This Independence Day, over 40 million Americans will be travelling in celebration to be with friends and family to barbeque, light fireworks, and enjoy the warmer weather. A huge number of them plan to travel lengthy distances which means that they will likely be flying and thus, unfortunately, face the notorious Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings and security procedures at the airport. And while they may ponder the significance of the 4th of July, the presence of the TSA - one of the most corrupt institutions in the country - represents a microcosm for the state of American freedom and pokes holes in the patriotic reverence that accompanies the celebration of Independence Day.
Created by the Bush administration after 9/11 as part of the new Department of Homeland Security, the TSA is one of the most visible signs of a continuous erosion of civil liberties, the lengths the state will go to expand power, and the backwards incentive structure of government programs. After perhaps the biggest intelligence and defense failure in American history, the federal government was not only given an increased budget but a new department as well. The TSA was ushered in and soon began violating the rights and privacy of all Americans who were once under the assumptiton that they had a natural right to the freedom of movement, and despite many lawsuits, the TSA has only grown and expanded to cover train and bus stations as well.
One could easily write an entire book detailing the outrages and crimes perpetrated by the TSA, and many Americans are no doubt well aware of them or have experienced them directly themselves. There are cases of toddlers and 85-year-old women being searched and humiliated, private property confiscated from passengers, millions scanned with radiation and photographs taken and stored in a database, and perhaps most egregious of all, are the amount of convicted pedophiles and child molesters that have somehow earned a TSA badge.
These invasions of basic privacy and decency aside, Americans flying on Independence Day (and any time throughout the year) will come face to face with what the TSA is really all about. It represents a gradual acceptance of a police state, more and more control of our lives and property, and most importantly, the illusion of security. It might be easier, perhaps, to accept the TSA's abuses if they were at least preventing attacks or crimes, but the TSA is laughably incompetent. But as long as there are costumed government agents patrolling, watching, and ordering us around, there is a false assumption of safety.
At a time when Americans are supposed to celebrate their freedoms and honor those who fought to earn our independence, the TSA is an upfront reminder of how rhetorical these platitudes have become. While offering lip service to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we find that the 4th Amendment apparently does not apply once we step inside of an airport, and we slowly but surely have become inundated and accepting of it as normal and necessary.
Once we land at our destination after a cattle-like herding, what do we find? Presidents that wage war on their own with no accountability and brag about it in the nation's most esteemed newspaper. Hundreds of thousands of pages of federal regulations that govern nearly every aspect of our lives of which ignorance is no excuse, enforced by police that have grown increasingly militarized. A Bill of Rights that is legislated away or simply ignored as quaint and archaic. A government that claims the right to the fruits of your labor and then decides how much they will allow you to keep. A monetary system that inflates away the purchasing power of your wealth in order to pay off the debt accrued by previous politicians. Liberty? Freedom? The rule of law? Forgive me if I am less than eager to wave the flag.
But like a spouse or a loved one, I criticize only out of love for this country. The idea of it, at least. When I think of Independence Day, I think of the American revolutionaries who seceded from the British Empire in order to govern themselves, take lessons and insights from the fallen republics and Western liberal thinkers of the past, concluding that government exists solely to protect individual liberty. But over two centuries later, America is the Founding Fathers' nightmare, complete with a standing army, central banking, direct taxation, and centralized federal power.
More than abstract concepts like civil liberties and natural rights, the beauty of the Declaration of Independence is that it is fundamentally a secessionist document, urging the duty of people to alter or abolish their governments when they become destructive of the limited ends of protecting the equal rights of all to life, liberty, and property. Withdraw your consent, Jefferson urged, to anyone seeking liberty and independence. And as Lysander Spooner argued decades later, this applies all the way down to the individual as well.
This is what July 4th should represent, and perhaps the TSA presence as Americans travel this holiday (and the endless array of government abuses) might actually cause some contemplation and reflection about the rhetoric and oft-repeated slogans. It might cause more Americans to, similar to the revolutionaries before us, peacefully and confidentally withdraw their consent from an empire.