe we do. Instead of complaining, what conservatives need to do is become better, more approachable examples to show their community how to solve problems without the coercive force of government. There are countless examples out there of individual people taking responsibility for anything from erasing graffitti, to snow removal. You think some people need to “just get a job” – have you ever shown anyone how to do that? If you’re not doing it – then who will if the state stopped? The answer ought to be you. We need to teach people the life skills they need to live as self-sufficiently as possible, before they will ever be ready to give up the dependent relationship they have with their government.
I also hear liberals complain about the many injustices and unfairness in the world, saying that if Government doesn’t care for certain needs, who else will? Prove them wrong. It only takes one person to be a counter-example. Instead of complaining, what liberals need to do is inspire those in their community to become more compassionate human beings and better neighbors. If Liberals could make their compassion contagious, and show everyone how meaningful it is to be a benefit to your neighbors, even one would do it. Before you advocate for more government spending on anything – examine whether you yourself are willing to give more to the same cause. Why are you using the levels of government to force people who are less passionate, and many who are even poorer than you pay when you won’t even do it yourself?
That’s how our nation’s Independence was won; by both liberals and conservatives, both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, working together to bring about a freer society. They lived in a time where there was already a well-established culture of Independence, so fighting for political independence was relatively easy. Today, those who want to see more independence from an interfering and politically-charged government have a lot of fallow ground to plow when it comes to restoring a culture of personal independence. Whether we do that, or we don’t, the American people will have the government they deserve. We can continue the path we are going down – more government involved in more aspects of our lives – or we can fight for a future that leaves us politically independent; meaning we are no longer dependent on our political system, one where our individual lives are not greatly impacted by whichever party or person is in power. That’s why Independence united these states over 200 years ago. They saw that despite their differences there was common ground in having a political system that left them to rely on their own personal Independence. That’s something perhaps an unprecedented number of Americans will be looking for while considering their desire to see a government that both restrains a potential President Trump from trampling on our civil liberties – and a potential President Clinton from trampling on our economic liberties.”
Paul Dame is a State Representative in Vermont representing the Village of Essex Junction and was elected in 2014. He is a native Vermonter who grew up on a family dairy farm and earned his degree in secondary education (with a concentration in mathematics) from the University of Vermont in 2005. In 2014, Dame became the first elected President of the Vermont Young Professionals and was named one of Vermont Business Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40.