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After 400 Years, The Top Reason People Come To America Is Still Freedom


Four centuries ago, the Pilgrims of the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. They were fleeing religious persecution in the Old World. This is to say they were seeking freedom in the New World.

All these years after the Mayflower’s voyage, the world has changed, but the reason to come to America remains the same: freedom. That’s it. That’s the whole deal. Freedom, and the opportunities that come with it.

Think about it. Why else would anyone choose to come here? We have a mediocre K-12 education system. We have a good healthcare system if you’re rich and a middling one if you’re poor. Sure, we have a social safety net, but how many people who immigrated to this country come to America for Medicare or social security?

Pilgrims, both old and new, came here for freedom. They came here because, in their former country, they couldn’t say what they thought, worship their god, or pursue happiness in their own way. They came here because they don’t want to be imprisoned or killed for being a member of the wrong party or the wrong religion. Take these freedoms away and America is reduced to a middle-of-the-road European country without the fancy historic architecture.

So, it’s fair that we take our freedom seriously in America. It’s the thing that sets us apart. We haven’t always gotten it right, there are certainly dark chapters in our experiment in self-government, but for those who come here, freedom is still the ultimate prize. For those lucky enough to be born here American freedom is an inheritance worth more than all the riches in Silicon Valley.

For the past few months, we, a free people, have willingly accepted restrictions and lockdowns in order to slow the spread of a deadly virus. Some of these measures were necessary — some were not. But now, we have governors and county health bureaucrats telling us we can’t congregate with our families to celebrate Thanksgiving.   

Those skeptical of such policies are scapegoated as anti-science. But, as in most situations, skepticism is healthy, and these particular arguments are worth having, especially when the same government leaders canceling Thanksgiving (Newsom, Murphy, Lightfoot to name just a few) are ignoring their own rules. The hypocrisy of the ruling class is hard to stomach. Indeed, the very idea of a ruling class is anti-American. These are the same people that often selectively — based on their political preferences — choose between which protests to allow. 

So no, the ability to have Thanksgiving with one’s friends and family is not about mashed potatoes and gravy — it’s about the freedom to peaceably assemble with whom you choose in your own house. Truly, if you aren’t free to peaceably assemble in your own house, it’s only a matter of time before other freedoms erode. Today’s turkey dinner is tomorrow’s political meeting.

Many will say that these rules from the governors will not actually be enforced. Maybe so. But if they can make the rule this time, there’s no guarantee to say it won’t be enforced next time. 

Still, others will say this is a small price to pay to stay safe and save lives. Indeed, there will always be voices calling to trade freedom for safety. But this is a false choice. With prudence and responsible leadership, we can enjoy both freedom and safety.

Of course, freedom has a flip side: responsibility. Not coincidentally, this reality has caused freedom to go out of fashion lately. If you are free to choose, you are also responsible for your choice. In the end, acting responsibly is one of the foremost ways we preserve and protect freedom.

Yes, this does mean wearing masks when appropriate during a pandemic, not because the government said we had to, but because it’s the responsible thing to do. Yes, it means limiting our contact with the elderly and vulnerable. Yes, it means being thoughtful about handwashing, maintaining distance from others where possible, and thinking twice about high-risk activities.

In my family, we’re scaling back our Thanksgiving significantly. We’re taking precautions. I think you should too. But, this Thanksgiving, how many and whom you choose to gather with in your own home is none of my business. Frankly, it’s none of the government’s business either. 

When addressing free people about matters essential to their liberty, government leaders must persuade not coerce. The refrain “trust science” is not enough — it’s a political cudgel, meant to cut off debate. To be sure, there’s a place for science to inform policy decisions, but science doesn’t have a say about freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. There’s a reason they don’t teach the first amendment in chemistry class.

In America, we get to have our debates and make our mistakes out in the open for everyone to see. It’s all very messy, sometimes it’s even embarrassing, but it’s freedom. And the alternative is much worse: a ruling class exempt from the rules sitting in back rooms deciding what we can and can’t do, deciding where we can and can’t go, deciding what we can and can’t say. 

After 400 years, the original idea that drove people from all over the world to our shores remains: freedom. It’s still what makes us unique. It’s still the reason to come to America and the reason to stay. It’s still something to be thankful for and something to fight for.